Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars - Lensman

So, while you want for we who are willing and able to make our own Star Wars, I think it's time to look at alternatives that scratch that itch. We're talking Space Opera, so let's go back to the series that invented it: The Lensman series, by E.E. "Doc" Smith.

The Infogalactic link above aptly summarizes the series and its place in history, so I'm going to focus on why you should read this. First, and foremost, every Space Opera going forward draws upon the foundation Smith laid here.

Love the lightsaber action of Star Wars, or the mysticism of the Force? Done better here, and far earlier, with Lensman and the Lens. Love giant robots or powered armor? He did powered armor first, not Robert Heinlein, and Smith's conception is still as tough or tougher than many later conceptions. Fleet battles and superweapons? Biggest, better, bolder, and properly three-dimensional. (To the point of directly inspiring the modern Command-and-Control Center.) Faster Than Light travel? Better than all of his successors, and far more consistent- to the point of weaponization and miniaturization.

Heroic, manly heroes. Dignified, feminine heroines. Absolute Integrity! Big stakes--bigger than many successors ever dared--done on a big scope and scale (ditto). Action, adventure, romance, and superweapons so incredible that they have yet to be attempted in contemporary popular genre fiction in any medium. (Using dead planets as ammo for an inter-galactic railgun, for example, something Star Wars only weakly approximated.)

I have the six books that comprise the series in paperback, and they are slim volumes that read wicked-fast. You can skip the first two books, but I started with Triplanetary and benefited from doing so. (You'll be fine starting with Galactic Patrol.) They're a pain in the ass to find in print, but click the image above and it should take you to a dirt-cheap Kindle version. (Triplanentary can be had for free on Kindle.)

Note: There is an anime adaptation. It's hot garbage, despite the decent character and mechanical designs. Skip it. I can't say anything about the manga adaptation, as I've never read it because it's so long out of print that scans are likely all you'll find without serious effort.

The influence of the Lensman series is huge and cannot be overstated. Space Opera, as such, began here and many of the other works I will recommend are--ultimately--reactions to and in conversation with that stellar masterpiece by Doc Smith. I have no problem stating that I am inspired by these books, and proudly take that influence forward into my own fiction. Alongside Edgar Rice Burroughs, E.E. Smith is one of the great treasures of American culture and literature; that he is forgotten by most people (and actively memory-holed by Academia) is a crime against Civilization.

Lensman Read that, or out yourself as a zwilnik.


  1. Precursor of the Green Lantern Corps, the Legion of Super Heroes, Captain Comet, extra-dimensional travel, warp drive, hyperspace, Jack Kirby's Boom Tube, the multi-millennial story arc, anti-matter weaponry, and the freakin' DeLamater pistol!

    Must read! 7 of 5 stars!

  2. If you read any space opera, read at least one of E.E. Smith's Lensman series. If you like space opera, you got to read the entire series, because like the Man says, this is the foundation (no pun intended) of it all.

    Talk about no-holds barred imagination!