Who is E.E. "Doc" Smith?

Edward Elmer Smith, Ph.D, was a writer of SF novels from the late twenties until his death in the mid sixties. He is perhaps the first author to write recognisable "Space Opera" novels, with his Skylark and Lensman series ("Triplanetary", "First Lensman", "Galactic Patrol", "Grey Lensman", "Second Stage Lensman", "Children of the Lens" and "Masters of the Vortex"). The latter books in particular featured not-implausible science (based on what was believed at the time it was written), a meticulously detailed plot spread over several self contained stories, characters changing and developing, space battles on a galactic scale and truly awesome weaponry. It was a source of inspiration for the "Green Lantern" comics, and was also one of the first SF series to portray any strong female characters, with Clarissa MacDougal (the "Red Lensman") and her daughters fully the equal of anyone they met. "The Skylark of Space" is a strong contender for the first SF book set outside our solar system.

Now, fifty years on, the books look dated (particularly some of the science), but the stories remain popular. They were among the SF works that David Weber grew up with, and favourable comparisons have been drawn in the newsgroup alt.books.david-weber.

Most of Smith's work went out of print in the early eighties, but the Lensman series has just been reissued ("Ripping" in the UK, "Old Earth Books" of Baltimore, Maryland in the US) and the other books can often be found in second-hand bookstores. The anime version bears little relation to the stories other than some names. A "Lensman FAQ" is posted occasionally on rec.arts.sf.written by Gharlane of Eddore.

The z9m9z is the serial number of the flagship of Civilisation's Grand Fleet in "Second Stage Lensmen", a vessel which controled the activities of literally millions of warships ("Civilisation" consisting of a significant proportion of the inhabited planets of a galaxy), without benefit of advanced computers (one area where the date of the books really shows!).

David Weber had the following to say:

"E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen are the seminal standard by which all space opera is judged and the books remain the great archetypes of the genre.

Millions of starships, planet-devouring negaspheres, "beams of lambent energy," "cones of destruction," hyper-spatial tubes, millenia-old beings of pure intellect and limitless psionic powers, whole galaxies wracked by war... these were the stuff and the scale on which Doc Smith wrote, and thumping good it was. Very few of the writers who have followed in Smith's footsteps have matched his scale and inventiveness; none have matched his singlehanded impact on his genre.

You can find Doc's obituary at the site of The Library of Science Fiction and Fantasy Obituaries and Vital Statistics.


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