Book Review of “First Lensman”

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Cover art for the 1968 edition of “First Lensman”

I’ve been reading the legendary E.E. “Doc” Smith‘s Lensman series recently. After Triplanetary (1948 – originally published as a serial in 1934), which really wasn’t about the Lensmen, but did introduce a few key characters, came First Lensman (1950) which still gave off more of a 1930s flavor.

While readers get their first real glimpse into the lives and power of the Lensmen, the tale reveals itself as terribly dated. The “good guys” are very “North American” centric, women don’t have minds compatible with interacting with the lens, and our guys are scrupulously honest and forthright.

As with “Triplanetary,” I sometimes found it difficult to keep track of scene changes and figure out where I was in the story from one point to the next.

Along with the purely space opera aspects, there were heavy political overtones, no doubt reflecting Smith’s actual viewpoints.

Nothing is particularly nuanced in this novel, and the action hits the reader like a blunt instrument.

The technology, of course made up, was also anachronistic. Whenever someone didn’t want to use their “atomic engines” for fear of detection, they switched to diesel backups. Reminds me of the old World War Two submarines, and I guess Smith hadn’t figured out that he should develop something like Star Trek’s “impulse engines.”

It’s a good enough romp as far as it goes, but a tough read for someone in the 21st century. I suspect that this and the rest of the books in the series will be a labor of love, and a devotion to those adventures of yesteryear, the golden age of science fiction.

I just wish the writing was better.

Oh, for another viewpoint, visit the review of this novel at Tor.

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