Monday, October 24, 2011

Review - Triplanetary by E.E. "Doc" Smith

Short review: Arisians and Eddorians are enemies from the beginning of time, and Earth becomes one of their battlefields.

Good and evil fight
What's allotropic iron?
It's okay, friends now!

Full review: Triplanetary is the first book in the classic Lensman series, the Space Opera that to a great extent defined the format. The list of later fiction that owes a debt to the themes and forms of this series is long and impressive: Green Lantern, Babylon 5, Star Trek, and even Star Wars among others owe much to E.E. "Doc" Smith.

Triplanetary starts at the beginning of the universe, and unfortunately starts somewhat slowly. The virtuous and altruistic Arisians and the vile, power-hungry Eddorians, mutually antagonistic alien races, are introduced. The supposedly benevolent Arisians decide (using their advanced powers of precognition) that Earth cannot be protected until the time is right, and allow Atlantis, Rome and finally, the United States, to fall to the forces of the Eddorians. One must simply accept that the Arisians are benevolent given this sort of callousness as they condemn millions of humans to death and suffering.

Finally, humanity develops enough to explore the solar system and form the Triplanetary League. Interplanetary commerce is plagued by pirates (who, unbeknownst to the Patrol, are backed by the Eddorian "Roger"), and the Triplanetary Patrol are in the midst of a large scale engagement with the pirate fleet when the Nevians, a race from an iron poor planet, show up and begin reducing both sides' ships to "allotropic iron", which is what they use to power their interstellar ships.

The hero of the story, a Patrol agent named Costigan, is kidnapped by the Nevians along with his love interest and an old space hand. The Nevians decide that humans are inferior beings, and carve up both fleets, and head for home. Costigan uses his ultra-wave spy ray to figure out a lot of the Nevian technology and sends reports home to Earth scientists. "Roger" flees and starts a new operation on a distant world.

Costigan and his companions stage several escape attempts from their Nevian kidnappers, but are foiled again and again. Human scientists (who, after all, are simply better than the Nevians) figure out Nevian technology, and improve upon it. After much fighting, "Roger" is defeated by a resurgent Patrol armed with both human and Nevian technology, the Nevians acknowledge humans are equals, and peace is negotiated.

In some ways, this is not so much "Book One" as it is "Book Zero" in the series. There are no actual Lensmen in the book, there is no Galactic Patrol, and the "Civilization" consists of humans, and by the end, Nevians. Despite some 1950s sensibilities (most notably with respect to relationships between the sexes), the story (once it gets going) is a fun and fast-paced ride through space battles and intrigue. Although it is probably the weakest of the six books in the series, it is still a very worthy jumping off point for one of the most influential works of science fiction.

Subsequent book in the series: First Lensman

E.E. "Doc" Smith     Book Reviews A-Z     Home


  1. Huh. Interesting. I hadn't heard of this series so off I go to find a copy.

  2. @Julia: It is one of the classic set of science fiction works. It is a little dated (having been written int he 1920s and 1930s, and it shows), but like Johnny Cash's music is the music that influenced the musicians you love, it is probably the science fiction that influenced the science fiction authors you love.

  3. "There are no actual Lensmen in the book, there is no Galactic Patrol, and the 'Civilization' consists of humans, and by the end, Nevians."

    It might be pointed out that that's because these stories were written before Smith wrote any Galactic Patrol stories; they started with, uh, "Galactic Patrol," serialized in ASTOUNDING in 1937. "Triplanetary" was published in ASTOUNDING in 1934' Smith rewrote it with added material to make it fit into the Lensman universe, for its first book publication in 1948.

    1. @Gary Farber: That is all true, however, I am reviewing them now, when they are treated as part of the Lensman series. The fact that there are no Lensmen or Galactic Patrol is not detrimental to the book, but it is something that is notable for any reader coming to it now.