Reviews of Triplanetary (1934/1948) and related work
E. E. Smith (writer).
Read in 2022.
Read in the extensively edited 1948 version.
The Arisians, a species of psychic aliens, block themselves out of the minds of their natural enemy, a similar species called the Eddorians. Both species then proceed to influence the development of other life: The Eddorians to rule forever, the Arisians to replace themselves with a more powerful species that can defeat the Eddorians for the greater good.
Triplanetary follows the early stages of this conflict, from its background via its inception to five incidents in human history: The fall of Atlantis, Nero’s Rome, the three world wars, and finally skipping the first interplanetary war to describe in more detail the second interstellar war between the federal Triplanetary Patrol and the alien Nevians, with an Eddorian-controlled pirate as a third faction.
A comforting mix of extensive exposition and silly action. A particular highlight here is WW2, where a humble US engineer battles the profit-seeking board of his armaments supplier over a 0.3% failure rate, not over the cosmic evil of the Eddorians. It’s comforting in part because, being written around the time of WW2, the Arisians and the Triplanetary Patrol are not just morally good but also specifically democratic. The writing is pretty bad, but functional, with fun moments of kitsch:
Clio, staring into the plate with Costigan, uttered a piercing shriek, as she sank her fingers into his shoulders. Bradley swore a mighty deep-space oath and braced himself against certain annihilation.
‣ Gray Lensman (1939)
E. E. Smith (writer).
Read in 2016.
Based on a 1939–1940 serial, this is retroactively the fourth entry in a larger series, and the third to feature the lensman motif. Read, cursively, in the 1951 collected edition.
Transparently a power fantasy of record proportions, with surprisingly flat characters, pervasive sexism and very little science, e.g. no relativistic physics. The effectively flawless super-genius superhero protagonist berates himself for having to do the dirty deeds that readers want to see—the mining sequence is the high point—while his entire organization remains purely moral-dualist and capitalist, right down to lowering taxes whenever they can, which is a step down from the attitude of Triplanetary. The moments of imagination and actually clever plotting are few and far between. The writing itself is never beautiful.
‣‣ Lensman (1984)
Seen in 2013.
I saw the second (Streamline) English dub, and rewatched it cursively in 2016 after reading Gray Lensman (1939).
Some good graphical tentpole sequences and a whole lot of nonsense. The influence of Star Wars (1977) is apparent in the loose adaptation of E. E. Smith’s serials. The hero, Kinnison, merges Luke Skywalker (backwater planet, doomed parent with hidden past) and the books’ Clarissa Macdougal (a feisty redhead, though less of a smart aleck here than in Harmony Gold’s version; both are unlike Smith’s grimly dutiful Kinnison), while the film version of Macdougal wears her hair in one of Leia’s two buns and seems to be modelled on Carrie Fisher. I also perceive an influence from Urusei Yatsura (1981): Van Buskirk and Bill the DJ, in particular, exhibit the same types of easily animated physical comedy. There are lots of dumpy-looking “generic” humanoid alien species, designed with little more seriousness than Wizards (1977), but Worsel looks cool, and the icky organic design of the Boskone fleets is a pretty good illustration of Smith’s moralistic writing. The 3D CGI looks even worse than The Last Starfighter (1984), and there is thankfully less of it.
References here: Pushing Ice (2005).