Book Review: Galactic Patrol

Book Name: Galactic Patrol
Author: E.E. “Doc” Smith
First Published: 1937

Edward Elmer Smith grew up in Spokane, Washington. His early work was as a laborer until he injured his wrist at the age of 19. He would later attend the University of Idaho and entered its prep school, graduating with two degrees in Chemical Engineering by 1914. The following year, he married Jeanne MacDougall, the sister of his college roommate. They had three children together. It has been noted that the two leads in his Lensman series, Clarissa MacDougall and Kimball Kinnison looks very similar physically to Smith and his wife, although he used her sister’s first name for the character.

Smith earned his master’s degree in chemistry from the George Washington University and completed his PhD in chemical engineering with an emphasis in food. His dissertation, The Effect of Bleaching with Oxides of Nitrogen upon the Baking Quality and Commercial Value of Wheat Flour, would help land him a job as chief chemist for F. W. Stock & Sons of Hillsdale, Michigan, working on doughnut mixes.

It was during this time when his ideas for space stories began to come to him. He was urged to write them down by friends and the offer of dialog help for the romantic scenes was given by the wife of one of his former classmates. In time, this became the Skylark series. Skylark was not a huge hit and Smith probably spent more on the postage to mail in his stories than what he earned with them. However, Smith was bitten by the writing bug and while he continued his career as a food chemist, his ideas for space opera continued to fuel his creative side.

In the mid-1930s, Smith had been contemplating a new “space-police” story. He reviewed cops-and-robbers stories for inspiration and wrote an outline that would become the first four novels of the Lensman series, beginning with Galactic Patrol. While he liked to use a loose outline to follow when he wrote, he confessed that his “characters get away from me and do exactly as they damn please.” Galactic Patrol was published in 1937 as a serial. Sales at Astounding, the magazine that published his story, soared and Galactic Patrol became a hit. Later, it was novelized in 1950 and remained in print for decades.

Smith would continue to work as a chemist until his professional retirement in 1957. Then he was purely a science fiction writer, traveling from Florida to Oregon in a travel trailer, writing his stories and visiting science fiction conventions along the way until his death in 1965.

The story of Galactic Patrol spans eons of time, starting long before human begins have been on Earth and moving on into the far future. It is about a war between two super-alien races. The Arisians, who are a peaceful species native to our galaxy, and the Eddorians, a warlike species from another dimension that wishes to invade. Each species tries to influence the younger species of our galaxy, including humans. The Eddorians are a force of evil, trying to promote chaos. The Arisians promote peace and aid in the creation of an interplanetary council and the Galactic Patrol, a combination of an interstellar police force and military, with the duty to defend and preserve the galactic civilization. In this force, the Lensmen were the elite of the Galactic Patrol. The service was male dominated, with woman serving in more subservient roles. Each lensman is given a jewel that imparts the wearer a myriad of telepathic abilities. It is bonded to its owner, killing any other person, and deteriorates after the death of its recipient.

Galactic Patrol begins with the introduction of Kimball Kinnison, a graduate Lensman. His first assignment is to capture a pirate ship and get the specs for its new drive back to headquarters. Kim is given a spaceship known as Brittania and a crew: Clarissa MacDougall (nurse), Van Buskirk (Patrolman), and Worsel (alien) and they set off on a grand adventure to infiltrate the Boskone pirate syndicate. Before all is done, Kim will work as an inspector, an undercover agent, a pirate hunter and act as the scout for a vast space fleet.

As the action propels you forward in the grand space opera style, you begin to realize that there is more to the jewel-like “lens” than meets the eye. As Kim learns how the jewel works and explores its properties, hints of the master game the Eddorians and the Arisians are playing peek through his explorations.

Why read the Lensmen series? As a science fiction reader and writer, I feel that it is important to go back and read the early works of our genre. It helps us to understand the origins of what has shaped our writing today. Plus, often times, the books are great reads even if their cultural ideas are old-fashioned due to the time in which they were written.

E.E. “Doc” Smith is known as the father of the space opera. Long before Star Wars, Avatar and other stories, there were the Lensmen. Threads from the concepts in these space stories run through much of science fiction during the past decades. You will read nods to Doc Smith in the books by Heinlein and it is said that the Lensmen were the prototype Lucas used to fashion his Jedi Knights.

There is some confusion about where to start reading in the series. The Lensmen series originally consisted of four core novels:

Galactic Patrol
Gray Lensman
Second Stage Lensman
Children of the Lens

These four novels build the story in a compelling fashion with a proper climax at the end. Due to the success of the books, Smith’s publisher asked for him to use previously published stories that were unrelated to the lensmen and change them so that they would fit into the Lensmen universe. These are:

Triplanetary (prequel 1)
First Lensman (prequel 2)
Masters of the Vortex (sequel)

The two prequels and sequel are not quite up to the quality of the original four and should be read after the core four novels. Many claim that First Lensman has enough moments to make it worthwhile to read, the bets are off with Triplanetary and Masters of the Vortex.

Two authors were authorized to write further novels in the Lensman universe.

William B. Ellern wrote:

Moon Prospector
New Lensman
Triplanetary Agent
(only in serial form)

David A. Kyle wrote:

The Lensman from Rigel
The Dragon Lensman

Galactic Patrol Book CoverSee what I mean by confusion? Not only are the paperback books hard to find, but the kindle versions are published in chronological order based on the timeline of the novels, not in the order that they were written. This is what kept me from reading E.E. “Doc” Smith, even though I had seen references to the stories for many years by other authors, most notably Robert A. Heinlein.

Start with the four core novels. If Galactic Patrol grabs you, you’ll want to read all the others. Doc Smith himself considered it his best novel and his one true science fiction story. Hold onto your hat. You are in for a wild, but fun ride.

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