SMITH, E(dward) E(lmer)


SMITH, E(dward) E(lmer)
(1890-1965)
   US writer and food chemist specializing in doughnut mixes, often called the "Father of SPACE OPERA". Because Hugo GERNSBACK appended "PhD" to EES's name for his contributions to AMZ from 1928, he becameknown as "Doc" Smith. Greatly influential in US PULP-MAGAZINE sf between 1928 and about 1945, he found his reputation fading somewhat just afterthe end of WWII, when it seemed the dream-like simplicities of his world-view could no longer attract the modern reader of GENRE SF; but the specialty houses that became active after 1945 (SMALL PRESSES AND LIMITED EDITIONS) soon put his vast space-opera sagas into book form, and his namewas kept alive. Towards the end of his life, after his retirement around 1960, he began producing space operas again, and his earlier work startedto appear in paperback editions; after his death, yet another new generation made him an sf bestseller, first in the USA and later in the UK.EES's work is strongly identified with the beginnings of US pulp sf asa separate marketing genre, and did much to define its essential territory, galactic space. When in 1915 he began to write the first novel of his Skylark series with Mrs Lee Hawkins Garby (1890-?) - a neighbour seconded to help with feminine matters such as dialogue - no models existed (or, at least, none that were available to a monolingual US food chemist) that could explain the combined exuberance and scale that The Skylark of Space (written 1915-20; 1928 AMZ; 1946; rev with cuts 1958)demonstrated when it finally appeared in AMAZING STORIES, 2 years after the start of that magazine, in the same issue as Philip NOWLAN's "Armageddon - 2419 A.D.", the story which introduced BUCK ROGERS IN THE25TH CENTURY. (Mrs Garby retained co-author credit in the 1st book edn, but the 1958 rev was as by EES alone.) Elements of EES's prelapsarian exuberance may have been discernible in some of the EDISONADES which proliferated in the USA from about 1890; and a certain cosmogonic high-handedness is traceable to the works of H.G. WELLS and his UK contemporaries. But it was EES who combined the two. Along with its sequels - Skylark Three (1930 AMZ; 1948), Skylark of Valeron (1934-5 ASF; 1949) and Skylark DuQuesne (1966) - The Skylark of Space brought theedisonade to its first full maturity, creating a proper galactic forum for the exploits of the inventor/scientist/action-hero who keeps the world (or the Universe) safe for US values despite the efforts of a foreign-hued villain (Marc "Blackie" DuQuesne) to pollute those values. But the highly personalized conflict between HERO-inventor Richard Seaton and VILLAIN-inventor DuQuesne - who develops from the stage histrionics of thefirst novel to the dominating antiheroics of the last and is perhaps EES's most vivid creation - did not very satisfactorily motivate the vast intergalactic conflicts of the later volumes of the series, as the scale of everything - the potency of the WEAPONS, the power, size and speed of the SPACESHIPS, the number of planets overawed - increased by leaps and bounds. Nor was EES much concerned to sophisticate the chummy, clammy idiocy of his women (SEX; WOMEN AS PORTRAYED IN SCIENCE FICTION) or the hokum of the slang in which all emotions were conveyed.It was not until he began to unveil the architectural structure of his second and definitive SERIES that EES was able to demonstrate the thoroughness of his thinkingabout space opera. And it is with the Lensmen series - or The History of Civilization, the over-title for the 1953-5 limited-edn boxed reprint ofthe original books - that his name is most strongly and justly associated. In order of internal chronology, the sequence is Triplanetary (1934 AMZ;rev to fit the series 1948), First Lensman (1950), Galactic Patrol (1937-8 ASF; 1950), Gray Lensman (1939-40 ASF; 1951), Second-Stage Lensmen (1941-2ASF; 1953) and Children of the Lens (1947-8 ASF; 1954). The Vortex Blaster (1941-2 var mags; fixup 1960; vt Masters of the Vortex 1968 US) is also set in the Lensman Universe, probably some time before Children of the Lens, but does not deal with the central progress of the main series, theworking out of which was EES's most brilliant auctorial coup. As published in book form, the first 2 novels likewise stand outside the main action; it is the final 4 that lie at the heart of EES's accomplishment. Conceived as one 400,000-word novel, and divided into separate titles for publication 1937-48 in ASF - from before John W. CAMPBELL Jr began editing the journal, through the high pitch of the GOLDEN AGE OF SF (1939-42) he supervised, and into the post-WWII period - the central Lensmen tale is constructed around the gradual revelation of the hierarchical nature of the Universe.Two vastly advanced and radically opposed races, the good Arisians and the evil Eddorians, have been in essential opposition forbillions of years. The Arisians understand that their only hope of defeating the absolute Evil represented by the Eddorians is to develop over eons a countervailing Civilization via special breeding lines on selected planets, of which Earth (Tellus) is one. These breeding lines will develop beings capable of enduring the enormous stress of inevitable conflict with the forces of Evil: the various planets and empires, known collectively as Boskone, inimical to Civilization and secretly commanded through a nest of hierarchies by the invisible Eddorians. We are introduced first to the broad picture and to the idea of the Lens, a bracelet which tenders to suitable members of the Arisian-influenced Galactic Patrol certain telepathic and other powers; then, as the centralsequence progresses, we climb, link by link, the vast chain of command, as seen through the eyes of the series' main protagonist, Kim Kinnison - who with his wife represents the penultimate stage in the Arisian breeding programme, and whose children will finally defeat the Eddorians. Kinnison never knows that the layer just penetrated has layers behind it, and has never so much as heard of the Eddorians; each new volume of the sequence, therefore, begins with the revelation that the Universe is greater, and requires greater powers to confront, than Kinnison had hitherto imagined. In the Skylark books, Seaton's acquisition of similar powers wasdistressingly unbridled; but Kinnison, as a commanding member of the organization of Lensmen (itself hierarchical), is by contrast licensed, and his institutionalized gaining of superpowers and special knowledge is measured, inevitable, and kinetically enthralling. It was almost certainly these controlled jumps in scale that fascinated most early readers of the series and which, for many of them, represented the essence of the SENSE OF WONDER. The Lensmen books had the shape of dreams.EES wrote some ratherless popular out-of-series books, none having anything like the force of his major effort. A decade after his death, books he had begun or completed in manuscript, or had merely inspired or authorized, began to appear in response to his great posthumous popularity. Lensmen ties included New Lensman * (1976) by William B. Ellern (1933-) and The Dragon Lensman * (1980), Lensman from Rigel * (1982) and Z-Lensman * (1983), allby David A. KYLE. The Family d'Alembert series, published as by EES "with Stephen GOLDIN", derived some material from posthumous manuscripts; the1st vol, The Imperial Stars * (1964 If; exp 1976), was based on published material, but subsequent volumes were essentially the work of Goldin (whom see for details). Lloyd Arthur ESHBACH constructed in Subspace Encounter * (1983) a sequel to the inferior Subspace Explorers (1960 ASF as "SubspaceSurvivors"; exp 1965). None of these adjuncts did anything to help EES's reputation. Today, while he must be read, it has to be in the loving awareness that he is a creature of the dawn.
   JC
   Other works: What Does this Convention Mean?: A Speech Delivered at the Chicago 1940 World's Science Fiction Convention (1941 chap); Spacehounds of IPC (1931 AMZ;1947); The Galaxy Primes (1959 AMZ; 1965); The Best of E.E. "Doc" Smith (coll 1975); Masters of Space (1961-2 If; 1976) with E. Everett EVANS.
   About the author: The Universes of E.E. Smith (1966) by Ron ELLIK and Bill EVANS; "E.E. Smith" in Seekers of Tomorrow (coll 1966) by Sam MOSKOWITZ.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.


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