the _alf blog

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Alf Recommends the Lensman Series

Since you are now convinced about the value of literature after my last post, I'd like to hazard a brief description of E. E. "Doc" Smith (plagarized, I admit, but I don't think the owners of the original clip will mind).

E. E. Smith was a chemical engineer in Washington DC when, in 1915, a next-door neighbor suggested that he turn his speculations regarding space travel into a science fiction novel. Smith at first demurred, saying that the story would be a failure without romatic content and that he did not feel comfortable writing that himself. His neighbor's wife suggested that she would be willing to take care of those details if he wrote the larger framework. Smith set to the task.

They finished "Skylark of Space" in 1919. It would be eight more years before it was published as a serial in Amazing Stories. Smith actually lost money on the venture, since the $125 he was paid by Amazing Stories didn't cover the cost of the postage he had spent sending the manuscript to dozens of uninterested publishers over the years.

Skylark was an immense success and Smith devoted much time over the next forty years to writing novels. His stories involve huge contests fought with fearsome and rapidly evolving technology between the spirited forces of good and democracy against the many-layered cabals of evil. His name has become closely associated with the space opera genre,and his work has greatly influenced modern science fiction — print, movies and video games.

Note, incidentally, that Smith was a real PhD and chemical engineer. He worked in the food industry for much of his life and popular legend has it that he was the researcher who figured out how to get powdered sugar to stick to doughnuts.

Unfortunately, many of Smith's books have been out of print for years, and copies of the original hardcover editions can be hard to find.


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