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Gharlane's Lensmen FAQ
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The "Lensman" series is a set of books concerning the most noble set of Good Guys ever to run loose in Science Fiction. A Lensman is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent; and Well-Educated, Athletic, and Relentless, to boot.
The "Lens" is an artifact, a telepathic amplifier and universal translator keyed to the individual Lensman who owns it, and will kill anyone else who tries to wear it.
The Lensman fight the arch-villains of the universe, and each time they eradicate a big, bad set of villains, they discover the villains they've just vanquished were merely fronts for bigger, badder villains; this goes on until they identify, and extirpate, the Evillest Villains In Two Universes, leaving both universes safe for Truth, Justice, and The Civilized Way.
The series is noted for its internal consistency, long-term story planning, and breathtaking originality of plot and concept.
Much of modern SF is directly derived from it, and the entire field owes a huge debt to the Lensmen.
The series was created by Edward Elmer Smith, PhD ( 2 May 1890 -- 1 Sep 1965). Smith's primary education took place around the turn of the century, and his writing style reflects this. His use of language might be considered florid by modern standards, but his unabashed command of vocabulary and complex sentence structure are quite enjoyable, particularly when you realize that what he was writing was, by Victorian standards, leaned-down and Hemingwayesque. Unlike most fantasists, he had a strong technical education, and this contributed to the coherence and believeability of even his most grandiose concepts.
The Lensman series was originally contracted for by F. Orlin Tremaine, then editor of ASTOUNDING magazine, in 1937. Due to staff changes, the series was actually edited by John W. Campbell, Jr, who, along with EES' cohorts, the "Galactic Roamers," contributed no small amount to the series.
Originally, the "Lensman" saga was specifically designed as a 400,000-word novel, to be broken into FOUR segments.
Smith knew exactly where he was going with the four books, had a complete outline, and actually wrote the ending of the fourth book before he began work on the first one.
EES submitted his detailed 85-page outline, as long as some short novels, to F. Orlin Tremaine, the editor of ASTOUNDING, in early 1937. Just prior to his departure from the editorial helm, Tremaine committed ASTOUNDING to buying and printing the entire package. (The new editor was John W. Campbell, who would use the impetus of stories by Smith, Heinlein, and Van Vogt to drive ASTOUNDING to the forefront of the field and keep it there for the next three decades.)
The FOUR lensman novels of the basic series are:
1st book, Fantasy Press hardbound, 1950.
1st book, Fantasy Press hardbound, 1951.
1st book, Fantasy Press hardbound, 1953.
1st book, Fantasy Press hardbound, 1954.
It should be noted that there are textual differences between the serialized versions and the hardbacks; in the magazine versions, the Evil Eddorians aren't even known to exist until the last book. In fact, at the end of SECOND-STAGE LENSMEN, EES uses such a hoary old plot device to end the book that some of his fans were more than a little put out. EES was concerned over this, even in his original outline, because he knew he needed a strong "phony ending" for a break between SSL and COTL, while the Children grew to maturity, and he couldn't come up with one that he really liked.
When Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, the owner of Fantasy Press, set up his deal with EES to publish the four books in hardbound, he came up with the entrepreneurial inspiration of conning EES into rewriting an earlier book, TRIPLANETARY, to fit into the "Lensmen" universe; and writing a "bridge" novel, FIRST LENSMAN, to connect it onto the beginning of the series. ( The earlier, *non*-"Lensman" version of TRIPLANETARY had appeared in AMAZING magazine, Jan '34 - Apr '34.) Since Fantasy Press printings of EES' other novels were already selling like hotcakes on a cold morning during the potato famine, Eshbach had no trouble marketing two "new" EES books as an introduction to the main "Lensman" series.
This is why there are SIX books in the post-1950, post-Eshbach, series, and why the first book is so unlike the rest in style and content. Those "first" two FP "Lensman" books are:
( In 1954, Fantasy Press ran off 75 boxed, leather-bound sets of the six books, and marketed them under the title THE HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION. If anyone knows the location of one of these that's for sale, I'd be interested in hearing the price-tag on it.)
In 1956, Fantasy Press produced what we'd call today a "trade paperback" edition of GALACTIC PATROL; paperbound copies from the 1951 print run.
At least one Fantasy Press hardbound, GRAY LENSMAN, was reprinted by Gnome Press, around 1961, apparently using a simple photo-offset reproduction of the original Fantasy Press version. The only apparent changes were the removal of the Fantasy Press name and colophon from the title page (and "Gnome Press," without the famous Edd Cartier-designed Gnome colophon, added.) The copyright date is still given as 1951, and although it's the second edition, it claims to be the first. Of course, the dedication page, "To Lloyd," is missing from the Gnome version.
The dust jacket on the first FP printing of GL mis-spelled the title as GREY LENSMAN. The Gnome version, as is usual for that publisher, seems to have been printed on cheap paper, and the Gnome dust jacket is not a full-color reproduction of the original.
The first mass-market paperback editions of the six "Lensman" novels appeared from Pyramid in '64, '65, and '66. There have been a huge quantity of printings and translations, from many publishers, since.
EES had a plotline in mind for what occurred after the last book, but, as far as I can find out, never had any intention of writing it. Heinlein reports discussing it with him in some detail, but says he's unaware of any of the book ever having been written or even outlined on paper.
EES made references to it on two occasions when I encountered him in person, but declined to discuss it in detail.
Lloyd Eshbach reports that EES said "NO!" in capital letters whenever approached on the subject of writing sequels.
The subsequent storlyine seems obvious, since the encapsulation of the last book (CHILDREN OF THE LENS) is addressed to any third-level entity capable of obtaining it and reading it, and the closing salutation refers to "your race;" this implies the existence of third-level species besides Kit and his sisters...... which means that Kit & Co. have replaced the Arisians and are guiding other civilizations into producing third-level minds, or have discovered or created a new race of third-level intellects.
(Since the Children are genetically perfect, as EES keeps reminding us, inbreeding might not be dangerous, with no dangerous recessive genes to be expressed. Of course, there is no reason to presume the Children have any *need* to reproduce their kind; their species might well be effectively immortal.)
F. Orlin Tremaine, the editor who'd left ASTOUNDING in 1938, was working on a new magazine, COMET, which was having major financial and circulation problems. Tremaine asked Smith if he could help out. Since Smith couldn't sell a "Lensman" novel to a competitor of ASTOUNDING, he came up with the idea for a different series, set in the same universe. Unfortunately, Tremaine's ballyhooing of the new EES series didn't get the magazine out of the red in time. "THE VORTEX BLASTER" appeared in the the *last* issue of COMET, in July, 1941. This story is about the first 25 pages of the hardbound book.
John Campbell, the editor of ASTOUNDING, reportedly took a dim view of this situation, since Tremaine had bragged, in print, about how he was going to drive ASTOUNDING out of business.
Campbell once said he felt that EES's loyalty to a friend who wasn't that good an editor was mis-placed, and constituted a kind of underhanded use of ASTOUNDING's material to support the competition. While Campbell loudly supported competition, it may be noteworthy that EES (with the exception of CHILDREN OF THE LENS, six years later) made only one other sale to ASTOUNDING. ("SUBSPACE EXPLORERS", July 1960.)
More VORTEX BLASTER stories, the stories "STORM CLOUD ON DEKA" and "THE VORTEX BLASTER MAKES WAR", appeared in ASTONISHING STORIES in June and October of 1942.
With no major markets paying full rates for the V.B. stories, EES telescoped the multi-volume outline into something that would fit into one book, and the three published stories became the first sections of the book. One character, Vesta the Vegian, is very appealing, and one of his best-realized alien characters.
THE VORTEX BLASTER first appeared in hardback from Gnome Press in 1960. (According to LAE, the normal printing schedule was inverted, so the tiny (about 300 copies) Fantasy Press edition, with the better binding and paper, was actually the *second* printing.)
Due to the way contract rights had been assigned on the first story, it was available for solo reprint in collections; it appeared in MODERN MASTERPIECES OF SCIENCE FICTION, World Publishers, 1965, and was the lead story in a MacFadden-Bartell paperback, THE VORTEX BLASTERS & OTHER STORIES, in 1968. I've been told that the folks at Pyramid, in an attempt to avoid competition with another book carrying the same title, elected to use the new title, MASTERS OF THE VORTEX, on their reprint of the Gnome Press novel, and that this is why the title continued to appear.
Where does "Vortex Blaster" fit into the "Lensman" sequence?
Although the VORTEX BLASTER novel is not specifically dated, and does not appear to refer to specific events during the final part of the Arisian-Eddorian war, the relative quietness of the galaxy seems to indicate that it takes place subsequent to SSL.
Scott Drellishak (firstname.lastname@example.org) points out that VB definitely dates after GL by at least a few months, and probably after SSL, on the basis of the following points:
In Chapter 6 of VB, there are references to superdreadnoughts and primary beams, both of which were developed during GL.
When Cloud gets an arm shot off, it is regenerated using the Phillips Process, also developed during GL. Availability of this treatment to a civilian employee of the Galactic Patrol implies at least a few months have passed since GL.
After SSL: (?)
Lensman Phil Strong says "You're the most-wanted man in the galaxy, not excepting Kimball Kinnison." This implies Kinnison is now a public figure, Coordinator Kinnison of Klovia, no longer a secret agent.
Drellishak also points out that VB characters always speak of one galaxy, not two, which might date it before SSL. (I feel this just means the other galaxy isn't yet public information.)
Dani Zweig ( email@example.com ) adds that it does look like Kinnison is already Galactic Coordinator. "The fact that he can undertake a search for someone to help or replace Storm is more telling than the fact that he is the most wanted man in Civilization."
Ron Ellik has observed:
"The events of The Vortex Blaster are not decidedly before or after Children Of The Lens -- Kim appears as an executive, not merely as The Lensman, and Haynes is still at his desk although we know that Raoul LaForge had been appointed Port Admiral by the time of the Battle of Ploor. Nothing conclusive -- the important thing is that VB forms a parenthesis in the stories of the Lens universe, as it is not concerned with the Eddorian conflict."
The best interpretation I can see at this date is that VB occurs at some point between SSL and COTL.
Recent paperback printings of various "Lensman" novels have included EES' novel, THE SPACEHOUNDS OF I.P.C. in the column of "Lensman" titles facing the title page.
THE SPACEHOUNDS OF I.P.C. doesn't even take place in the same universe, uses different technology, and can not be fitted into the series by any even marginally sane leap of imagination.
William B. Ellern wrote a short piece called "MOON PROSPECTOR," set in the Lensman universe. It was published, with EES' knowledge and approval, in the April, 1966 ANALOG. Michael Richards and James Corrick have provided further info: additions to this story were serialized as "NEW LENSMAN" in "PERRY RHODAN" books #61-#74, inclusive, about 1975, and followed by a stand-alone novella called "TRIPLANETARY AGENT," which appeared in "PERRY RHODAN" books #100-#105, inclusive, in 1976. "TRIPLANETARY AGENT" has apparently never been reprinted, and is reported as very poor writing; it uses the same main character as "NEW LENSMAN."
The novel version, NEW LENSMAN, compositing "MOON PROSPECTOR" and "NEW LENSMAN," was printed by Futura in 1976. James Corrick describes "NEW LENSMAN"'s use as a framing encapsulation for "MOON PROSPECTOR," which appears as chapters 8, 9, 12, 14, and 17 of the book; and says that the two stories appear to have no characters in common. Reports on quality of the book vary from "putrid" to "tolerable." I haven't read the book version, primarily due to having read the magazine piece.
EES worked with a writers' group called "The Galactic Roamers." These folks, aggressive and professional, delighted in tearing apart anything vulnerable in EES' works in progress; they were a great help in his writing, as well as being good friends.
At the end of SECOND STAGE LENSMEN, EES addresses specific appreciations to Dr. James R. Enright and to the following Roamers: E. Everett Evans, F. Edwin Counts, Paul Leavy, Jr, Alfred Ashley; and to Verna Trestrail.
One of the Roamers, David A. Kyle, was a long-time writer, publisher, collector and fan; using extant outlines, fragments of EES' unpublished work, and years of wrangling, arguments, and discussions as his source, he wrote three books EES had intended but never gotten around to.
Cover paintings on the Kyle books, by Bob Larkin, start sloppy in story detail, portraying Worsel as a sort of large two-eyed dinosaur, and then improve both in technique and correlation to the stories.
( On the subject of Worsel's eyes, herewith a slight digression:
The original illustrations from ASTOUNDING, presumably approved by EES and Campbell, usually show Worsel with either four or six eyes on stalks. Rogers shows Worsel in flight with six stalked eyes, and Schneeman shows Worsel walking, with four; perhaps the other two are specialized for in-flight applications.....or maybe Worsel just makes however many he needs!
When queried about the two-eyed dinosaurian Worsel who appears on the cover of DRAGON LENSMAN, and about the equivalent creature in the Japanime, David A. Kyle amusedly pointed out that, in voluminous research, he has never been able to find a number of eyes specified in any manuscript or working notes! I checked. We have only the words "multiple" and "stalked," although in SECOND STAGE LENSMEN, Worsel "thrust out a half dozen of his weirdly stalked eyes," and in CHILDREN OF THE LENS, "eight weirdly stalked eyes curled out..."
So we don't know how many eyes Worsel has, except (a) they're stalked; (b) he can muster *at least* eight! ...and, of course, (c) he has more than two. )
Kyle's three books are copyrighted by Verna Smith Trestrail, so they are owned by the Smith estate. They are:
I'm only aware of one printing on each of these, but I've been told there were later, brief print runs of at least one or two. Z-LENSMAN seems to be hard to find, which is something of a pity; I liked it best of Kyle's books.
Kyle's writing, while not initially fabulous, is readable, improves in the second, and is quite decent pulp SF in the third.
I don't know whether this is a result of achieving a successful synthesis between his own styles and concepts and EES', or whether the editor he drew at Bantam didn't understand what he was trying to do at the outset, but it should be noted that even in the first book, Kyle adds a number of interesting plotlines to the "Lensman" universe; his machine intelligences, for example, were something EES had avoided in the original series, possibly to keep the plot complexity down to something he could handle in a mere four books.
By his third book, Kyle added concepts and characters that could eventually generate a whole new cycle of novels; hopefully someone will do them right, some day, if Kyle is too busy.
There have been many Japanese editions of the "Lensman" books over the years; for example, Al Lewis's EES bibliography lists GREI RENZUMAN from Tokyo Sogensha, a 1966 paperback.
Some years ago, the same Japanese anime studio which had done the BATTLESHIP YAMATO series (re-packaged as STAR BLAZERS in the U.S.) got hold of the rights to the "LENSMEN" yarns and did a screen adaption.
Worsel has only two eyes, and looks like a bipedal dinosaur instead of a snaky winged reptile; Clarissa MacDougall suddenly stopped being a beautiful redhead and has BROWN eyes.... There are other noxious details, like Kinnison being a farmboy who gets his Lens from a Crashed Space Hero, etc...... *wince*
The anime movie, THE LENSMEN, is available on tape and laserdisk. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Comics. I've been told there are a slew of "Lensman" comic books out there. If, as I hear, they're based on the Japanime storyline, I'd appreciate it if no one ever shows me one.
Primary references used in the above compilation have been personal knowledge; my own collection; Sam Moskowitz' error-ridden biographical sketch of EES; the excellent concordance, THE UNIVERSES OF E.E. SMITH by Ron Ellik and E.E. Evans; Robert A. Heinlein's appreciative article "Larger Than Life," in EXPANDED UNIVERSE; sections of Lloyd Arthur Eshbach's publishing history, OVER MY SHOULDER; and fifteen years of insegrevious input from Jamie Hanrahan, (firstname.lastname@example.org), constructor of the first non-Arisian Lens, who also declines any and all responsibility for anything pertaining to Japanese anime versions of "LENSMAN" novels.
Regards and appreciation to the EES fans named in the article above;
Copyright 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995.
Address comments, queries, flames, idiopathic paeans of adulation, and other such wrangling to alt.dev.null. 10Q.
Genuine additions of information to Source above; verified addenda will be included in subsequent FAQs, and contributors acknowledged.
Electronic reprinting, copying, and excerpting are specifically authorized, provided no changes are made, copyright notices are retained, and full credit is given. For paper reproduction permission, please contact the author.
Gharlane of Eddore's LENSMEN Faq . . . . . 27 November 1994 Revision
HTML Code Updated 9 December 2001 by Larry King
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