Reading Order for Lensman Series

That is, the Lensman series by Edward E. “Doc” Smith; the one my license plate is from.

I wrote this originally elsewhere, but it’s so long, and represents things I’ve been thinking through for decades, I decided to record it here to keep it around.

So. My thoughts on the best reading order:

You can’t win. (Also the first law of thermodynamics; but I digress.)

They were written and published in the magazines, as has been explained, as Galactic Patrol through Children of the Lens. Original publication order is nearly always a reasonable choice for anything famous—that order is how it earned its fame, so it can’t be a horrible choice.

I personally love a few things in Triplanetary all to bits (Rome and WWII), and rather dislike the actual story Triplanetary. And it’s certainly not an introduction to the real series. Plus it gives away in the first introduction all the secrets that were kept through the original 4 books, and gradually released to great effect.

First Lensman is a huge favorite of mine—largely because I love watching him back-fill all sorts of things given us in the basic 4-book series without explanation. That might be okay as a starting point also, or people might wonder why time was being spent on where weird names came from.

(Those two were assembled and published starting in 1950, when the series was first published in books, the Fantasy Press hardcovers.)

The versions of the basic 4 books have been revised to also give away the things that were kept secrets in the magazine versions—so you can’t have the experience of reading them as people really first read them, without tracking down the magazines (hint: the issues with Lensman novels in them are kind of expensive).

(And The Vortex Blaster as published in book form at least is solidly set in the Lensman universe, but is not fully compatible with it and it’s not a Lensman story. I love it all to pieces too, for its own reasons, though.)

So—my recommended approach is to read Galactic Patrol, Gray Lensman, Second Stage Lensmen, Children of the Lens, Triplanetary, and First Lensman. And The Vortex Blaster. But every possible reading order has some points against it.

“Flowers of Vashnoi”

It kind of looks like Lois McMaster Bujold has finished and published the novella she read part of back in 2012 at Dreamhaven, which reading I made a video of. At least, the description sounds very like the story she read.

It sounded very promising, and I’ve just finished the book I was in the middle of, so no doubt I’ll find out for myself soon enough!

The novella on Amazon

The reading on YouTube

The Dubious Hills Cover

Okay, I’ve made surprisingly good time on the next cover, and have one which is getting close to ready even before I have the text all cleaned up.

This one started from one of my own photos, so let’s start there:

Perhaps two people on FB may recognize this...
Perhaps two people on my FaceBook friend’s list may recognize this…

It’s really too large, and it’s brick rather than stone, but it’s not a bad starting point. Reducing it to B&W will make the brick less obtrusive, and simply cropping down will both make the doorway (and doorstep) more prominent, and hide the size of the entire building.

And I ended up here:

Current draft cover
Current draft cover


The biggest change to the main photo was applying the “rubber stamp” filter from the filter gallery to it. To get that to work out nicely, though, I had to adjust the curtains behind the windows, and the roof, and a number of other things. If you overlay the images you’ll find I’ve also performed some perspective distortion on the house—not actually important for this relatively tight crop, but I did it when the entire house was showing in a wraparound, and it was important there.

Preparing the image for rubber stamp
Preparing the image for rubber stamp

The house was done in two pieces; first I cropped and adjusted and prepared it for filtering, in four layers. The base layer is simply the image (with layer mask to clip the house out of the background). Then there’s a retouch layer which suppresses some things that are emphasized by the rubber stamp treatment. Then a curves layer with layer mask to brighten up foliage so it doesn’t go all black in the rubber stamp, and a curves layer with layer mask to darken the curtains inside the windows so the windows don’t go all white.

Cover layers
Cover layers

Then, that image was made one piece in the cover design. Working up, that image was placed to fit the front cover, the perspective was corrected, and the rubber stamp effect was applied. The opacity of that layer was reduced to get the gray I wanted (that was easier than repeating rubber stamp with different foreground colors selected until I found one I liked).

A simple color layer with “darken” blending mode applies the “background” color (this was easier than masking the rubber stamp group, I thought). Then the layer over that applies a very subtle texture to that background color, to keep it from looking perfectly flat.

The rest is really simple—text elements for title and author on cover and spine, the two cats (the white one will probably get more complicated, see below), the publisher and price on the back cover (and the background rectangle that makes it visible against the background), the author photo, the credit for the author photo, and the author biography.

I’m reasonably pleased with this, and it’s rather different from the last one (though both do involve buildings reduced to low-res B&W representations).

My current issue list for this:

  • Not satisfied with the white cat’s face
  • Not satisfied with roof detail on left half
  • Add extract from review to back—maybe at the top rather than the bottom
  • Still doubtful about front text color
  • Doubtful about using white for Pamela’s name on the spine
  • Not sure about the background color
  • Not sure about the very subtle texture applied to the background color