enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Edward E. Smith, Gray Lensman #2

I read this book about 24-Jan-2004. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1951. This note was last modified Monday, 19-May-2014 16:37:17 PDT.

This is book 4 of the "Lensman" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Not that this is the second time I've read this book. Two dozen would be under the mark. But I had such a good time on Galactic Patrol recently that I thought I'd try a more detailed annotation of this one than I usually do.

This was first serialized in Astounding from October 1939 through January 1940. The first book publication was from Fantasy Press in 1951. The version I'm reading is the Pyramid paperback (X-1245, $0.60), which appears to be the first paperback (mine's 3rd printing, 1967, and in lousy collector shape, luckily).

Just reading through the first chapter has left me with a list of things I wanted to say, so this should be fun.

I have a single central article on Doc Smith's vocabulary.

I should point out that this is one of the best of Doc Smith's books; it's a rich mine of his fine use of language. Which means that I won't be pointing out the "good bits" too often; if I did so, I'd be typing in amounts of the book that would risk RSI and perhaps also exceed fair use.


This edition starts with a Foreword that blows the whole Eddorian thing wide open. It's a bad mistake. It's unnecessary if you came here via Triplanetary and First Lensman, and it's a spoiler if you started with Galactic Patrol. If you get a choice, don't read it; except that if you've read these notes, lots of stuff is spoiled already, and you apparently don't mind spoilers (since I've said these notes contain spoilers), so maybe you don't mind.

Page 19 (start of chapter 1): "Among the world-girdling fortifications of a planet distant indeed from star cluster AC 257-4736 there squatted sullenly a fortress quite similar to Helmuth's own." The last book ended with Helmuth's death, and the presumption that the planned Patrol attack on his base would succeed, so this is something of a shocker. Right there in the first sentence it's being hinted that Helmuth wasn't going to be the end of their trouble. Of course, from the fact that there's a sequel, you might have figured that out anyway.

I also have fond memories of James White having his characters remember and quote that sentence in The Watch Below, where they're living in an air bubble in a sunken ship and trying to remember everything the've read to entertain themselves.

Page 19: Boy, here's a classic Smithian paragraph.

...there crouched or huddled or lay at ease a many-tentacled creature indescribable to man. It was not like an octopus. Though spiny, it did not resemble at all closely a sea-cucumber. Nor, although it was scaly and toothy and wingy, was it, save in the vaguest possible way, similar to a lizard, a sea-serpent, or a vulture. Such a description by negatives is, of course, pitifully inadequate; but, unfortunately, it is the best that can be done.
(We learn, later, that these frigid-blooded races have a metabolic extension into the fourth dimension, making them quite literally impossible for a strictly three-dimensional being to perceive in full, let alone understand.) This is the best job of describing something that's indescribable that I can remember anywhere in SF.

Page 20: "Eichlan, speaking for Boskone, ending message." On the second page of the story, we've got definite confirmation that Helmuth wasn't the top. Kinnison and the Patrol don't know this yet, though. In fact, Helmuth isn't even dead yet, and we know that's not going to be good enough.

Page 20: Kinnison knows the force-ball is operated by thought, and thus is sure it's harmless now (since he will keep Helmuth from thinking into it). I guess he's never heard of dead-man switches, and was sure that nobody else was around to operate it, and that it couldn't be operated from far away. In fact, we never learn anything to suggest that Eichlan couldn't have triggered it himself. Lucky for him (and Civilization) that it worked out.

Page 21: "Nevertheless he could open those circuits—the convervation of Boskonian property meant nothing to him." His confidence that melting down the board would turn off the force shield surprises me. "Open those circuits" means he's thinking in terms of the force shield being directly controlled through the board. For the amounts of power involved, this makes no sense at all. The power should be switched out where used, and the control should run on a low voltage. Whether power in that circuit means "on" or "off" seems to me like a toss-up; if anything, it should be designed to fail on. It's so embarrassing to have your shields go down because of a minor local fire in the control room. When Kinnison rays the board, there are major short-circuits, and there's enough power involved for the shorts to then burn themselves clear. This is clearly not a modern control panel design. Clearly, he's never seen a bomb-disarming movie.

Page 23: Kinnison was tapping Eichlan's communication with Helmuth after all; he cites the use of "that galaxy" in Eichlan's message to Helmuth as indicating that Eichlan was somewhere else. This also makes the end of Galactic Patrol a bit of a cheat; Kinnison knew before Helmuth died that Helmuth wasn't the top, but the book ends without our noticing. Note that Kinnison did not get Eichlan's sign-off, where he says he speaks for Boskone.

Since Kinnison only had 15 seconds to turn off the shields after Helmuth is killed, and since he instantly gives orders to prevent anybody from thinking into the base, he has managed to figure out the consequences of Helmuth not being the top while dealing with the fight with Helmuth and figuring out how to turn off the shields, in less than a minute I'd think. He has also pinpointed Lundmark's Nebula as the galaxy that Eichlan is most likely to be in (he sets the spotting screens with two extra layers, at great distances, on the line to there, outside the full globe). Just before that, he thought Helmuth was the top, as did everyone. This is also where Haynes first hears the suggestion that Boskonia may be more widespread than the Patrol; although it was hinted to the readers in the previous book.

Page 25: We blow a gash in the planet clear down to where molten rock and metal get squeezed out when the gash closes. This makes a real mess of the planet, and especially of the area around Helmuth's base, where the gash started. "I was going to use that base, but it looks as though we'll have to get along without it," Haynes says.

Page 26: "It is no more certain now that Helmuth was not Boskone than it was before that he was."

Page 27:

...the strife between Civilization and Boskonia in no respect resembled the wars between two fundamentally similar and friendly nations which small, green Terra knew so frequently of old. It was a galaxy-wide struggle for survival between two diametrically opposed, mutually exclusive, and absolutely incompatible cultures; a duel to the death in which quarter was neither asked nor given; a conflict which, except for the single instance which Kinnison himself had engineered, was and of stern necessity had to be one of ruthless, complete, and utter extinction.
Wow. Just, wow. They don't make them like that any more. Look at those semi-colons. It would be crude, and unnecessarily calling attention to the difference between publication order and internal chronology, to point out that the Petrinos were mostly allowed to surrender after they attacked Earth in First Lensman. And I don't remember noticing Smith using "Terra" before; mostly he seems to like "Tellus".

Page 28: The first primary beams manage to punch a hole through inertialess opponents. And as is typical of Smith, the explanation actually makes sense: they're so hot that the inertia of the few atoms in the way of the spaceship provide enough resistance for them to be holed. I'm wondering if the Boskonian engineers who invented them considered that and worked it out, or just got lucky. Of course they all died soon afterwards, so we don't know. The chapter, incidentally, is titled "primary beams", but they're not referred to as that anywhere in the chapter. That nomenclature comes along later.

Page 29: Kinnison also got the part about destroying all life on Sol III from Eichlan's conversation.

Page 30: They go back to "Earth". Now I'm wondering when Smith started using "Tellus". Much later than I thought, I guess. Geez I wish I had these in electronic form.

Page 32: A nice discourse on the dimensions and speeds of their kind of space travel, worked in as an explanation to a legitemately ignorant audience. Not bad for 1939!

Page 35: Kinnison accidentally puts Clarissa into a wide-open two-way, and doesn't even notice. She gets a clue he might possibly be interested in her, and even with that shock manages to respond to his question promptly, precisely, and correctly.

"And she said she wasn't dating ahead—the diplomat!" murmured an ambassador, aside. "Don't be a dope," a captain of Marines muttered in reply. "She meant with us—that's a Gray Lensman!" Smith is working to show just how much respect the Lensmen get.

Page 39: A bit of an explanation of Klono. "He's got so much stuff—teeth and horns, claws, and wiskers, tail and everything—that he's much more satisfactory to swear by than any other space-god I know of." Men swear to keep from crying, and women cry to keep from swearing; both are safety valves for blowing off pressure that would otherwise "blow fuses or burn out tubes".

Note the apparent special category "space-god". There are at least two examples, Klono and Noshabkeming.

There's very little mention of "real" religion in these books that I can remember. While it's possible that the Valerians take Noshabkeming seriously, it's pretty clear that Kinnison just finds Klono a useful literary expression. That matches precisely the way I use christian religious symbols; I'll swear using them without meaning anything religious by it.

Page 40: I'm not sure why chapter 3 is titled "Dei ex Machina". There is, however, an actual reference to a single god. And Kinnison thinks that humans are as great as intergalactic space by virtue of having learned to travel there; does that make him a god, in his machine (the Dauntless)? I don't think that's what the title is about, but I see no other obvious interpretation either.

Page 45: Amusingly, a reference to real religion turns up almost immediately. Specifically to the "omniscient and omnipotent Creator". Now why would those to attributes be associated? They're logically contradictory, and very typically christian.

Page 48: They hear Eichlan speaking for Boskone on their communicators in the Second Galaxy, thus confirming that Helmuth wasn't at the top. I don't know why Smith didn't have Kinnison overhear that formula with Helmuth; it doesn't seem to change anything, since they're acting as if Helmuth wasn't Boskone even without proof.

Page 58: Kinnison promises the Medonians the information on the Primary beams, the Patrol's best new super-weapon, and one which they never do, even in the next two books, every come up with a defense against. Being a telepath sure does make figuring out who you can trust easier.

Page 70: "He could not even pray with immortal Merritt's Dwayanu...." That is, the character in A. Merritt's "Dwellers in the Mirage". I wonder how many other reference to contemporary SF/fantasy I'm letting slip by? "Wacky Williamson" sounds suspicious, but nothing except the last name matches what I know about Jack Williamson.

Page 74: "The intrinsic ego could not be changed." Whatever had been done to Dessa Desplaines to make her a Boskonian agent hadn't really changed her fundamental values, so her impressions of Bominger (as he turned out to be) would be filtered through her attitudes as he understood them from her mind at age 15. This is the same kind of essentialism that allows the Arisians (or even Lensmen) to identify people who will be proper Lensmen -- incorruptible, focused, committed, and very very smart. While I'm actually kind of glad the world isn't that straight-jacketed, I'll give points for consistency. (Actually, maybe I'd rather not have to worry about myself going off the beam and being a bad guy; it'd be nice to know it wasn't possible.)

Page 75: "The Lensman knew that the games were crooked, certainly. He could see, however they were concealed, the workings of the dealers' minds as they manipulated their crooked decks. He could read as plainly as his own the cards his crooked opponents held." Nice structure, good use of repetition. And reminds me of the discussion of cheating at gambling in The Vortex Blaster, too. I wonder if this is a subject Smith had a hobby interest in?

Page 76: "And there were addicts, differing only from those others in wearing finer raiment and being of a self-styled higher stratum. Basically, they were the same." That "only" really should be after "others"; one of the rare times I think a Smithian sentence is flawed (not counting probable printer's errors). The Lensman books, and also Have Trenchcoat, Will Travel, which is known to be written fairly late, have a real bad case of anti-drug hysteria. Actually, the original perjured testimony to Congress that set off drug prohibition in this country had occurred only a few years before Smith started publishing, so I suppose it's not that shocking that it got into his head. But I'd have hoped he'd have known better. Error: no default data, no specificed link text Heinlein has a nice poke at this in the generally abysmal The Number of the Beast, where the wanderers drop into the Lensman universe accidentally, and get out fast.

Page 95: Haynes tells Kinnison that no other Lensmen except Worsel have been called to the Second Stage. A few thought they had. Apparently even the supremely rational, logical, Lensmen can delude themselves, despite being incorruptible. Haynes does say they came back; meaning to me that he wasn't totally sure what the Arisians would do to Lensmen who made that mistake.

Page 98: "With the restriction of government to its proper sphere and its concentration into our organization, resulting in the liberation of man-power into wealth-producing enterprise, and especially with the enormous growth of inter-world commerce, world-income increased to such a point that taxation could be reduced to a minimum; and the lower the taxes the more flourishing business became and the greater the income." The tax rate in the highest bracket is 3.592 percent. Sounds like a lot of the basic Libertarian (minarchist at least; certainly not the full anarchist version) conception of economics to me. In 1939.

Page 101: "Boskone is now in session." We finally meet the Council of Boskone.

Page 193-194: "The warfare designed for the illimitable reaches of empty space being waged in the very heart of its business district!" So much for Cominoche (capitol of Bronseca). At least two pages of it, highly spiced.

Page 201: Worsel operates on Kinnison's mind, and Kinnison is a bit surprised that he can't detect the results afterwards. They're pending, not active yet, which probably explains it. If you accept that future instructions can be stored somewhere even Kinnison can't access.

Page 201: For all they know, the Eich may be able to see them "as plainly as though their ship were painted with radium". Been a while since much of anything was painted with radium in this timeline. Back then they used it on watch dials.

Page 206: "You of the Eich lack finesse," the Delgonian sighed. "You have no subtlety, no conception of the nicer possibilities of torture, either of an individual or of a race." Definitely bad guys. Probably even worse than the Galactic Overlord.

Page 207: "I do not break bones for pleasure. Since you do, you may carry out the procedure as outlined." The Eich are bad guys too.

Page 233: "The two old conspirators greeted each other with knowing grins. Was Kinnison taking it big! He was falling, like ten thousand bricks down a well." Haynes and Lacey are attempting to manipulate Kinnison into romance with Clarissa, not knowing that it's foreordained by the Arisians anyway.

Page 235:

"Red lights are fleets already in motion," Kinnison explained rapidly to the Valentian. "Greens are fleets still at their bases. Ambers are the planets the reds took off from—connected, you see, by Ryerson string-lights. The white star is us, the Directrix. That violet cross 'way over there is Jalte's planet, our first objective. The pink comets are our free planets, their tails showing their intrinsic velocities. Being so slow, they had to start long ago. The purple circle is the negasphere. It's on its way too.
That's quite a display. It's seventeen million cubic feet of space, real three-dimensional space, packed with moving lights—so complex that nobody can understand it until Kinnison and Worsel come along. Note that it isn't digital; in particular the pixels aren't interchangeable. The connecting lines are made by special kinds of lights, the string-lights. That's the big unexpected jump we've made into digital data and displays, so it's not actually surprising that Smith missed it. We probably don't want to know how often a light bulb burns out in there. Kinnison is using this to control the actions of a million fleets, it says here (despite the fact that Haynes ordered it to be built only to handle the operations of a million combat units). Now that's warfare on the grand scale!

Page 239: "...and finally to a discretely conglomerate aggregation of meteorites..." I mean, wow. Could anybody else have written that?

Page 240: "Out flashed the penetrant super-rays and the fortresses, too, ceased to exist save as the impalpable infra-dust of space". Having a good couple of pages here!

Page 248: "Kinnison shot out of the building and, exerting his Gray Lensman's authority, he did a thing which he had always longed boyishly to do but which he had never before really considered doing. He whistled, shrill and piercingly, and waved a Lensed arm, even while he was directing a Lensed thought at the driver of the fast ground-car always in readiness in front of Haynes' office." This pretty much settles any question that the Lensman universe considers "corruption" the way many modern thinkers do in our universe. Kinnison does this for his personal convenience—he's on his way to see Clarissa for the first time in ages. And you'll note that he had "always" longed to do this, though he hadn't been in danger of actually doing it previously. Lensmen are not, in fact, the dried-up emotionless sticks that some people seem to think "incorruptibility" implies.

Page 250: "You know, don't you, that it's exceedingly much contra Regs for nurses to entertain visitors of the opposite sex in their rooms? Fifty demerits per offense. Most girls never get a chance at even one Gray Lensman, and here I've got three!" Clarissa and Kim get caught by Haynes and Lacy, still planning their future 15 minutes after Kim got there (and both still fully clothed, for that matter). Clarissa isn't just a Patrol nurse, she's a sector chief. But apparently they still live in segregated quarters and have rules against intervisitation. And apparently there are no male nurses. In some ways these books are showing their age. On the other hand, there wasn't anybody guarding any of the doors, Kim just went up the elevator, down the corridor, and knocked.

And, to end the book and celebrate their engagement, Kim and Chris head off to hike 10 miles. Chris has to do something or she'll just explode. In a more modern book, they'd probably find some other way to work off that enthusiasm!

This was a very long drawn-out careful reread, which I finally finished 19-Mar-2005. Sheesh.

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David Dyer-Bennet