enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Edward E. Smith, Skylark DuQuesne

I read this book about 27-Aug-2002. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1965. This note was last modified Monday, 19-May-2014 16:39:39 PDT.

This is book 4 of the "Skylark" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


I bought the Skylark books fairly early in my life. This would seem to be the first Pyramid edition, fourth printing, May 1968. Cover price is 60 cents. It's still holding together remarkably well; the spine isn't cracked, all the pages are attached. Great cover, too.

I glanced at sections of The Skylark Of Space in the new Bison edition earlier this year—not enough to get me to list it in the booklog, but it got me thinking this direction again. I've chosen to jump right to the end of the series. I think this is the best book. I find considerable bits of the intermediate books a bit slow.

"We have told you, youth, not a dozen times, but once, which should have been sufficient, that your young and vigorous race possesses qualities that our immensely older peoples no longer have." (Fodan, Chief of the Five of Norlamin)

Right in that quote is most of the good and bad of that universe. The focus on racial characteristics carries through, and that's very much against modern sensibilities. Then again, he's talking about actual different species that developed on different planets, whereas we took against the model from our experience with the "races" of homo sapiens. The books certainly carry forward the institutionalized racism of the time they stem from. Then again the original version of The Skylark of Space had a black lab tech at least, and while Crane's "man" is a bit of a parody of Japanese culture, he's also intelligent, quick-thinking, loyal, and brave. And the wife he turns up with (Lotus Blossom) is a first-rate martial artist to boot.

There's one mistake I've started noticing. On page 16, the thought they send out to get help from anybody friendly and knowing enough to be helpful goes "past the inconceivably tiny, inconceivably fast-moving point that housed the seven greatest, most fearsome minds that the Macrocosmic All had ever spawned". But if they were still in the container, then they were in a time stasis and wouldn't have been able to be aware of the thought. And DuQuesne was with them too. Maybe it's intended to suggest that the event that frees them had already happened; though in the book it's several chapters later. The time sequence is not given absolutely clearly, though, so maybe it's not a mistake. If so, I think it's a mistake, as it gives away early that DuQuesne is already out.

Then there's the sad case of poor Luloy. On page 21 she (and her partner) get punished with a "nerve whip" (which is called a "sense whip" on page 25), and then on page 26 her partner is threatening to spank her. Doesn't seem fair. (Mergon was also punished on page 21.)

The first steps were easy—anyway the decisions involved were easy; the actual work involved was roughly equivalent to the energy budget of several Sol-type suns. (p. 59)

Now, that's the old sensawunda stimulation I look for from SF. What a wonderful definition of "easy". And how can one not love a book where people operate ten-thousand square mile areas of work at the speed of thought, joining their parsecs-long beams of force precisely to those of their adjacent workers without error?

"There will be no second-class citizens, at least in the upper stratum." — Marc C. DuQuesne (p. 237)

For sheer audacity, I think that sentence ranks right up there with Heinlein's paragraph, in Starship Troopers, where he says in the first sentence that he doesn't need to tell any modern reader about Mobile Infantry suits, and then spends the next several paragraphs doing so. And we're just a page from the end, we don't get to see the actual development of the society.

"It must be an autocracy, of course, and you're the man to make it work." — Stephanie de Marigny (p. 237)

If you want to accuse an SF novel of supporting fascism, this is one of the better choices, actually. I don't particularly think Smith supports autocracy; so much of his other work vehemently rejects it. Most of the Skylark books do, too. Seaton could easily set up as a king, but he doesn't want to and doesn't think it's a good idea. But DuQuesne does want to, and does think it's a good idea, and his chosen bride wants to too. At the end, they head off into the sunset (or towards the rim of the First Universe) in their trusty and loyal spaceship that has just finished participating in destroying two entire galaxies (stealing the suns from one to smash into the suns in another) while rescuing the human planets into still a third galaxy. It's an amazing note to end the series on; almost as shocking as what Thomas Harris does in Hannibal.

One possibility that occurs to me is that he intended to continue the series, with the eventual conflict between that society and ours. But that would have been best as a far-future thing; give the society a decent shot, and see what develops. Also this book was finished reasonably close to when Smith died; but it's not that unlikely for a person to plan ahead further than they can follow through on.

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David Dyer-Bennet