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Book Note: Edward E. Smith, Skylark Three (#4)

I read this book about 5-Jul-2007. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1930. This note was last modified Monday, 19-May-2014 16:40:23 PDT.

This is book 2 of the "Skylark" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


The recent Gutenberg release, with the text from the original magazine publication.

Not nearly as far from the Pyramid paperbacks as the first one was, but still interesting.

Smith cares deeply about language, and has thought about it a lot. Despite his reputation for writing clumsily or poorly, I think his words and sentences and paragraphs are fully under control, doing exactly what he wanted. People may not like the effect he chooses to create, and that's fine; but we're talking about a difference in preferences here, not a lack of ability or skill.

Smith discusses this issue some within the books. In this one, we have two nice passages:

Having every minute detail of the configuration of Seaton's brain engraved upon his own, Dunark spoke English in Seaton's own characteristic careless fashion. Only when thinking deeply or discussing abstruse matter did Seaton employ the carefully selected and precise phrasing, which he knew so well how to use.


"Ouch! That's a dirty dig. However, Mrs. Seaton, I am able and willing to defend my customary mode of speech. You realize that the spoken word is ephemeral, whereas the thought, whose nuances have once been expressed in imperishable print is not subject to revision.its crudities can never be remodeled into more subtle, more gracious shading. It is my contention that, due to these inescapable conditions, the mental effort necessitated by the employment of nice distinctions in sense and meaning of words and a slavish adherence to the dictates of the more precise grammarians should be reserved for the print...."
He broke off as Dorothy, in one lithe motion, rose and hurled her pillow at his head.

And at least once Seaton gets beat at his own game:

"'Ha! ha! It was elementary,' says Sherlock." Seaton interrupted. "You're heading directly at that largest, oldest, and most intelligent planet, then, I take it, where I can catch me my physicist?"
"Not directly at it, no. I am heading for the place where it will be when we reach it. That is elementary."
"Ouch! That got to me, Mart, right where I live. I'll be good."[Pg 414]

Just incidentally, and off-topic for this note, Smith spends considerable time on issues of language in Masters of the Vortex (#3).

Here's an extreme example of Smith's control of the language, which coincidentally fits right into the next subject:

Each reflector apparently focussed upon an object in the center, a helix which seemed to writhe luridly in that flaming focus, glowing with a nacreous, opalescent green light.

One interesting aspect of the technology of the Central (or Green) system is that they don't seem to have ever had the idea of fossil fuels. When Seaton first finds the island on Dasor, after detailed descriptions he says:

"Solar generators, tide-motors, and wave-motors, all at once!" ejaculated Seaton. "Some power-plant! Folks, I'm going to take a look at that if I have to drill in with a ray!"

It's also amusing, in light of 75 more years of engineering development, that he didn't think of using windmills, which were already pumping water and generating electricity all over the American prairie at the time this book was written, and which have turned out (at least so far) to be better ways of generating energy than any of the ones he mentions.

The tragedy of Duquesne is nicely laid out in this section:

"The attackers are Kondalians, all right.those ships are developments of the Skylark. But I don't get that fort at all. Wonder if it can be the strangers already? Don't think so. They aren't due for a couple of years yet, and I don't think the Kondalians could stand against them a minute. It must be what is left of Mardonale, although I never heard of anything like that. Probably it is some new invention they dug up at the last minute. That's it, I guess," and his brow cleared. "It couldn't be anything else."

That conclusion is a mistake that Seaton could not possibly make. "It couldn't be anything else"— when they're in a system known to have inhabited planets, known to have hundreds of planets, and known to have been visited by at least two alien species (the humans from Earth, and the Fenachrone). Poor Duquesne; he's small-minded. I don't think Smith ever thought of writing it, but I'd have loved to read of the empire he goes off to found at the end of Skylark DuQuesne (#4). It would nearly have to be a tragedy, but he might show remarkable character development (and by then he's already shown more than any other character in this series). Smith probably wasn't the right person to write it, anyway.

I had forgotten that in this one, not just the Norlaminians and Sacner Carfon, but Seaton himself draws the line at genocide, even though he understands intellectually it's the only thing to do. So they have Dunark come up and push the button, and he enjoys it. Then Seaton and the humans fly off to complete the genocide without a qualm, and Dunark stays behind because he knows he's too imature to be allowed to learn the stuff Seaton knows. (There's that fleet we don't learn about until the last book in the series, but, well, they didn't know about it.) Nobody much mourned the Mardonalians, either (the Urvanians did them in at the beginning of this book), but Seaton did invoke all his personal persuasion and powers as overlord to keep the Urvanians from doing in the Kondalians. But then the Kondalians are his friends.

Every time I read this I'm bothered by their using their fifth-order projector to go out and catch the light-rays from something they want to watch. The basic idea is sound enough (though the question of how much resolution you can really get looking through the atmosphere is ignored), but they often do it to watch stuff happening inside, and I don't mean looking in through a window. And then they talked about doing it for sound, and Seaton said in theory the sound wave travels forever too. Um, I don't think so; I think the atoms get far enough apart that the wave simply doesn't propagate, fairly early.

There's an author's introduction where he waves his hands furiously at some of the science. And there's a response from the letter column at the end, from...John W. Campbell (1930 is before he was editor of Astounding; he started doing that in 1937; looks like he had his first professional publication in 1930, though, when he was 18).

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David Dyer-Bennet