I read this book about 17-Dec-2002. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1931. This note was last modified Thursday, 19-Dec-2002 21:53:35 PST.
This note contains spoilers for the book.
Another old Smith (remember that Skylark wasn't published until 1928). From an old, pre-ISBN Ace paperback, F-372, cover price of $0.40. I bought it new for cover price, too (I think I had to order it by mail from the publisher). The ISFDB says it's from 1966 (I probably bought it in the 1967-1970 timeframe; I was in Switzerland for the 1966-67 academic year).
It took me a while to get around to rereading this one. I've been thinking of it for several months. But I finally got around to putting it in a plastic bag (to protect it from oxidation, as well as roughness and dust), and it seemed like getting it out was now a big deal, risking my book, and so forth. Not that it's in pristine collectible condition anyway.
Right here on page 5 (first page of the story) we have "...a sullen gray expanse of fifty-inch hardened steel armor...." Boy have they got power to burn. This seems to relate to an exaggerated fear about meteors. They didn't know much about the real frequency out there in 1931. It's mentioned later that this ship, 4 years old, is very out of date, and that modern designs are 40 times more efficient.
This book actually uses "computer" to refer to a person who performs computations. Page 6: "Behold your computer in the flesh!". It's not just a rumor.
It does come equipped with the same romantic clap-trap that's a fixed feature of Smith. Here on page 59, for example: "You know that I love you, and you know how I love you—with the real love that a man can feel for only one woman and only once in his life". It ain't the real world I know. For a while I wasn't sure, but as I got older and watched the world around me, it just didn't fit. Luckily it doesn't seem to have done me any damage.
In fairness to Smith, I should point out that Neal Cloud in The Vortex Blaster does learn to love a sceond woman, at least after he becomes a widower. So the "only once in his life" could be this one, young, character talking, not the author.
Somewhere along the way I noticed Nadia using "All x" to mean "okay". I remember "QX" from the Lensman series, of course. That's never explained (officially), and neither is this, but it's gotta be related. (There is an unofficial suggestion, perhaps in one of the David Kyle books in the Lensman universe, that "qx" is the closest approximation of the unpronounceable syllable impressed on your consciousness by the Meteor of the Triplanetary Service.)
On page 98, he starts introducing that wonderful magic "thought exchanger" that he also uses in the Skylark series. Apparently all brains work alike. Even the Chlorans can extend their mind rays into human heads, and of course Lensmen can communicate with anybody. Well, I should't groan too loudly, it is after all pretty hard to have much of a nice story of cooperation without the ability to communicate. At least in the Lensman universe, the Lens is nearly a sentient creature, and is created by super-beings who can visualize the Cosmic All. That makes a lot more sense than "thought exchangers" or "mechanical educators" that are cross-species.
On page 170, his Martians are sounding an awful lot like Heinlein's. He uses the same Martians in First Lensman, too, but not that I recall elsewhere in the Lensman series. They even appear to have important rituals with offering water (though they don't appear to be equivalent to "water brotherhood"). "I suppose that you have been given to drink?" "We have drunk full deeply, thanks; and it was not really necessary, for we drank scarcely three weeks since."
Throughout the book, we have repeated instances of dividing frequency spectrums into "bands", and assigning grossly different behavior to them. Partly we still do this—we distinguish "light" and "radio" as if they were different things. In radio, historically they've used "band" to group things, somewhat arbitrarily ("the AM broadcast band") or in a meaningful way ("shortwave", which is roughly the parts that can reflect off the ionosphere). But to suggest that different "bands" of force are as different as torque and tension, which he does, seems very strange to me.
This book also has the remote vision system that works by "sending out" a projector of pure force that then reports back (same as used in the Skylark books). All this has the same problem as force-screens, so far as I can see—you have to get the force to notice distances. There's even a discussion of how to do that in this one, when they're building their first force-screen. I wasn't convinced, really.
Then there's the cover. It's credited to Ed Valigursky, a name I'm not familiar with (the ISFDB shows three covers for If in three different years around a decade before this, but misses crediting this book). I'd say it was painted specifically for this book—the element of the transparent aliens is fairly specific. They're described as having big ears, too, though why the spacesuit has vents there is an interesting question. The wavy beam coming out of the spaceship is a classic. And there's even a scene in the book where Nadia and Stevens run while holding hands.
There isn't anything about the face appearing skull-like, but that could be considered a consequence of being transparent; except that the bones have to be transparent too. The real question, I guess, is "What's that opaque bit behind the nose?"
The back cover has moments of unusual interest too. The IPV Sirius isn't a crack vessel, she's old and about due for retirement. And it's fun to see them boasting on the back that it's "not part of any series."
This book has one of the better "rebuild civilization from scratch" sequences in it, when Stevens takes their lifeboat and assorted junk and builds a hydro-electric power plant, wireless energy transmission system, and ultra-radio (which hadn't quite been invented yet when he left the other two of the Big Three) in six months. Nothing goes smoothly, he gets horribly frustrated, but he gradually gets things under control.
This book is solidly metric—and he emphasizes it by using "pounds" briefly when discussing archery, and having Nadia realize he must know about archery because he wouldn't use the archaic units otherwise. Sharp girl. Sharp author.
Here on page 202 we have some of the most ultra-violet prose I've encountered:
The outer walls, still loftier and even more massive ramparts of sullen grey-green metal, formed a seamless, jointless barrier against an utterly indescribable foe; a barrier whose outer faces radiated constantly a searing, coruscating green emanation. Metal alone could not long have barred that voracious and implacably relentless enemy, but against that lethal green emanation even that ravening Jovian jungle could not prevail but fell back impotent. Writhing and crawling, loathsomely palpitant with an unspeakable exuberance of foul and repellent vigor possible only to such meteorological condition as obtained there, it threw its most hideously prolific growths against that radiant wall in vain.