Niall’s virtual diary archives – Monday 10th September 2018

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Monday 10th September 2018: 7.29pm. I know I've said it here many times before, but I'll say it again that somebody really needs to make the Lensman series of books into a TV series or something. It's the great grand daddy of most contemporary sci fi. Witness this:

Galactic Patrol (1937): Big space battle with defensive shields, beam weapons, maulers, torpedoes, tractor beams, escape pods. Hero uses his cunning and Jedi Lens powers to repeatedly evade capture by utterly evil multi-galaxy empire across multiple planets, each with its own unique species, governments and terrain. After successfully stealing plans for the enemy's much more advanced space drive and returning to the Jedi council Patrol, thus saving Civilisation from annihilation, he is released from command service and allowed to roam free to work in any fashion he chooses. He uses this to master mind control of those weak of mind, learned from advanced training by an elder race who birthed all the younger races and who manufactures an individual Lens for everyone elite enough to get into the Patrol.

(Yes, Star Wars and Babylon 5 borrowed heavily from Lensman)

Gray Lensman (1939): Our hero pays a visit to the second galaxy where the evil empire comes from, and saves a civilisation under attack who have the technology to transport entire planets (they transport theirs to our galaxy). Using said new technology, planet weapons get invented (just fire small planets at the enemy), as well as black hole weapons (note black holes hadn't been invented in physics by 1939). The enemy meanwhile deploys wormhole drive capable of traversing huge distances in an instant (yes, that's warp speed, again unknown to physics in 1939). Oh, and our hero considerably furthers his powers, and is joined in his level of abilities by members of several other very alien races, including one which are nebulous gas clouds (who consistently get the best and funniest lines throughout the series).

(Yes, the multicultural everybody-is-equal-but-different liberal consensus based Federation of Star Trek also came from Lensman, in fact a lot of Star Trek is clearly lifted from Lensman. Quite a few of the side plots read exactly like a classic Star Trek episode)

Second Stage Lensman (1941): Evil empire, whose primary planets were destroyed end of the last book by black hole and planet weapons and a huge Patrol armada, drops a huge fleet by wormhole into the Earth system along with its own planet weapons in order to take revenge. Luckily our hero and friends have just in time deployed a sunbeam weapon which redirects the entire output of our sun at stuff (yes, a full fat stellar converter weapon, a Death Star!), and the entire invading fleet of tens of thousands of monster attack ships, plus planet weapons and all, is wiped out. Realising knocking out evil empire's primary planets wasn't enough, our band of Jedi Lens heroes set to work figuring out who is the ancient advanced race behind the evil empire, the implacable foe of the ancient advanced race sponsoring Civilisation. Where, conveniently, both ancient races don't fight each other directly, but via the younger races they sponsor. Yes, that's basically Babylon 5 again.

I'll stop there, as that's how far I'm currently into the books, though I have read them before. One is just stunned at how transformational these books were for sci fi. Before them, is classic Jules Verne type sci fi. Then these came along, and defined all the sci fi tropes you've endlessly seen since e.g. the gruff, big strong guy big into fighting; the geeky scientist type big into analysis and numbers; women being saved, women doing the saving. Literally you could fill multiple pages with box ticking. And it all started with the Lensman.

Now, I'd remind anyone tempted to go read them that the prose is truly awful, everybody speaks like a 1930's gangster, everybody of course smokes and drinks constantly, and the language is quite archaic and not politically correct by today's standards. There is also a strong dose of eugenics and race purity in there, as was the zeitgeist. That said, for the time they were written, they are relatively colour blind, and women are not done down relative to men, but it is a very old fashioned form of feminism. Like the kind typical in society by the 1960s. However if you can push through all of that, they're definitely worth reading. And an eye opener.

There was to have been a book after the final one Children of the Lens, but it was felt unpublishable at that time. By the end of that book, the children have become a new species, more like gods in terms of power and remoteness from humans, or indeed all other life. Not so easy to publish after World War 2. Plus apparently there was a lot of incest amongst the new species as they multiplied themselves into a new elder race to shepherd the lesser lifeforms in the universe after the two ancient elder races departed beyond the rim. But we don't know for sure, it was never published.

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