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E. E. Smith

E. E. Smith, also Edward Elmer Smith, Edward Elmer Smith, Ph.D, E.E. "Doc" Smith and Doc Smith (May 2, 1890 - August 31, 1965) was a science fiction author who wrote the Lensman series and the Skylark series, among others.

He was indeed a doctor, gaining his Ph. D. in Chemical Engineering at George Washington University[?] in 1919. From 1936 onwards, he was employed as a food technologist (a "cereal" chemist) by the Dawn Doughnut Company before working for the US Army between 1941 and 1945. An extended segment in Triplanetary, one of his novels, suggests intimate familiarity with explosives and munitions manufacturing.

Robert Heinlein and Dr. Smith were personal friends. Heinlein reported that E.E. Smith perhaps took his unrealistic heros from life. He reported that E.E. Smith was a large, blond, athletic, very intelligent, very gallant man, married to a remarkably beautiful, intelligent red-haired woman named MacDougal [thus perhaps the prototypes of 'Kimball Kinnison' and 'Clarissa MacDougal']. In one of Heinlein's books, he reports that he began to suspect E.E. Smith might be a sort of superman when he asked Dr. Smith for help in purchasing a car. E.E. Smith tested the car by driving it on a back road at illegally high speeds with their heads pressed tightly against the roof columns to listen for chassis squeaks by bone-conduction -- a process apparently improvised on the spot.

While his novels are generally considered to be the original space operas, and offer almost non-stop action, they are, in most ways, still "true" science fiction, in that they use the extrapolation of known science and, often, the extrapolation of existing and historic social and political patterns of the early to mid-twentieth century.

In recent years many have characterized his writings as cliche-ridden, or as using tired old themes. But Dr. Smith invented many of these themes. It is his imitators who made them tired old themes and cliches. They were often totally new when he wrote them. With just a bit of tolerance and imagination, a sense of wonder is easy to recapture, because Smith had it when he was writing his work. His excitement and enthusiasm shine through his writing and make his books well worth reading despite their age and their obvious literary flaws.

The Skylark series includes:

  • The Skylark of Space
  • Skylark Three
  • Skylark of Valeron
  • Skylark DuQuesne

The Lensman series includes:

  • Triplanetary
  • First Lensman
  • Galactic Patrol
  • Gray Lensman
  • Second-Stage Lensmen
  • Children of the Lens

Masters of the Vortex is set in the same universe as the Lensman novels, but is not part of the main storyline. Spacehounds of IPC is not a part of the series, despite occasional erroneous statements to the contrary.

Robert Heinlein reported that Doc had planned a seventh Lensman novel, set after the events described in Children of the Lens, which was unpublishable at that time (the early 1960s). Careful searches by people who knew Doc well (including Frederik Pohl, Doc's editor, and Verna Trestrail, Doc's daughter) have failed to locate any material related to such a story. Doc apparently never wrote any of it down. Doc told Heinlein that the new novel proceeded inexorably from unresolved matters in Children, a statement easily supported by a careful reading of Children.

On July 14, 1965, barely a month before his death, E. E. Smith gave written permission to William B. Ellern to continue the Lensman series, which led to the publishing of New Lensman in 1976.

The original video game Spacewar was inspired by the Lensman series.

The GURPS role-playing game includes a worldbook based on the Lensman series.



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