Triplanetary by E. E. Smith

Originally published as a four part serial in Amazing Stories in 1934, E. E. Smith, called “Doc” for his PhD, later turned these stories into a prequel to his popular Lensmen series in 1948. Doc Smith was a contemporary of other such early 20th century Science Fiction writers as Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and others. This period is often considered the Golden Age of Science Fiction – and rightly so.

Triplanetary
by E. E. Smith
read by Mark F. Smith
published in 1934
Librivox.org

As I considered the next book to read / listen to in my trabels through the late 19th and early 20th centery classics I chose Triplanetary. Unlike some books, like Jules Verne’s Master of the World, I found myself right at home in this narrative. Like so many others of its time, the story moves slowly through an adventure filled with inexplicable enemies and events, with a dashing hero finds a blushing damsel and sets out on saving the day. Just in space.

The story starts out on a spaceliner at the outset of an attack by space pirates. Conway Costigan is an undercover agent of Triplanetary the agency that keeps the peace between the populated planets and in space – a prequel to Star Trek’s Federation, if you will, only with less debate and more decision. Costigan quickly realizes the attack is under way and begins working on saving some of the people nearby. One of them, Clio Marsden, becomes his love interest in standard damsel-in-distress early 20th century fashion.

Triplanetary forces move to intercept the pirates at their home base Roger’s Planetoid and a furious battle ensues. In the midst of the death dealing, another party shows up and wipes both sides out with its even more futuristic weaponry and defenses, which niether Triplanetary nor Roger’s pirates can withstand. These Nevians, as we come to know them, take Costigan, Clio and another survivor Captain Bradley back to their planet for study. But before they get too far out of range, Costigan sends a beam of detailed information on their new enemies, including details of weaponry and scientific breakthrus.

Triplanetary agents recieve the information and begin working to incorporate the new technology into their own super-ship, the Boise. And so the real battle begins. Through the adventure, be it on the home front with the Boise defending Earth (or Tellus as it is called,) or with the three captives attempting escape we are taken from one exotic setting to another and placed into one dangerous situation after another much like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped that I reviewed a few months ago.

As far as adventures go, this one hold up well over time. I found that the use of terminology, which at the time probably sounded extremely scientific, now sounds preposterous (ultrawaves, beams, rays and such,) but is understandable since I have the perspective of nearly 80 years of innovation. Unlike some so-called civilized books of the time, E. E. Smith doesnt shy away from big themes, which perhaps he would have if this story were written just a few years later, like weapons of mass destruction used not only by evil characters, but also by so-called good characters. The question of what is ethically permissible in situations like those of this book is never fully fleshed out as both Humans and Nevians use their weapons with no regard to ethics.

Like most books of this time, the males are completely male and the females – with one exception when Clio late in the store takes up armor and a weapon – are classicly female. Again, this seems outdated and at the least quaint, and at most offensive at times. It is hard to imagine that women were expected to act the way that Clio does through most of the book. Were I to come across a woman like her, it is extremely likely I would have little or no tolerance for her neediness and whining. Clearly a differnent time.

Mark F. Smith is excellent as always and remains one of the best readers at Librivox.org. His soothing voice was up to the task of the varied accents and nuances of characters.

The attention to detail, varied adventure and keen insight into the Golden Age of Science Fiction make this book a very enjoyable read and recommended to fans of the genre.


Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com and has generously provided this review. He also reviews for the commercial site BuddyHollywood.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

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