E.E. “Doc” Smith – Skylark of Valeron

Skylark of Valeron (1935) is the third book of the Skylark series by E.E. “Doc” Smith, the founding father of modern science fiction, the subgenre of Space Opera. Of course there are famous names as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne who first published extraterrestial science fiction tales and others who visited other planets in our solar system, but E.E. “Doc” Smith was the first who went beyond.  His name is mostly forgotten these days, but without him we might not have seen the Foundation-series by Isaac Asimov or the Dune-saga by Frank Herbert, and I could go on and on with that list. Most of those works can be contributed to his Lensman-saga, his most famous work, but before that he wrote the Skylark-series, which basically laid the foundation for that work as it was his first exploration into what would be called Space Opera. A number of concepts first tried here were improved in the Lensman-saga.

While the Lensman-saga would be a feast of recognition for an experienced science fiction reader, the Skylark-series provides a tougher experience, even as the books are smaller, an average of about 200 pages. An important note is that before the Second World War, science fiction was published in magazines with a chapter or so per edition. Each chapter thus has to captivate the reader and a such had great intensity. There as also a larger risk of lack of coherency and the quality of chapters could vary. As a side note I also need to add that I set the publication data as 1935, but as a series it ran from 1934 until 1935 while the final book, combining als chapters, was first published in 1949.

The Skylark-series, just not this book, is marked by a lot of pseudo-science that is presented. Smith often presents things in a technical way while remaining vague on the details. These had little solid foundation but in the imagination anything is possible and he brings it in a convincing way. The book does not just contain a lot of scientific dialogue which are hard to interpret, the general dialogue is also weird. The characters don’t seem to be able to talk in a normal way, especially the main characters. It has hard to explain, but it is all super-positive and over-the-top. I have never seen the like, so in a way it’s an unusual experience to read something like it.

The story itself is all about space travel. Alien civilizations in far away star systems are visited and described. They are either friends or foe, whereas the first gets all the help possible, the second must be defeated or even destroyed. As such there are great space battles using extreme weaponry and there is no limit to what is possible. The latter is sometimes so extreme that any new invention or discovery hardly takes time to be produced and used. Obviously this is not of much interest to the author. The pace must be kept and one does has to remind the stories were written for pulp-magazines. It was all about entertainment, little about quality.

The book contains several interesting ideas, sometimes making predictions for the future which are not that much off. The extremity of events is quite entertaining, but the pseudo-scientific parts and over-the-top dialogue can be hard to get through. The alien civilizations that are met are of a varying quality: some are still barbaric or cold-minded while others have obtained a perfect society where Earth can only dream of. This is an honest and also very new concept which can clearly be recognized as setting a standard for the science fiction to come.

One will notice I have not been very specific about the book itself, but have been speaking about the previous books as well. Although each has it’s own development, in general the stories are similar to a certain extent. Although the events in Skylark of Valeron are much more extremer than in the previous books, they do keep up the trend. The structure and quality is overall the same. The Skylark-series might not be an easy read, they certainly are an interesting experience, and a must-read for any science fiction die-hard.

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