Galactic Patrol: Night and Day

Tuesday , 17, October 2017 17 Comments

E. E. Doc Smith’s Galactic Patrol opens up with a tremendous brain dump. But what a brain dump! If you want to know what science fiction was like before it became ashamed of the superlative, this is it. Note the nature of this patrol and how it differs from practically every science fiction series since:

“You know that every year one million eighteen-year-old boys of Earth are chosen as cadets by competitive examinations. You know that during the first year, before any of them see Wentworth Hall, that number shrinks to less than fifty thousand. You know that by Graduation Day there are only approximately one hundred left in the class. Now I am allowed to tell you that you graduates are those who have come with flying colors through the most fiendishly thorough process of elimination that it has been possible to develop.

And I guess that’s not such a crazy premise. It was notoriously difficult to make it through the military training in Starship Troopers. Star Trek: The Next Generation has a crew that’s supposed to be the best and the brightest. When I first read this, I didn’t even notice that the Patrol is unabashedly an all-male institution, but yes… that’s something you just don’t see anymore. Original Star Trek’s first pilot famously had a female first officer, of course. More recently, the Netflix original anime series depicts an old lady as the admiral of an entire space navy. Between those two series, there have been an uncountably infinite number of Honor Harrington books that have repeatedly hammered home the point that space navies are chock full of women.

In 1937, that wasn’t an inevitable thing yet.

Every man who can be made to reveal any real weakness is dropped. Most of these are dismissed from the Patrol. There are many splendid men, however, who, for some reason not involving moral turpitude, are not quite what a Lensman must be. These men make up our organization, from grease-monkeys up to the highest commissioned officers below the rank of Lensman. This explains why you already know– that the Galactic Patrol is the finest body of intelligent beings yet to serve under one banner.

Smith is still getting warmed up here. We don’t know anything about this Green Lantern type organization yet, really. All we know is that everyone that ever served on a Federation starship would be considered to be the “B” team next to these Lensman guys. That’s just epic. And note that even the mechanics have to be “splendid men.” That’s mind blowing in and of itself given that the Star Trek universe is to all appearances devoid of blue collar workers.

What kind of outfit is this anyway…?!

“Of the million who started, you few are left. As must every being who has ever worn or who ever will wear the Lens, each of you has proven repeatedly, to the cold verge of death itself, that he is in every respect worthy to wear it. For instance, Kinnison here once had a highly adventurous interview with a lady of Aldebaran II and her friends. He did not know that we knew all about it, but we did.”

Kinnison’s very ears burned scarlet, but the Commandant went imperturbably on:

“So it was with Voelker and the hypnotist of Karalon; with LaForge and the bentlam-eaters; with Flewelling when the Ganymede-Venus thionite smugglers tried to bribe him with ten million in gold…”

“Good Heavens, Commandant!” broke in one outraged youth. “Do you– did you– know everything that happened?”

“Not quite everything, perhaps, but it was my business to know enough. No man who can be cracked has ever worn, or ever will wear, the Lens. And none of you need be ashamed, for you have passed every test. Those who did not pass them were those who were dropped.”

It’s incredible, really.

James T. Kirk would never have worn a Lens. Heck, Hal Jordan would never have worn a Lens. And they’re squeaky clean compared to today’s science fiction “heros”! And I know what you’re thinking. This is just so… unrealistic. It’s childish. It’s overly simplistic. And so on and so forth even if you don’t end up going the full Damon Knight on this.

Sure, a lot of people have argued or insinuated that over the past eight decades. But it really isn’t that far out of bounds at all. The key points of The Lord of the Rings detail a far more challenging test of integrity: the temptation of the ring. Bilbo had to give it up of his own free will. Gandalf had to refuse to take it out of pity. Galadriel had to refuse to become a dark queen. Faramir had to know not to meddle with it lest he fall prey to it like his brother.

Peradventure one might be tempted to argue that it makes sense for there to be such high contrasts between good and evil in a fantasy story. Of course, up until 1937, no such distinction could be made between the two genres. And when it comes to today’s fare in either genre, the comparison to Galactic Patrol is like night and day.

17 Comments
  • Mark says:

    Sad thing is, the Green Lanter Corps, which was pretty obviously based on the Lensmen, is so much better known – and inferior.

    Hmm…

    A Lensman in the Alt-Hero universe anyone?

  • Terry Sanders says:

    And the scary thing is, even the godawful process of elimination described wasn’t enough. As Kinnison deduced later on. If the infinitely telepathic Arisians hadn’t been backstopping the process, there would have been Boskonian double-agent Lensmen years before.

  • Alex says:

    “That’s mind blowing in and of itself given that the Star Trek universe is to all appearances devoid of blue collar workers.”

    That’s one thing I liked about DS-9; it went “O’Brian, you’re basically the highest ranking electrician. Also, you’re the only electrician. Please rewire our space station.”

    • Xavier Basora says:

      Yeah thatveas something that offended me. I found it telling about the producers and writers bias in the Next generation. Everyone was bicoastal upper middle class types to all went to the same school with an old boys network.

      No lower class worker bees getting dirty and wearing faded uniforms or dying from work related illnesses. There was never any popular culture. Nope just the lives of the new aristocracy going to one event after another

      xavier

      xavier

    • Terry Sanders says:

      TOS had “crewmen”–the guys in the coveralls. And Yeoman was an enlisted rank. But by NexGen they were all Ivy League, ’tis true.

      At least in SPACE CADETS they had an excuse or two: small crews of highly technical specialists, any of whom might have to decide whether to nuke a city. STAR TREK (the later versions, at least) just screwed up.

      • Terry Sanders says:

        (Come to think of it, there should have been a uniform for enlisted women. Probably more coveralls. Why Janice Rand running around in an officer’s mini? (Yeah, I know whereby, but still…))

  • Roffles Lowell says:

    They scale down our horizons by training us not to dream.

    It really does make you feel sort of robbed.

  • Terry Sanders says:

    And for a wimpy, scaled down version, see Heinlein’s SPACE CADET. They were ONLY training world policemen to be entrusted with a global monopoly on orbital nuclear weapons…

  • Mark says:

    “The key points of The Lord of the Rings detail a far more challenging test of integrity: the temptation of the ring. Bilbo had to give it up of his own free will. Gandalf had to refuse to take it out of pity. Galadriel had to refuse to become a dark queen. Faramir had to know not to meddle with it lest he fall prey to it like his brother.”

    Whilst obviously the thematic side of LotR is rather different (Christian mythology, the Fall, etc), it’s amusing to think that, leaving that aside, you could have given the One Ring to literally any old Lensman and be assured that they’d never have given in to its power.

    Really though, the Lensman series is full of so much pure, unadulterated, indescribably heroic heroism (ahem). The “Lensman’s Code”, a Lensman’s promise, the fights, the treatment of women (and contrary the naysayers, fainting violets were few & far between)… a villainess calls them “sublimated boy scouts” for a reason 😉 .

    Oh sure, it’s not realistic, but like Conan, it doesn’t pretend to be – it’s *inspirational*. Find me a reasonably sane young boy who doesn’t want to be a Kimball Kinnison, or a Conan, or similar.

    • Jim says:

      “Whilst obviously the thematic side of LotR is rather different (Christian mythology, the Fall, etc), it’s amusing to think that, leaving that aside, you could have given the One Ring to literally any old Lensman and be assured that they’d never have given in to its power.”

      Tom Bombadil, Grey Lensman?

    • Anthony says:

      The Lensmen all carry Thor Hammers.

    • Terry Sanders says:

      Maybe not. But even the least of them would have Faramir-ed it.

      • Mark says:

        Obviously thionite & the One Ring are rather different (!), but even the most addictive drugs (plus power, wealth etc) can’t corrupt a Lensman, so… 🙂 . It would affect them (eg Kinnison got physically addicted to drugs, ditto Samms in FL), but they’ve the strength of will to not give in.

        • Terry Sanders says:

          Yup. A Lensman might not be immune*, but he’d have the sense to get rid of the thing as soon as he realized what it was doing to him.

          *(Kinnison, of course, would just ignore it; but not all Lensmen were made of that grade of metal.)

  • Brian Renninger says:

    I believe it was in Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast that the dimension hopping free-love protagonists flee in terror from the Lensman universe. They’re fascists!

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