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.