E. E. Smith, also Edward Elmer Smith, Ph.D., E.E. "Doc" Smith, Doc Smith, "Skylark" Smith, and (to family) Ted (May 2, 1890 - August 31, 1965) was a food engineer (specializing in doughnut and pastry mixes) and early science fiction author who wrote the Lensman series and the Skylark series, among others. He is sometimes referred to as the father of Space Opera.
Smith worked primarily as a manual laborer until he injured his wrist, at the age of 19, while escaping from a fire. He attended the University of Idaho, where he was installed in the 1984 Class of the University of Idaho Alumni Hall of Fame; he entered its prep school in 1907, and graduated with two degrees in Chemical Engineering in 1914. He was president of the Chemistry Club, the Chess Club, and the Mandolin and Guitar Club, and captain of the Drill and Rifle Team; he also sang the bass lead in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. His undergraduate thesis was Some Clays of Idaho, co-written with classmate Chester Fowler Smith, who died in California of tuberculosis the following year, after taking a teaching fellowship at Berkeley. It is not known whether the two people were related.
On October 5 1915, in Boise, Idaho he married Jeanne Craig MacDougall, the sister of his college roommate, Allen Scott (Scotty) MacDougall. (Her sister was named Clarissa MacLean MacDougall; the heroine of the Lensman novels would later be named Clarissa MacDougall.) Jeanne MacDougall was born in Glasgow, Scotland; her parents were Donald Scott MacDougall, a violinist, and Jessica Craig MacLean. Her father had moved to Boise, Idaho when the children were young, and later sent for his family; he died while they were en route in 1905. Her mother worked at, and later owned, a boarding house on Ridenbaugh Street.
The Smiths had three children:
One evening in 1915, while the Smiths were visiting his former classmate from the University of Idaho, Dr. Carl Garby, who had also moved to Washington and lived near the Smiths in the Seaton Place Apartments in Washington D.C. with his wife Lee Hawkins Garby, a long discussion about space travel ensued. Mrs. Garby suggested that Dr. Smith write a story set in outer space. Smith said that he would do so if Mrs. Garby would handle the love interest. The two had completed about a third of The Skylark of Space by the end of 1916, when they gradually abandoned work on it. The Smiths were the basis for the Seatons in the novel, and the Cranes were drawn from the Garbys.
Smith received a master's degree in Chemistry from George Washington University in 1917, studying under Charles E. Munroe. He earned a doctorate in Chemical Engineering, in 1918, emphasizing food engineering with a thesis entitled The effect of bleaching with oxides of nitrogen upon the baking quality and commercial value of wheat flour, which was published in 1919. Warner and Fleischer instead give the thesis title as The Effect of the Oxides of Nitrogen upon the Carotin Molecule --- C40H56, which is difficult to explain. Moskowitz instead gives the date of the degree as 1919, which may result from confusion with the publication date.
Late in 1919, after moving to Michigan, one evening Smith was baby-sitting (presumably for Roderick) while his wife attended a movie, he resumed work on The Skylark of Space, finishing it in the spring of 1920. He submitted it to many book publishers and magazines, spending more in postage than he would eventually receive for its publication. He received an encouraging rejection letter from Bob Davis, editor of Argosy, in 1922, saying that he liked the novel personally, but that it was too far out for his readers. (According to Warner, but no other source, Dr. Smith began work on the sequel, Skylark III, before the first book was accepted.) Finally, upon seeing the April 1927 issue of Amazing Stories, he submitted it to the magazine; it was accepted, initially for $75, later raised to $125. It was published in the August – October 1928 issues. It was such a success that managing editor T. O'Conor Sloane requested a sequel before the second installment had been published.
Mrs. Garby wasn't interested in collaborating further, so Dr. Smith began work on Skylark Three on his own. It was published in the August through October 1930 issues of Amazing. (In 1930 the Smiths were living in Michigan, at 33 Rippon Avenue in Hillsdale.) This was as far as he had planned to take the Skylark series; it was praised in Amazing's letter column, and he was paid 3/4¢ per word, surpassing Amazing's previous record of half a cent.
This book would be Triplanetary, "in which scientific detail would not be bothered about, and in which his imagination would run riot." Indeed, characters within the story point out its psychological and scientific implausibilities, and sometimes even seem to suggest self-parody. At other times they are conspicuously silent about obvious implausibilities. The January 1933 issue of Astounding announced that Triplanetary would appear in the March issue, and that issue's cover illustrated a scene from the story, but Astounding's financial difficulties prevented the story from appearing. Dr. Smith then submitted the manuscript to Wonder Stories, whose editor, Charles D. Hornig, rejected it, later boasting about the rejection in a fanzine. He finally submitted it to Amazing, which published it beginning in January 1934, but for only half a cent a word. Shortly after it was accepted, F. Orlin Tremaine, the new editor of the revived Astounding, offered one cent a word for Triplanetary; when he learned that he was too late, he suggested a third Skylark novel instead.
In the winter of 1933-4 Dr. Smith worked on The Skylark of Valeron, but he felt that the story was getting out of control; he sent his first draft to Tremaine, with a distraught note asking for suggestions. Tremaine accepted the rough draft for $850, and announced it in the June 1934 issue, with a full-page editorial and a three-quarter page advertisement. The novel was published in the August 1934 through February 1935 issues. Astounding's circulation rose by 10,000 for the first issue, and its two main competitors, Amazing and Wonder Stories fell into financial difficulties, both skipping issues within a year.
Dr. Smith had been contemplating writing a "space-police novel" since early 1927; once he had "the Lensmen's universe fairly well set up," he reviewed his science fiction collection for "cops-and-robbers" stories. He cites Constantinescue's "War of the Universe" as a negative example, and Starzl and Williamson as positive ones. Tremaine responded extremely positively to a brief description of the idea.
Once Dawn Doughnuts became profitable in late 1936, Dr. Smith wrote an eighty-five page outline for what became the four core Lensman novels; in early 1937 Tremaine committed to buying them. Segmenting the story into four novels required considerable effort to avoid dangling loose ends; Dr. Smith cites Edgar Rice Burroughs as a negative example. After the outline was complete, he wrote a more detailed outline of Galactic Patrol, plus a detailed graph of its structure, with "peaks of emotional intensity and the valleys of characterization and background material." He notes, however, that he was never able to follow any of his outlines at all closely, as his "characters get away from me and do exactly as they damn please. After completing the rough draft of Galactic Patrol, he wrote the concluding chapter of the last book in the series, Children of the Lens. Galactic Patrol was published in the September 1937 through February 1938 issues of Astounding; unlike the revised book edition, it was not set in the same universe as Triplanetary. Gray Lensman, the second book in the series, appeared in Astounding's October 1939 through January 1940 issues. (Note that the frequent British spelling “grey” is simply a recurrent mistake, starting with the cover of the first installment; Moskowitz's usage, “The Grey Lensman,” is even harder to justify.) Gray Lensman (and its cover illustration, above) was extremely well received. Campbell’s editorial in the December issue suggested that the October issue was the best issue of Astounding ever, and Gray Lensman was first place in the Analytical Laboratory statistics “by a lightyear,” with three runners-up in a distant tie for third place. The cover was also praised by readers in Brass Tacks, and Campbell noted, “We got a letter from E.E. Smith saying he and Rogers agreed on how Kinnison looked.”
Dr. Smith was the guest of honor at Chicon I, the second World Science Fiction Convention, held in Chicago over Labor Day weekend 1940, giving a speech on the importance of science fiction fandom entitled “What Does This Convention Mean?” He attended the convention’s masquerade as C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith, and met fans living near him in Michigan, who would later form the Galactic Roamers, which previewed and advised him on his future work.
Dr. Smith worked for the US Army between 1941 and 1945. An extended segment in the novel version of Triplanetary, set during World War II, suggests intimate familiarity with explosives and munitions manufacturing. Some biographers cite as fact that, just as Smith's protagonist in this segment lost his job over failure to approve sub-standard munitions, Smith did as well. Smith began work for the J. W. Allen Company (a manufacturer of doughnut and frosting mixes) in 1946 and worked for them until his professional retirement in 1957.
Robert A. Heinlein and Dr. Smith were friends. (Robert Heinlein dedicated his 1958 novel Methuselah's Children "To Edward E. Smith, Ph.D. .) Heinlein reported that E.E. Smith perhaps took his "unrealistic" heroes from life, citing as an example the extreme competence of the hero of Spacehounds of IPC. 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 Heinlein's essay, he reports that he began to suspect Smith might be a sort of "superman" when he asked Dr. Smith for help in purchasing a car. 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.
In his non-series novels written after his professional retirement, Galaxy Primes, Subspace Explorers, and Subspace Encounter, E. E. Smith explores themes of telepathy and other mental abilities collectively called "psionics," and of the conflict between libertarian and socialistic/communistic influences in the colonization of other planets.
Much later, 13 years after Dr. Smith's death in fact, Gordon Eklund published another novel of the same name about the same fictional character, introducing it as "a new series conceived by E. E. 'Doc' Smith". Eklund later went on to publish the other novels in the series, one or two under the pseudonym "E. E. 'Doc' Smith" or "E. E. Smith". The protagonist possesses similar heroic qualities common to the heroes in Dr. Smith's original novels and can communicate with an extra-dimensional race of beings known as The Scientists, whose archenemy is Fra Villion, a mysterious character described as a dark knight, skilled in whip-sword combat, and evil genius behind the creation of a planetoid-sized "iron sphere" armed with a weapon capable of destroying planets. As a result, Dr. Smith is believed by many to be the unacknowledged progenitor of themes that would appear in Star Wars.
Dr. Smith expressed a preference for inventing fictional technologies that were not strictly impossible (so far as the science of the day was aware) but highly unlikely: "the more unlikely the better" was his phrase.
Robert A. 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 Smith 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 14 July 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 "Moon Prospector" in 1965 and New Lensman in 1976. Smith's long-time friend, Dave Kyle, wrote three authorized added novels in the Lensman series that provided background about the major non-human Lensmen.
An influence that is inarguable was described in an 11 June 1947 letter to Doc from John W. Campbell (the editor of Astounding magazine, where much of the Lensman series was originally published). In it, Campbell relayed Captain Cal Lanning's acknowledgment that he had used Smith's ideas for displaying the battlespace situation (called the "tank" in the stories) in the design of the United States Navy's ships' Combat Information Centers. "The entire set-up was taken specifically, directly, and consciously from the Directrix. In your story, you reached the situation the Navy was in — more communication channels than integration techniques to handle it. You proposed such an integrating technique and proved how advantageous it could be. You, sir, were 100% right. As the Japanese Navy— not the hypothetical Boskonian fleet— learned at an appalling cost."
One underlying theme of the later Lensman novels was the difficulty in maintaining military secrecy—as advanced capabilities are revealed, the opposing side can often duplicate them. This point was also discussed extensively by John Campbell in his letter to Doc. Also in the later Lensman novels, and particular after the "Battle of Klovia" broke the Boskonian's power base at the end of Second Stage Lensman, the Boskonian forces and particularly Kandron of Onlo reverted to terroristic tactics to attempt to demoralize Civilization, thus providing an early literary glimpse into this modern problem of both law enforcement and military response. The use of "Vee-two" gas by the pirates attacking the Hyperion in Triplanetary (in both magazine and book appearances) also suggests anticipation of the terrorist uses of poison gases.
The beginning of the story the Skylark of Space describes in relative detail the protagonists research into separation of platinum group residues, subsequent experiments involving electrolysis and the discovery of a process evocative of cold fusion (over 50 years before Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann). He describes a nuclear process yielding large amounts of energy and producing only negligible radioactive waste—which then goes on to form the basis of the adventures in the Skylark books. Smith's general description of the process of discovery is highly evocative of Röntgen's descriptions of his discovery of the X-ray.
Another theme of the Skylark novels involves precursors of modern information technology. The humanoid aliens encountered in the first novel have developed a primitive technology called the "mechanical educator," which allows direct conversion of brain waves into intelligible thought for transmission to others or for electrical storage. By the third novel in the series, Skylark of Valeron, this technology has grown into an "Electronic Brain" which is capable of computation on all "bands" of energy—electromagnetism, gravity, and "tachyonic" energy and radiation bands included. This is itself derived from a discussion of reductionist atomic theory in the second novel, Skylark Three, which brings to mind modern quark and sub-quark theories of elementary particle physics.
Dr. Smith acknowledges the help of the Galactic Roamers writers' workshop, plus E. Everett Evans, Ed Counts, an unnamed aeronautical engineer, Dr. James Enright, and Dr. Richard W. Dodson. Dr. Smith's daughter, Verna, lists the following authors as visitors to the Smith household in her youth: Lloyd Eshbach, Robert A. Heinlein, Dave Kyle, Bob Tucker, Jack Williamson, Fred Pohl, A. Merritt, and the Galactic Roamers. Dr. Smith cites Bigelow's Theoretical Chemistry–Fundamentals as a justification for the possibility of the inertialess drive. There is also an extended reference to Rudyard Kipling's "Ballad of Boh Da Thon" in Gray Lensman.
Sam Moskowitz's biographical essay on Dr. Smith in Seekers of Tomorrow states that he regularly read Argosy magazine, and everything by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Allan Poe, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Moskowitz also notes that Dr. Smith's "reading enthusiasms included poetry, philosophy, ancient and medieval history, and all of English literature. (Dr. Smith's grandson notes that he spoke, and sang, German.) The influence of these is not readily apparent, except in the Roman section of Triplanetary, and in the impeccable but convoluted grammar of Dr. Smith's narration. Some influence of nineteenth century philosophy of language may be detectable in the account in Galactic Patrol of the Lens of Arisia as a universal translator, which is reminiscent of Frege's strong realism about Sinn, that is, thought or sense.
Both Moskowitz and Smith's daughter Verna Smith Trestrail report that Dr. Smith had a troubled relationship with John Campbell, the editor of Astounding. It is noteworthy that Dr. Smith's most successful works were published under Campbell, but the degree of influence is uncertain. The original outline for the Lensman series had been accepted by F. Orlin Tremaine, and Dr. Smith angered Campbell by showing loyalty to Tremaine at his new magazine, Comet, when he sold him "The Vortex Blaster" in 1941. Campbell's announcement of Children of the Lens, in 1947, was less than enthusiastic. Campbell later said that he published it only reluctantly, though he praised it privately, and bought little from Smith thereafter.