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Lensman series

The Lensman series is a serial science fiction space opera by E. E. Smith.

It was also the original source which introduced many innovative concepts into science fiction. In this sense the series was ground-breaking and defined an entire genre. It was a runner-up for the Hugo award for best All-Time Series.

Overview

As an early, innovative, and successful example of the "super-science" sub-genre of science fiction, the Lensman series was widely imitated, setting many of the themes followed by the "space opera" sub-genre.

The complete series of books, in internal sequence, consists of:

#Triplanetary (4 parts, January-April 1934, Amazing Stories)
#First Lensman (1950, Fantasy Press)
#Galactic Patrol (6 parts, September 1937-February 1938, Astounding Stories)
#Gray Lensman (4 parts, October 1939-January 1940, Astounding Stories)
#Second Stage Lensmen (4 parts, November 1941-February 1942, Astounding Stories)
#Children of the Lens (4 parts, November-1947-February 1948, Astounding Stories)

Originally the series consisted of the final four novels published between 1937 and 1948 in the magazine Astounding Stories. However, in 1948, at the suggestion of Lloyd Arthur Eshbach (publisher of the original editions of the Lensman books as part of the Fantasy Press imprint), Smith rewrote his 1934 story Triplanetary, originally published in Amazing Stories, to fit in with the Lensman series. First Lensman was written in 1950 to act as a link between Triplanetary and Galactic Patrol and finally, in the years up to 1954, Smith revised the rest of the series to remove inconsistencies between the original Lensman chronology and Triplanetary.

Using the same fictional universe, but not concerning the central plot, he also wrote the Vortex Blaster stories, including "Storm Cloud on Deka" (June 1942) and "The Vortex Blaster Makes War" (October, 1942) for Astonishing Stories. These stories and later additions were collected and published by Gnome Press as The Vortex Blaster in 1960 and later reprinted by Pyramid Books as Masters of the Vortex in 1968.

Reading the series in order of publication avoids plot spoilers introduced in the ret-con version of Triplanetary and First Lensman: Galactic Patrol, Gray Lensman, Second Stage Lensmen, Children of the Lens, Triplanetary, First Lensman. The foreword Smith added to each (except Galactic Patrol) also contains plot spoilers.

The Vortex Blaster stories contain no plot spoilers. Chronologically they seem to fall between Second Stage Lensman and Children of the Lens. Specifically, "Storm Cloud on Deka" (chapter 4 of The Vortex Blaster) refers to "the fall of the Council of Boskone”, yet "the far flung empire of Boskone" is mentioned in "Vegian Justice" (chapter 16), indicating that Boskone has not yet been utterly vanquished.

On July 14, 1965, Smith gave written permission to William B. Ellern to continue the Lensman series, which led to the publishing of "Moon Prospector" in 1966, New Lensman in 1975, and Triplanetary Agent in 1978. Many consider Ellern's work unequal to Smith's, but he took care to remain within the boundaries of Smith's series.

Three additional Lensmen novels that feature the alien Second-Stage Lensmen (known as the Second-Stage Lensman Trilogy) were written by David Kyle, published in paperback between 1980 and 1983, and reissued in 2004:

*The Dragon Lensman (Worsel, the legendary Velantian dragon)
*Lensman from Rigel (Tregonsee, the enigmatic alien from the system of the blue-white star Rigel)
*Z-Lensman (Nadreck the Palainian, strangest of the three non-human Second Stage Lensmen)
*A fourth novel, which was to have told the story of the Red Lensman, was discussed, but never completed.

The events in these books take place between Second-Stage Lensmen and Children of the Lens, and refer to events and characters in Vortex Blaster.

Kyle was a close friend and confidante of Smith, and (with the oversight and approval of Smith's daughter, Verna Trestrail) intended his novels to evoke the style of the original series. However, Kyle's writing style is quite different, and his books stray well outside the limits Smith set: for example, portraying sentient digital computers and female Lensmen.

Other appearances

In 1984, an anime movie titled SF New Age Lensman was released in Japan. It was released in North America by Streamline Pictures in 1990. The movie is not faithful to the series, with nearly the only points of similarity being the names of some of the characters, the generic "Good versus Evil" struggle and outer-space setting, and the Lens itself, which possesses characteristics distinctly different from those given for it in the novels. It spawned a Japanese anime TV series, and then a comic book series published by Eternity Comics, and another from Malibu Comics.

With Smith's knowledge, the parody "Backstage Lensman" was written by Randall Garrett in 1949. Garrett also referred to the Lensmen in his Lord Darcy stories, in which similar lenses are the badges of the King's Messengers, invented by the wizard Sir Edward Elmer (a reference to Smith himself).

In addition, the Lensmen appear in Robert A. Heinlein's Number of the Beast and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, which make reference to a "Lensman Ted Smith" who interacts directly with Heinlein characters such as Lazarus Long and Hilda Burroughs. In Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy, the X-corps (Exotic Corps) is mentioned, with Col. Richard Baslim being a detached member. This is an obvious nod to the unattached Gray Lensmen.

In the DC Comics universe, the Green Lantern Corps bears many parallels to the Lensmen, although its principal creators deny any connection (later creators, however, would introduce Green Lanterns named Arisia and Eddore as an homage). The original computer-graphics game Spacewar! was inspired by the Lensman series. Comparisons have also been made between the Arisians and Eddorians of Smith's universe with both George Lucas's Star Wars galaxy (an early draft of the Star Wars script refers to the light side of the Force as "Arisian") and the Vorlons and Shadows of Babylon 5. The GURPS role-playing game includes a source book describing how to conduct a role-playing campaign set in the Lensman universe.

In 2008, Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures began negotiations with the author's estate for rights to film the Lensman series. The negotiations are for an 18-month renewable option. I At the WonderCon convention in San Francisco in February 2008, J. Michael Straczynski confirmed that Howard had acquired the rights, and hinted that he was involved in the project.

Plot synopsis

The series opens in Triplanetary, two billion years before the present time. The universe has few life-forms, except for the elder race of our galaxy, the Arisians, and few planets besides their native world. The Arisians, a peaceful race native to this universe, are already at this time ancient, and have forgone physical needs in preference for contemplative mental power which they have developed and refined to an exceedingly high degree.

Into this universe, from an alien space-time continuum, come the Eddorians, a dictatorial, power-hungry race. They have been attracted to this universe by the observation that our galaxy and a sister galaxy (later to be named Lundmark's Nebula; still later, called the Second Galaxy) are passing through each other. According to an astronomical theory current at the time of writing (prior to the rehabilitation of the nebular hypothesis), this will result in the formation of billions of planets and the development of life upon them. Dominance over these life forms offers the Eddorians an opportunity to satisfy their lust for power.

The Eddorians have developed mental powers almost equal to those of the Arisians, but rely instead for the most part on physical power, exercised on their behalf by a hierarchy of underling races. They see the many races in the universe, with which the Arisians were intending to build a peaceful civilization, as fodder for their power-drive.

The Arisians, foreseeing the invasion of our universe by the Eddorians, begin a covert breeding program on every world that can produce intelligent life, with the aim of producing a means to eventually destroy the Eddorian race. This they cannot do by mental power alone, and they decide that much time is needed (during which Eddore must be kept ignorant of their plans), and new races must be developed which will better be able to breach the Eddorians' mental powers than they are. The new races, having done so, will naturally be better guardians of civilization than the Arisians can be, and so the Arisians' role in the universe will be ended. Triplanetary incorporates the early history of that breeding program on Earth, illustrated with the lives of several warriors and soldiers, from ancient times through to the discovery of the first interstellar space drive. It adds an additional short novel (originally published with the Triplanetary name) which is transitional to the novel First Lensman.

The second book, First Lensman, concerns the formation of the Galactic Patrol, and the first Lens, given to First Lensman Virgil Samms on "Tellus" (Earth). The Arisians, through the scientist Bergenholm, make it known that if Samms, the head of the Triplanetary Service which administers law enforcement to Tellus, Mars, and Venus, visits their planetary system, he will be given the tool he needs to build the patrol he dreams of. That tool is the Lens. The Arisians further promise him that no entity unworthy of the Lens will ever be permitted to wear it, but that he will have to discover for himself most of its abilities.

The Lens is a form of "pseudo-life," created by the Arisians who understand life and life-force in a way no other race yet does. It gives its wearer a variety of mental capabilities, including those needed to enforce the law on alien planets and to bridge the communication gap between different life-forms. Thus it can provide mind-reading and telepathic abilities while connected (directly or indirectly) to the skin of its user. A mind-reading device, it allows its owner to perceive inner motives, to recognize lies, and to communicate perfectly in any language to any living being, however low its native intelligence may be.

The Lens is described as an ellipsoidal assembly of small, cloudy jewels, imbued with a shifting polychromatic light when in contact with its owner's body. It is "fitted" on Arisia, and cannot be worn by anyone other than its owner. In the event that an entity to whom the Lens is not fitted tries to wear one, the pseudo-life properties of the Lens will interfere so strongly with the other being's life that it will quickly kill the being trying to wear it. Shortly after the owner's death, the lens sublimates and vanishes into nothingness.

Thus equipped, Virgil Samms visits races in other star systems, recruiting the best of them to become Lensmen, thus making the Galactic Patrol truly galactic in scope. The Galactic Patrol, as it emerges, maintains a service academy on several planets. It accepts only the top few percent of applicants. Of millions of initial entrants, only a hundred or so at the top of a planet's graduating class are ever sent to Arisia to receive Lenses.

The Arisians fit Lenses only to the most deserving of those individuals. The qualities required of Lensmen include intelligence, utter incorruptibility, a high drive to succeed, and the highest drive to fight evil.

Virgil Samms is told by the Arisians that he will only ever send one person who will be refused a lens (that person is eventually revealed to be his daughter - see below). No one else is ever sent to be either turned away or killed, however, other entities who approach Arisia uninvited are either turned away (with violent mental images implanted to prevent a return) or killed. The Arisians otherwise maintain a highly distant profile and refuse to talk to other beings, stating that they have given civilization the tool it needs to bring about a good future, and that people should otherwise not have reason to contact them.

The first woman sent to Arisia is returned without a Lens, being told "Women's minds and Lenses don't fit. There's a sex-based incompatibility." She is also told that only one woman will ever become a Lensman.

A significant subplot is usurpation of normal political processes by Lensmen. The Lensmen are totally honest, honorable, uncompromising, and can read minds. Given the nature of the Lens and the Lensmen, dishonest politicians hate and fear them.

The rest of the series is a series of revelations. Although initially believed to be mere interstellar pirates ("Boskonians") and criminals smuggling weapons and drugs ("zwilniks"), the enemy prove to be organized into a rival civilization based on selfish and ruthless struggles for power.

A continuing, multigenerational war is required to trace the Boskonian leaders and subject races to ever-higher echelons of what Lensmen and their followers continue to call "Boskone." Other than the Arisians, only a few individuals will ever know the real nature of the war being covertly fought, and even then only a handful, the so-called "Children of the Lens," will ever eventually come to know of Eddore. This is because, in the Arisians' projection (their "Visualization of the Cosmic All," an ability much like that of Laplace's demon, which is an interpolation into the ret-con version of the series, inconsistent with the original), revealing the existence and purpose of the breeding program to the developing races would cripple them with inferiority complexes. Their minds would then not be able to contribute sufficiently to the tremendous forces needed in the final attack on Eddore.

Centuries pass, and eventually the final generations of the breeding program are born. A single individual is born, on each of four planets, who realises the limits of his initial training and perceives the need to return to Arisia to seek more. Through "second stage" training, these four Lensmen gain additional powers such as the ability to slay by mental force alone; the "sense of perception", a type of clairvoyance combining the stereotypical power of "X-ray vision" with telescopic and microscopic vision; to control minds undetectably; to perfectly split attention in order to perform multiple tasks with simultaneous focus on each; and to better integrate their minds for superior thinking.

The series contains some of the largest-scale space battles ever written. Entire worlds are destroyed (see "Super-Science Weapons", below), whilst some weapons are powerful enough to warp space itself. Huge fleets of spaceships fight bloody wars of attrition. Alien races of two galaxies sort themselves into the allied, Lens-bearing adherents of "Civilization" and the enemy races of "Boskone."

As the breeding program reaches its ultimate conclusion, Kimball Kinnison, the brown-haired, gray-eyed second-stage Lensman of Earth, finally marries the most advanced product of the complementary breeding program, Clarrissa MacDougall, a beautiful, curvaceous, red-haired nurse, who eventually becomes the first human female to receive her own Lens. Their children, a boy and two pairs of fraternal twin sisters, grow up to be the five Children of the Lens. In their breeding, "almost every strain of weakness in humanity is finally removed." They are born already possessing the powers taught to second-stage Lensmen, with mental abilities from birth that are difficult to imagine. They are the only beings of Civilization ever to see Arisia as it truly is, and the only individuals developed over all the existence of billions of years able finally to penetrate the Eddorians' defense screens.

Undergoing advanced training, they are described as "third stage" Lensmen, transcending humanity with mental scope and perceptions impossible for any normal person to begin to comprehend. Although newly adult, they are now expected to be more competent than the Arisians, and to develop their own techniques and abilities "about which we [the Arisians] know nothing." The key discovery comes when they try mind-merging, which they have not tried since before their various third-stage trainings, and discover that this is completely changed. No longer are they simply five beings in mental contact as before. Now they discover they can merge their minds into a hive-mind, to effectively form one mental entity, a being with incalculable abilities called the Unit. The Arisians call this the "most nearly perfect creation the universe has ever seen," and state that they, who created it, are themselves almost entirely ignorant of almost all its higher powers.

The Children of the Lens, with the mental power of unknown millions of Lensmen of the Galactic Patrol (around a hundred a year from each planet, millions of settled planets, decades of graduates), turn out to constitute the Arisians' intended means to destroy Eddore and make the universe safe for their progeny species. The Galactic Patrol, summoned to work together in this way for the first time in its existence, contains billions of beings who in total can generate immense mental force. The Children of the Lens add not only their own tremendous mental force to this (as do the Arisians), but as the Unit gather and focus all this power onto one tiny point of the Eddorians' shields. Thus attacked with this incalculable strength and precision, the Eddorians' strongest shields are finally, after billions of years, destroyed, and the Eddorians with them.

The Arisians, with their child races successful and safe, remove themselves from the Cosmos in order to leave the Children of the Lens uninhibited in their future as the new guardians of Civilization. Although to human eyes the Children of the Lens age and die, they in fact will live immense lifetimes (as the Arisians themselves did) and, it is foreseen, be successful in their role.

Unresolved plot elements

An unresolved plot element at the end of the series concerns the marriages of the Children of the Lens, as the young man and his sisters have not found anyone interesting. Several passages in Children of the Lens appear to imply that an incestuous group-marriage between the young man and his four sisters will result in a race of Homo Superior, most notably:

It seems likely that Smith could not state this openly, given the strong censorship present in magazine fiction of the era.

The Arisians who engineered the breeding program tell the Children of the Lens that they form a successor race to the Arisians themselves as guardians of Civilization, and indicate that the Children will have descendants. This, too, is consistent with the Children of the Lens inbreeding.

Robert A. Heinlein apparently referred to this inbreeding when he wrote:

Despite strenuous searches of Smith's effects, no trace of a seventh manuscript has been found, so a definitive answer to this question may never be known.

What Heinlein seems only to hint at is made explicit by Ron Ellik and Bill Evans in their encyclopedia of Smith's works:

The Foreword and Epilogue of Children of the Lens make reference to a new threat to civilization of such scope as to necessitate the development, by the Children of the Lens or their descendants, of yet another replacement series of guardians. The time-scale for this development is suggested to be sufficiently long that even the publicly-known details of the battles that destroyed Eddore and Eddorian civilization have faded from memory, and possibly that the original Children, even with their extended lifetimes, might have passed away.

The sex-based bias of the Lens is never fully explained, but the hints provided suggest that the genesis is at least a little more than early/mid-20th-Century sexism. Smith seems to have believed that men and women were "equal, but different," and that the nurturing instinct of what would at the time be considered a mentally healthy woman was inconsistent with the attitudes of most Lensmen, and hence with possession of a Lens. This is the suggestion given Virgilia Samms when she goes to be fitted for a Lens; the fact also remains that she was a much more effective operative for the Triplanetary Service without a Lens. Not addressed is the issue of whether this the sex-based bias extends to the non-human races of civilization; though the Palainian that Virgil Samms encounters on Pluto was not a "female" in the human sense, he thinks of it as "she" and believes that she would be qualified for a Lens if she cared to go to Arisia (her expressed disinterest/fear might be the Palainian expression of the incompatibility). "Red" Lensman Clarrissa MacDougall feared meeting the Arisians because they had become so mentally advanced that they had totally detached themselves from emotions, including anything like the emotion of Love.

In continuation of this thought, Smith suggested in Second Stage Lensman around the discovery and discussion of the Lyranian matriarchy, that the equality of the sexes was one of the major favorable factors distinguishing Civilization from Boskonia, which grew out of the utter sexlessness of the Eddorians. Much is made — in one of the more melodramatic elements of this melodramatic series — of "Gray Roger's" interest in "sexual research" involving Cleo Marsden; while in context (and probably in the original Triplanetary novella before being retconned into the Lensman Universe) it appears to be a fairly stereotypical pulp scene of sexual domination, in the larger picture it comes to represent the Eddorian's fundamental misunderstanding of this aspect of Human — and Arisian — existence. It is stated that in Kalonian culture, women were completely subjugated; and that the Kalonian operatives attempting to subvert Lyranian civilization "despised" the Lyranian females, but were being directed to by their Ploorian and Eddorian superiors in order to see if the Lyranians could achieve the goal of a completely genderless subject race for Eddore.

In summary, possession of "a mind stable at the first level of stress," with three key terms ("stable," "first level," and "stress") not rigorously defined in the context of Lens qualification, appears to be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for Lens qualification. Since these factors are not defined, individual readers can try to determine gender-based disqualifying factors to their own satisfaction, or accept the Smith mythos and/or that the books remain a product of the societal context in which they were written. The fact that this difference might also be resolved in a sequel is suggested in the final chapter of Children of the Lens, styled "The Power of Love."

Planets and Places

The Lensman series takes place over a vast sweep of space and upon many different worlds. These include the following:

  • Aldebaran I — Occupied by the Wheelmen (who are never stated to be a native species), this is the scene of Kimball Kinnison's first major injury requiring hospitalization, which leads to his first meeting with Clarrissa MacDougall.
  • Aldebaran II — One of the first human-settled planets, scene of several of Kimball Kinnison's adventures.
  • Arisia – One of the most ancient worlds of our universe, originally Earthlike, inhabited by the Arisian Elders.
  • Chickladoria - A planet with a native humanoid species possessing pink skin pigmentation and triangular eyes. Frequent references are made to the fact that they consider clothing optional. Chickladorians are described as "thinking on a wave" unused by most species in the galaxy, which means that hostile telepaths (such as the Overlords of Delgon, below) may completely overlook them.
  • Delgon (Velantia II) - Located in the same system as Velantia, Delgon is home to the soul-devouring Overlords, bred by the Eddorian Gharlane to prey on the Velantians of Velantia III.
  • Eddore – A world inhabited by malevolent creatures from another space-time plenum. It is implied — though never stated — that the physical laws of the native plenum of Eddore were grossly different from those of the Lensmen's universe; that the atmosphere was composed of elements that were different from those of our universe (It was explained that by the time they migrated to our galaxy, they had become completely independent of their 'native' physical form). The Eddorians themselves were physically similar to various lower Earthly life-forms, reproducing by fission but by a process more similar to budding than to cell division, except that each being's memories were preserved in toto. The Eddorians were highly competitive, extremely long-lived, and almost impossible to kill by any mechanism known to their own science by the time they decided to unify and search for planets in other universes to subjugate.
  • Jarnevon - A world in Lundmark's Nebula, home of the Eich and their infamous "Council of Boskone," the first Eddorian puppet state to penetrate the First Galaxy. Destroyed at the end of Gray Lensman by being crushed between two "free" (inertialess) planets with opposite intrinsic velocities, inerted just prior to the points of impact.
  • Kalonia - A Lundmark's Nebula planet with a humanoid native race marked by cut-steel-blue pigmentation. As hard as their pigmentation suggested, individually they were the most able executives under the sway of Eddore. The agents of Boskone in the First Galaxy, though reporting to Boskone, were typically from Kalonia despite its independent status as a center of Boskonian operations. Discovered by Kim and Christopher Kinnison during Children of the Lens, its conquest was alluded to but never chronicled.
  • Klovia - The first planet in Lundmark's Nebula to join Civilization. The heavily fortified home of the Children of the Lens.
  • Lundmark's Nebula - The "Second Galaxy," which collided with the "Milky Way" or "First Galaxy" 2 billion years ago, leading to the large populations of planets nurtured by Arisia and discovered by Eddore. Home of the Eddorians, the Ploorans, and the major races of their empire, including the Eich, the Thralians, and the Kalonians. Historical Note: Knut Lundmark was an early 20th-Century Swedish astronomer. It is possible that Lundmark's Nebula is intended to refer to the Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte Galaxy, though Lundmark made numerous other contributions to the study of other galaxies.
  • Lyrane II - Home of a matriarchal civilization. Its dominant beings are women (or, highly humanoid females) who retain their nearly non-sentient males only for breeding purposes (similar to Larry Niven's Kzinti). They refer to themselves with the neuter pronoun "it". Lyranian women possess powerful minds, capable of telepathy and of slaying by mental force.
  • Medon - Originally located in Lundmark's Nebula, Medon was moved to the First Galaxy by its technologically-advanced natives with the assistance of the Galactic Patrol. Its people contributed extremely efficient electric insulators and conductors, as well as advanced surgical knowledge that enabled the development of regeneration technology.
  • Nevia - The amphibious Nevians invented the first crude inertialess drives appearing in the series. They warred on the Triplanetary League, but eventually joined Civilization when they realized that humanity was as advanced as their own species.
  • Nth Space - An alternate dimension, accessed by hyper-spatial tube, where all matter is tachyonic, moving faster than light. Ploor and Ploor's sun were destroyed by planets transported from Nth Space.
  • Onlo (Thrallis IX) - See Thrale below.
  • Palain VII – An extremely cold planet and home world of Second Stage Lensman Nadreck. Like all ultra-cold planets in Smith's cosmogony, the inhabitants require a metabolic extension "into the fourth dimension" in order to survive the liquid-helium temperatures of their planetary surface. Smith suggested, with little elaboration, a twelve-point scale used to describe intelligent (and possibly other) species; on this scale, humans were classified as "AAAAAAAAAAAA" and Palainians as "ZZZZZZZZZZZZ." It is stated that a Palainian colony had existed on Pluto for millennia before the events of First Lensman, suggesting that the Palainians may have had the first inertialess drive in the First Galaxy. Within the Second Stage Lensmen, Nadreck's ultra-caution counterbalanced Kinnison's occasional near-recklessness, and it is suggested that, were the Palainians less cautious, their species rather than humanity would have given birth to the Third-Stage Lensmen.
  • Ploor - The first-tier planet of Eddorian puppets and the only one with direct knowledge of the Eddorians. The leaders of Jarnevon, Kalonia, and Thrale were, unknown to the bulk of their populations or to most of Civilization, under the direct control of Ploor. Since Ploor was a planet of a highly variable sun, its inhabitants were forced to morph their bodies on a precise annual cycle, though none of their manifestations were even remotely human (their winter form was ZZZZ+, or nearly Palainian). The planet — and its sun — were destroyed by planet-sized projectiles from the "Nth Space" dimension, with intrinsic velocity greater than the speed of light.
  • Rigel IV – A superhot, high-gravity world, Home of Second Stage Lensman Tregonsee.
  • Tellus - or, Earth. Home to the humans, including the Kinnison and Samms lines.
  • Thrale (Thrallis II) - The capital of the Boskonian Thrale-Onlonian Empire, in Lundmark's Nebula. The inhabitants were "independently" evolved humans, like those of Klovia and many other worlds, ultimately traceable back to Arisian life-spores permeating space at the time of the Coalescence.
  • Trenco – A planet where a major fraction of the atmosphere condenses each night and evaporates each day, giving rise to exceptionally violent weather. The planet's plant life yields the illicit psychotropic thionite.
  • Valeria - A high-gravity planet where natural diamonds formed in great quantity, settled by Tellurian Dutchmen who developed immense strength in response to the natural stresses of their planet, making them ideal space marines.
  • Velantia III – Home of an intelligent, winged, reptilian species, of which Second Stage Lensman Worsel is a member.

Technology

Hyper-spatial Tube: A "tunnel" through hyperspace, allowing galactic distances to be traversed in minutes, as well as allowing access to other universes. Objects and people from different origin points meeting each other in the tube pass through each other rather than interacting. The artificial, ultra-dense material "dureum" is an exception; it is therefore used to create objects and weapons (axes, clubs, knives) capable of interacting with anything and anyone in a tube. Originally invented by the Eddorians and used for their explorations of other universes prior to their arrival in the Lensman universe, it was given to the Boskonian subject races, and was eventually discovered and copied by the Patrol. It has points in common with the modern idea of wormholes to link distant points in space.

Inertialessness: Spaceships are able to vastly exceed the speed of light by eliminating the inertia of their mass. When the "inertialess drive" (which does not actually provide propulsion) is turned on, the "free" (inertialess) ship instantly attains a velocity at which the force of the ship's propulsion jets is matched by friction of the medium through which it travels (such as widely scattered hydrogen molecules in the vacuum of space), avoiding the Einsteinian light-speed limit on normal (inert) matter, and so attaining a speed of about 90 parsecs per hour. The vacuum of Intergalactic space is even more rarefied, and the speed there is about 100,000 parsecs per hour. An inertialess drive unit is called a "Bergenholm" after the scientist who improved and perfected the original inertialess drive.

Conservation of momentum is maintained; when the inertialess drive generator is switched off, the spacecraft's original velocity is restored. If a ship has traveled a great distance, inert maneuvering will be required in order to match velocity relative to the local planet or moon. There are similar velocity-matching difficulties with ships docking in space, and in transferring "free" passengers from one ship to another.

Inertialess drive generators small enough for a single person are used by Galactic Patrol staff. Patrol members can travel downward within tall buildings, via drop shafts, by falling while inertialess. Some armored spacesuits have individual inertialess drives installed.

The inertialess drive has advantages as a science-fictional device because, it is said, it cannot be demonstrated that removing inertia from mass is impossible. However, Larry Niven in his short story "ARM" suggests that a field reducing inertia in matter would in effect cause time to pass faster within the field, because with reduced inertia all movements are speeded up; in the Niven story this includes mechanical motion, movements of molecules (and thus metabolic processes) and even sub-atomic particles such as photons. Alastair Reynolds describes similar consequences of partial neutralisation of inertia in "Redemption Ark", including dizziness, increased heart rate (due to blood weighing less), and physical damage. In his universe, this places a practical limit of 5-10x on the reduction of inertia. However, this depends on whether an inertialess drive actually removes inertia from all the objects within its sphere of influence, or whether it just appears to from the perspective of an external observer (cf the stable normal region within a warp field).

Robert A. Heinlein also used an inertialess drive in Methuselah's Children, where the device was compact enough to carry in an attaché case; in his case, faster-than-light travel was not achieved, but the whole inertialess ship acted as a large solar sail and was propelled by light pressure to almost the speed of light.

Screens: Spaceships are protected by several layers of defensive force field "screens", including the innermost and strongest "wall shield." Smaller vehicles and even spacesuits can carry screens of lesser power.

Spaceships: The smallest are called "speedsters" or "flitters" and carry only the pilot, or a very small crew. They are generally used for scouting or covert missions. Larger military ships have designations equivalent to early-twentieth-century surface naval vessels: Destroyers, cruisers, dreadnaughts (battleships), superdreadnaughts. In addition, there are "maulers", which are huge, slow-moving vessels so powerful they can attack planetary bases. Slower ships are spherical; faster ones have teardrop shapes; the fastest of all are the "ultrafast" cigar-shaped speeders and later (Dauntless-class) superdreadnaughts.

Thought Screens: In a universe where many alien races have powerful telepathic abilities, and even mind control is possible, thought screens can be a valuable asset. They are proof against penetration by even a second-stage Lensman's mind. The Children of the Lens are able to bypass or even, if necessary, penetrate any non-Eddorian thought screen, and in the final battle the Unit and the collected Lensmen penetrate even Eddorian thought screens.

Ultra-wave: Vibrations in the "sub-ether," used for interstellar "radio" communications and detection. Ultra-wave travels at about 19 billion times the speed of light. The use dates from the time of the latter part of Triplanetary. Sean Barrett, in the GURPS Lensman game, has suggested that ultra-waves form the basis for the so-called "vacuum tubes" used in the series.

Power Armour: Whilst never explicitly given to supplying the sort of strength increases we are accustomed to associating with this technology, armoured space-suits available to both the Patrol and to Boskone nonetheless contain energy shields and inertialess drive units. Further, during the career of Kimball Kinnison (father of the Children of the Lens) a suit was fabricated in order to permit him to survive an assault upon the command centre of an enemy fortress which is quite obviously both armoured to the point where a normal man could not operate it and yet fully mobile, implying some form of load-carrying augmentation. This would make it the first known example of powered infantry battle armour in science fiction.

Power production: Prior to the extended version of the novella Triplanetary for book publication, no out-of-the-ordinary power technologies are described; however interplanetary travel with the ship sizes and capabilities implied requires terawatt power sources, so we can infer some version of nuclear fission or fusion power. After the advent of the Nevians and through the rest of Triplanetary, the primary power source for spaceships and planetary installations is the controlled matter-to-energy conversion of "allotropic iron", an allotrope of iron which appears to be a dense, viscous, red liquid at room temperature.

By the time of First Lensman, allotropic iron is replaced by an unnamed form of atomic power. Uranium is mentioned, but not explicitly as an energy source; it is a vital ingredient in the Bergenholm, however. It can be inferred that a total-conversion engine is used throughout that book, and the remainder of the series. It is noted that power production generates radiation that can be detected by other ships at a considerable distance and cannot be perfectly screened. Stealth ships for covert missions can be fitted with large diesel generating sets, capable of powering the Bergenholm and providing limited drive power for short periods, so that the atomics can be shut down for sensitive parts of the mission.

Atomic-power units appear to have a minimum feasible size which prevents their use on installations smaller than a spaceship. The Bergenholms and drivers fitted to personal space armour are powered by electrical accumulators, which despite their portable size have capacities of many myriawatt-hours and whose charging load represents a significant drain on the power stations of a less technologically advanced planet such as Delgon.

By the time of Galactic Patrol and the later novels of the series, no further developments of power technology have been described, but the power systems' capacities are clearly based on refinements of total-conversion technology; early in Gray Lensman, the Dauntless is described as using "30 pounds per hour" of power while inertialess and running at full thrust. Using E=mc^2, this works out to 400 trillion (4×1014) watts of power (or, in terms of its destructive potential, 100 kilotons TNT equivalent per second). With the advent of Medonian electrical systems following the penetration into the Second Galaxy, by the end of the series usable power on-board had been increased by another factor of 1000.

Some time prior to the start of Galactic Patrol, the Boskonians had developed a method of using their on-board power systems as exciters to gather power from "cosmic energy" sources with an amplification factor of a million times the exciter power. The Galactic Patrol, capturing this technology during Kimball Kinnison's first major assignment, not only reverse engineered it for routine use, but also developed shields and screens to block enemy systems from drawing the power, and upgraded the power systems for their "Mauler" class of attack vessels to defeat systems reliant on cosmic-energy collection.

Spaceship drive: The Bergenholm nullifies the inertia of a spaceship, but does not of itself provide any driving force. Driving projectors, or "jets", are reaction engines, using as reaction mass nascent fourth-order particles or corpuscles which are formed, inert, in the inertialess projector, by the conversion of some form of energy into matter. The process produces, as by-products, a certain amount of heat and a considerable amount of light. This light, shining through the highly tenuous gas formed of the ejected particles, produces a "flare" which makes a speeding spaceship one of the most beautiful spectacles known to man, but also makes it visually detectable at long range. Stealth ships therefore make use of "flare baffles" to prevent the escape of the light; the disadvantage is that, because the waste energy cannot escape from the projector in the usual way, it must be dissipated to prevent overheating, so baffles are only fitted when absolutely required.

Information processing: Computing technology as we understand it is practically unknown, being limited to slide rules, adding machines, and punched card tabulating machines. A "computer" is not a calculating machine but an intelligent being performing calculations by brain power with the assistance of the abovementioned limited aids. Large concentrations of computing power, as required by the C3 system of the Patrol Grand Fleet flagship Directrix, are implemented using squadrons of Rigellians, a naturally telepathic species, in mental communication with each other.

Weapons

The science fiction sub-genre of "super-science" is nowhere more apparent in the Lensman series than in its (sometimes literally) world-shaking weapons.

Space-axe: Because a "blaster" is ineffective in battles aboard inertialess vessels, the space-axe was developed. It has an axe blade on one end and a needle-sharp spike on the other and is shoved into targets rather than swung. To increase its deadliness, the weapon may be inlaid with, or even entirely composed of, ultra-dense dureum (see "Hyper-spatial Tube" above).

Blaster: In First Lensman, the standard blaster pistol was the Lewiston. The main sequence of the series uses the DeLameter, a raygun so powerful it can atomize its target and reduce a wall behind it to smoking ruins. The aperture of the DeLameter can be opened so as to emit a wide and comparatively less powerful cone of destruction or narrowed so as to emit a pencil-thin and extremely intense beam.

Semi-Portable: The Lensman universe equivalent of a heavy machine gun, the semi-portable is a large beam weapon designed to be carried by more than one man. It projects a beam powerful enough to overcome personal defense screens (mounted on an individual's space armor) which cannot be penetrated by DeLameters or other hand blasters. The semi-portable is small enough to be used in a spaceship corridor, though it may need to be secured with magnetic clamps.

Macro Beam: These ship-mounted beams can vaporize any matter in moments. Only screens can provide any defense. After the invention of primary beams, macro beams were referred to as "secondaries."

Primary Beam: These became the primary weaponry of the warships of space. A beam projector is so massively overloaded that it burns out almost instantly while emitting a beam much more intense than is otherwise possible. Invented as a dying act of desperation by a Boskonian vessel — on which it killed each gun crew using the technique — it was adapted in more controlled form by the Galactic Patrol, using highly-shielded primary projectors whose spent emitters were ejected like massive shell-cases.

Duodec: In Galactic Patrol, the superior screens of a Boskonian ship are overcome with the power of the atomic explosive duodecaplylatomate, described as "the quintessence of atomic destruction", whose power is considerably greater than a nuclear explosion as produced by current real-world technology. However, its properties as regards handling and detonation appear more similar to those of a chemical explosive than to the complex detonation arrangements of a nuclear bomb. Duodec is also used by the Boskonians to self-destruct their bases to prevent capture, by Kinnison to destroy Menjo Bleeko's mining complex on Lonabar, and in many other situations calling for an extremely powerful explosive.

Allotropic iron torpedo: The primary power source for Nevian spaceships in Triplanetary is the controlled matter-to-energy conversion of "allotropic iron", an allotrope of iron which is a dense, viscous, red liquid at room temperature. In conventional chemistry, allotropes are substances with the same atomic composition but different molecular arrangements. Thus, phosphorus occurs in the allotropes white phosphorus and red phosphorus; however, these transformations are purely chemical, not nuclear. Smith's fictional allotropic iron can be made to undergo nuclear conversion as a power source, analogous to the nuclear conversion of the catalyzed copper fuel rods of The Skylark of Space. Allotropic iron can also be "sensitized" so as to undergo uncontrolled matter-to-energy conversion under a suitable stimulus, thus producing an extremely powerful explosive. A torpedo carrying a sensitized allotropic iron charge is detonated on Nevia in Triplanetary with devastating results. In later times duodec is the atomic explosive of choice, perhaps due to its apparent greater ease of handling.

Negasphere: A sphere of "negative matter" first created in Gray Lensman. In some respects its properties resemble antimatter; if brought into contact with normal matter mutual annihilation results, releasing an enormous flood of energy. But it differs from antimatter in that it absorbs light so that it is utterly black; and tractor and pressor beams have reversed effects. Perhaps a negasphere is better described as having properties of both negative matter and negative energy. The negasphere is an expression of the original Dirac Sea conception of antimatter by Paul A. M. Dirac as a "hole" in space which has been evacuated of normal matter (this is of course a gross conceptual simplification of Dirac's ideas).

Free Planet: An entire planet is rendered inertialess. If fitted with massive power plants and screens, it can be used as a mobile fortress with enough power to easily brush off attacks by mere spaceships. Or if properly positioned and inerted, it can be used to crush an enemy planet.

Nutcracker: In Gray Lensman, two "free planets" (see above) with opposing inert velocities were positioned on either side of an enemy planet. Simultaneously inerted, they crushed the other planet between them; such approach will crush even a "free" planet.

Sunbeam: In Second Stage Lensman, an entire solar system is converted to a vacuum tube, with asteroids and planets as grids and plates, to focus nearly the entire output of the sun into a beam capable of melting the surface of a planet in seconds. Thus it is a defense against attack by "free" planets, which are rendered inert when their Bergenholms (inertialess drive units) are destroyed. GURPS Lensman suggests the Sunbeam is an ultrawave vacuum tube rather than a normal one.

Nth-Space Planet: The ultimate material weapon in the Lensman series. Also called a "Super-Nutcracker". In Children of the Lens, an expedition travels to "Nth Space," another space-time continuum where physical laws are different and all matter moves faster than light. There a planet is rendered "free" (see "Free Planet" above) and moved via hyper-spatial tube into our universe. The planet is then moved close into an enemy stellar system and inerted. The result is so violent that the Nth-Space planet launched against Ploor's sun makes it go supernova, still radiating the energy of 550 million Suns several years later. It was so powerful, in fact, that there was a theoretical possibility that its mass would be "some higher order of infinity" and that the entire universe would coalesce around it in zero time (rather like an instantaneous Big Crunch). Fortunately, Mentor of Arisia assured Kit Kinnison that "operators would come into effect to prevent such an occurrence", and that untoward events would be limited to a radius of ten or fifteen parsecs. During the Battle of Ploor, an Nth-Space planet was launched against Ploor; a second planet was launched into Ploor's sun, to destroy Ploor's remaining military forces in the area.

References

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