1950’s1 Galactic Patrol is either the third (if you count Triplanetary) volume in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series, or the second (if you don’t count Triplanetary).
Inertialess flight made interstellar travel as convenient as a trip down the road to the chemist’s. The result is a golden age of exploration, contact, and trade. It’s also a golden age of criminality, as space criminals can flee out of jurisdiction as easily as a 20thcentury American gangster could flee across state lines. For Civilization to prevail, lawlessness must be punished. To that end, the Patrol was founded!
Kimball Kinnison is not merely among the one in ten thousand who made it through the grueling Patrol training course. He is his class’s top graduate. He will need all of his ability to deal with … Boskone!
As previously mentioned, the galaxy is filled with ambitious criminals. For the most part, their vexatiousness is due to quantity, not quality. Although it takes some time for the Patrol to twig to the truth, Boskone is no mere convenient alliance of petty criminals. Boskone is vast, well-armed, and very organized. Boskone fancies itself a rival to Civilization. It is right to do so!
At the moment Boskone enjoys not merely an edge in intelligence — they understand Civilization’s scale, while Civilization has yet to fully understand Boskone’s — but a technological edge as well. Powered by cosmic radiation, Boskone’s ships easily outpace those of Civilization. If Boskone maintains its monopoly, Civilization is doomed!
Kinnison is dispatched in command of Brittania, a ship that compensates for its lack of Boskonian technological secrets with cunning advances of its own. Kinnison’s mission: to disable a Boskonian ship so that its secrets can be recovered for Civilization. There can only be one of two outcomes of this mission: success or death!
As Kinnison discovers, there is a third alternative: success and death. Helmuth of Boskone is determined to keep Boskonian technology for Boskone. Kinnison and his men may have gotten their hands on Boskonian cosmic energy converters. That will mean nothing if everyone on Brittania dies before they can reach Patrol HQ with the information. Since Boskone is, as previously mentioned, vast, well-armed, and very organized, the odds favour Helmuth!
Even should Kinnison and chums elude Boskone, other dangers wait, some of a nature even more unknown to the Patrol and even more malevolent than Helmuth and the pirates of Boskone!
Yes, that’s a lot of exclamation points. Be happy it was not all caps. The Lensmen stories eschew the lower-case narratives of other space operas. Characters already on the run from unfathomable danger routinely discover they have fled into the lair of dangers even less fathomed. If the series were a British actor, it would be Brian Blessed on amphetamines. Lensman’s amplifier goes exponentially past 11! And it does all this in the fewer than 240 pages of the Pyramid mass-market paperback I own.
Of course, to cram all that excitement into the space available, certain sacrifices were made. Font size, especially font size. There is prose, of a bargain-basement sort2. Characters are unburdened by depth beyond simple quirks: Helmuth is tyrannical! Kinnison is smart and brave! Clarissa MacDougall also smart, also brave, and beautiful to boot. Doctor Lacy is weirdly obsessed with other people’s skeletons. Port Admiral Haynes doesn’t understand boundaries when it comes to orchestrating other people’s romances3.
Readers throughout the generations have been amused by the opening of Galactic Patrol, which the new officers of a police force (one of whose main objectives is preventing the sale of addictive drugs) are greeted by
Sit down, men, and smoke up. We have an hour in which to talk things over, and now I can tell you what it is all about. Each of you will find his favourite refreshment in the arm of his chair.
“No, there’s no catch to it,” he continued, in answer to amazedly doubtful stares, and lighted a huge black cigar of Venus-grown tobacco as he spoke. “You are Lensmen now, and henceforth each of you is accountable only to himself and to GHQ. Of course, you have yet to go through the formalities of commencement, but they don’t count. Each of you really graduated when the Lens was welded around his arm.
“We know your individual preferences, and each of you has his favourite weed, from Tillotson’s Pittsburgh stogies up to Snowden’s Alsakanite cigarettes — even though Alsakan is just about as far away from here as a planet can be and still lie within the galaxy.”
“We also know that you are all immune to the lure of noxious drugs. If you were not, you would not be here to-day. So smoke up and speak up.
I have questions, such as “if the cream of the crop is a collection of tobacco fiends, what the heck were the failures smoking?” The Patrol seems a little inconsistent in its views of what constitutes a noxious drug, although in their defense, Thionite, about which they are most concerned, isn’t just addictive but quickly fatal4, a detail Kinnison weaponizes late in the novel.
The book is very loud and veryexciting, yet I never warmed to the series of which it is a part, or this book in particular. Perhaps I was too old when I first encountered Galactic Patrol. Perhaps not. I am reasonably certain that I was all of twelve when I read Galactic Patrol. Perhaps the issue was that the book, and the series, were dated. It’s a long long time between 1950 and 1973. Even a twelve-year-old SF fan could tell that this book was as fusty as a great-aunt’s antimacassar.
Your mileage may differ. After all, someone has to be buying all those terrible David Weber books. Such readers will be happy to know that Galactic Patrol is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Gutenberg).
1: It’s more complicated than that but I don’t feel like going into the publication history of the series.
2: In fact, the wretched but energetic prose reminds me a lot of David Weber, especially the wearisome technological explanations and the blow-by-blow battle narratives.
3: In Haynes’ defense, Kinnison’s genes are precious and they aren’t going to propagate themselves. Not if they depend on Kinnison, whose fields of expertise do not include romance.
4: How do thionite pushers make money if their clients have very short lifespans?