[Review] Skylark of Space

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Q99
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[Review] Skylark of Space

Postby Q99 » 2017-03-05 09:05pm

Ok, so I just read all four of the books in the Skylark of Space series by EE 'Doc' Smith, one of the first space operas (as in, it's only in contention with *another* of Smith's works, it just depends on whether one counts it's early material).

I may have done this because some author *cough*Ryk E. Spoor*cough* was blatantly a huge fan of it and regularly referenced it in a book series I also like (Grand Central Arena).


So! Golden Age SF. It has really punchy pacing, and uses narrative devices I quite like. Where a modern SF may give you tons of mechanics on the fiction science, or have one character actually sit down and explain something to others, it'd use ' "It works by a mechanism of..." and Seaton explained to the detective how the device worked, "Amazing!" ' type exchanges and really keep things rolling! Not that there's no science exposition, especially in the second one, but characters will practically discover new branches of science on the fly.

And the science, wow, does it progress fast! Every book features an escalation in capabilities, and the characters figuring out how to adapt to new discoveries or ways around existing ones... while the villains most often do the same. It's a predecessor to power-escalation anime such as Gunbuster, and it manages a good number of moments of awesome!

The villains also tend to be formidable, seizing on any discovery left in their reach when possible, or sometimes even hints of a discovery, often for purposes of planetary or galactic domination or extermination. Most of the villains are mainly represented as species and empires, but the signature villain, Marc C. DuQuense, is a pragmatically ruthless, smart, and true to his word. He does a great job of being a menace.

I feel the second book, Skylark Three (yes, three. It's named after the third Skylark ship) was probably the weakest, since most of it was focused on a single foe while the other books often handled multiple and did so pretty well. Most notable being the lack of DuQuense, who exists the stage fairly early in Skylark Three, though does fortunately return in Skylark Valeron, which is probably my fav book of the lot.

Now, minuses! The problematic bits. It's definitely a product of the time, gender and race wise.... which is not to say the women entirely got the shaft, Dotty's a multi-lingual violin virtuoso, but, there's a lot of gender role stuff, some cringy racial terminology, and some eyebrow-raises eugenics. Even so, it didn't prevent me from enjoying things, though it definitely reminded me of when it was written (first draft was in 1918, first book published in 1920s).



All in all, I liked them, and would recommend them not just for their historical role, but for telling a really fun story with quick pacing.

I find it hard to give them a letter rating since they do stand out a fair amount from my norm, but thanks to my level of enjoyment I'll give a tentative B+

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Re: [Review] Skylark of Space

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-03-06 01:33am

Skylark of Space is a bit special in being one of the few FTL travel stories published early enough that its author can openly say, with a straight face, "well, guess Einstein turned out to be wrong."

Although if you want to know what it looked like when Doc Smith wrote hard-ish SF, read Spacehounds of IPC. Still has some exotic physics and rays and so on, but it's closer to a reasonable projection of what ought to be physically possible in theory.
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Re: [Review] Skylark of Space

Postby Q99 » 2017-03-06 05:47am

Simon_Jester wrote:Skylark of Space is a bit special in being one of the few FTL travel stories published early enough that its author can openly say, with a straight face, "well, guess Einstein turned out to be wrong."

Although if you want to know what it looked like when Doc Smith wrote hard-ish SF, read Spacehounds of IPC. Still has some exotic physics and rays and so on, but it's closer to a reasonable projection of what ought to be physically possible in theory.


I'm under the impression he had some idea he was fudging it even then, but yea, definitely, we've had quite a bit more experimental proof since that point!

I'm also told that even though the first one isn't *that* over the top by either our standards or the standards of the series, that at the time it was, 'Wut.' level escalation, really going bigger and flashier than SF of the period! (Going to a very distant solar system, escaping a black hole, and having an encounter with what are basically proto-Q, plus picking a fight with half a planet using techniques like 'ramming speed!')

Skylark of the time was like Guren Lagann of today ^^

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Re: [Review] Skylark of Space

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-03-06 09:26pm

It was basically Gurren Lagann with calculus in place of sunglasses, yeah.
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Re: [Review] Skylark of Space

Postby K. A. Pital » 2017-03-07 11:38am

Gurren Lagann was more serious. It had a dark ending beneath the flashy happy-end.

I guess in some way the World of Victorious Eugenics from Smith's novels also had a dark ending, but it is one that's understood only with the benefit of great hindsight.
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Re: [Review] Skylark of Space

Postby Simon_Jester » 2017-03-07 12:44pm

Okay, to be fair, I'm talking mostly about flavor, and I'm talking mostly about the first three novels and not the fourth. Skylark Duquesne was written so long after the other three novels in the series that it's almost a completely different work.
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Re: [Review] Skylark of Space

Postby Q99 » 2017-03-09 02:14pm

K. A. Pital wrote:Gurren Lagann was more serious. It had a dark ending beneath the flashy happy-end.

I guess in some way the World of Victorious Eugenics from Smith's novels also had a dark ending, but it is one that's understood only with the benefit of great hindsight.


I really feel like that should lead up to a sequel and final confrontation with Seaton being the underdog playing catchup this time...


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