Fiction Reviews

Second Stage Lensmen

(1953/ 2019) E. E. 'Doc' Smith, Gollancz, £8.99 / Can$17.99 / US$14.99,
pbk, x + 303pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22472-8


Kim Kinnison, Number One man of his time, had faced challenges before - but rarely one as daunting as this. To him fell the perilous task of infiltrating the inner circle of Boskone, stronghold of galactic civilization's most deadly foe. Kinnison had to become a loyal Boskonian in every gesture, deed and thought. He had to work his way up through the ranks of an alien enemy organization, right into the highest echelons of power. Then it would be he who issued the orders - orders that would destroy his own civilization…

Well, shock horror, who would have thought it, especially as we are five books into the reissued 'Lensman' series, but it turns out that the best man for the job, is a woman! And we are talking about Clarissa MacDougall, the future Mrs. Kimball Kinnison. Not that far into the future because the last book ended with Clarissa and Kimball about to get married. But what’s this? Surely, no-one is going to say “Stop, the wedding!”? They don’t need to because after a handy 14-page foreword gets any new readers up to speed, a voice chimes inside Kimball’s head: “Stop, youth!” commands Mentor of Arisia, and suddenly the wedding is off as Kimball realises that those pesky Boskonians have probably not been defeated after all, and if that’s the case then Earth is in grave danger of attack.

Why? Well, that is how these books work, with new weapons being developed on both sides and here Earth might be attacked by the negative energy emanating from a “negasphere”, or simply be crushed between two other planets – subtle, these books never have been, but hey, these planetary games of conkers have happened to some doomed planets previously. Fortunately, Earth has not just Kimball to call on, but his friends Worsel, Tregonee and Nadreck who have undergone advanced Lensman training and are now Second Stage Lensmen with even more honed mental powers and abilities and they are able to harness the power of a new “sunbeam” weapon which converts the sun’s energy into a deadly beam to wipe out the Boskonian fleet.

In order to gather some intelligence Kimball visits the planet Lyrane, ruled by women with their own mental powers who also distrust hate men. They try to kill Kimball but he survives with his Lensman abilities, but he soon realises that in order to dig deeper into the connection between Lyrane and the Boskonians. he is going to need help in the form of a female Lensman, except there are none, no woman has ever been fitted with a Lens before, but it has to happen now. The best person for the job is Clarissa MacDougall, the woman Kimball almost married. So Clarissa undergoes training and receives her Lens and earns the name the Red Lensman, because of the colour of her hair and is dispatched to Lyrane. What follows is a mixture of undercover work, political intrigue, assassinations, space battles galore, with some mental duelling throw into the mix as the battles become even more ferocious, while the dialogue becomes even more clunkier, and Smith’s handling of female alien races is as awkward as Kimball feels when he encounters them. Thanks goodness that apart from a whole host of exotic aliens, Smith only had to write about white human characters or the racial stereotyping would have become really distracting, if not annoying.  Will there ever be a happy ending for Kimball and Clarissa, well, the clue might be in the title of the next book in the series.

Ian Hunter


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