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[WIreR] E. E. Smith's Lensman series - Comentary, Discussion and a hypothetical modern adaption.

Nerik the Red

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I've been wanting to do this one for a while, and now I've finally gotten round to it.

These are the classic space opera tales of a Galactic war, written in the middle of the 20th century. Expect the phrase 'Starkly Astounding' (or variants) to show up a lot.

I originally read Dr. Smith's books (well, some of them) when I was a teenager (I borrowed them off a friend of my Mum's).
And I read these out of order (pretty much as I found them) IIRC I started with Second Stage Lensmen! On the subject of order:

According to Wikipedia, the series order is thus:

  1. Triplanetary (January–April 1934, in Amazing Stories)
  2. First Lensman (1950, Fantasy Press)
  3. Galactic Patrol (September 1937 – February 1938, in Astounding Stories)
  4. Gray Lensman (October 1939 – January 1940, Astounding Stories)
  5. Second Stage Lensmen (November 1941 – February 1942, Astounding Stories)
  6. Children of the Lens (November 1947 – February 1948, Astounding Stories)
  7. The Vortex Blaster (1960. Published with the title Masters of the Vortex in 1968)
In the series internal chronology, Masters of the Vortex takes place between Second Stage Lensmen.
Note the publication dates - Triplanetary was written in 1934! That's 32 years before Star Trek! (and 29 years before Dr. Who).
There were additional authorised sequels written, which I have not read, I might tackle them once I've completed this.

Sorting by publishing date gives us:
  1. Triplanetary (January–April 1934)
  2. Galactic Patrol (September 1937 – February 1938)
  3. Gray Lensman (October 1939 – January 1940)
  4. Second Stage Lensmen (November 1941 – February 1942)
  5. Children of the Lens (November 1947 – February 1948)
  6. First Lensman (1950)
  7. The Vortex Blaster (1960)
Note Triplanetary being the first in the series and first published is deceptive, the original Triplanetary was a stand-alone story, Dr. Smith's re-wrote it in 1948 to fit into the Lensman continuity at the suggestion of his publisher. Also, note the gaps between Second Stage Lensmen and Children of the Lens, and between First Lensman and The Vortex Blaster/Masters of the Vortex.

I will also note that the books divide up into groups, with rough analogies to a couple of later SF properties (The comparisons have nothing to do with plot, but are just where each work fit into its appropriate series).
TitlePartStar Trek EquivalentStar Wars Equivalent
TriplanetaryPrequelEnterpriseThe Phantom Menace
First LensmanPrequelEnterpriseAttack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith
Galactic PatrolKinnison TrilogyStar Trek (TOS)A New Hope
Gray LensmanKinnison TrilogyStar Trek (TOS)Empire Strikes Back
Second Stage LensmenKinnison TrilogyStar Trek (TOS)Return of the Jedi
Children of the LensNext GenerationStar Trek: The Next GenerationThe Force Awakens
Masters of the VortexSpin-offStar Trek: Deep Space NineRogue One
So, I'm going to do these in the following order, a 'Machete Order' for the Lensman series if you will:
  1. Galactic Patrol
  2. Gray Lensman
  3. Second Stage Lensmen
  4. Children of the Lens
  5. Triplanetary
  6. First Lensman
  7. Masters of the Vortex

(Which means I'm leaving the best till last)
In all cases I will be skipping the preludes of each book - as its is very spoilery!

I also intend to expand upon my ideas for adapting these for a modern audience. (Some parts of these have not dated well).
To quote myself from another thread:
Lensman
Big-budget TV series is I think the way to go, given how the stories are structured.
Start at Galactic Patrol, and continue from there. Triplanetary and First Lensman become a prequel series, and Masters of the Vortex is a spin-off.
The series will be updated to modern sensibilities:
  • The lensmen cadets at the beginning of Galactic Patrol will look like they have come from all corners of the globe and all walks of life (because, in the book, they did).
  • The infamous gender restriction will be gone! (Its not like it has much effect on the plot - not even being mentioned until Second Stage Lensmen - and I can think of a better reason, backed up by events in Grey Lensman, for Clarissa to change careers, if she does - Surgeon-General Lacy is a Lensman).
  • LGBT characters (I am so tempted to gender-flip Deloris Desplains)
Keep the deep secrets of the setting a secret - don't expect Eddorans even to get mentioned before late on in Second Stage Lensmen - I'd go for a gradual unravelling of the Boskone web, one boss at a time, and each time, the magnitude of the threat increases.
Also update the science a bit:
Lundmark' Nebula turns out to have a problem with regards to its role in the story,
from here:

I'd be tempted to go for the obvious target, the Andromeda Galaxy, however, AFAIK, the only astrophysicists that propose an ancient collision between the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies are MOND proponents (not that that is a problem here, where violating special relativity and the equivelence principle are daily events).
Also, several of the inhabited star-systems mentioned in the series are bad choices for places to put inhabited worlds (usually because they're some breed of supergiant).
The series would, however, have a huge FX requirement.
The other, cheaper idea I had was:
Why not do it as a webcomic?

On the subject of adaptions, There's an anime film and series, of which I think I might have seen a minute of the former - I gather its not a very good adaption. (My less than charitable interpretation: "We've got the license to a classic American space opera!" "Great, lets do Star Wars!")

Anyway, I'd though I'd post this as a start, even though I won't have time to do much with it until next week.
 
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Manitou

Emperor of the Americas
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I agree with you about the Order to read, and how to do a TV series, including the changes, which I view as minor. Though Masters of the Vortex could be a filler/subplot. Depending on how you adapted it.
One idea I had, in order to avoid the incesty implications later
Spoiler: Show
would be to have Each of the Main Four Lensmen meet their prospective equal mates and have at least one offspring which work with the Sisters(instead of the three nonhuman L2's each working with the sisters and never getting any) . With a score of human L2's mentioned as graduating with Kit.(though wouldn't get their treatments in time to be of aid in the story, their potential offspring provode hope for the sisters to avoid screwing their brother as bookMentor seems to hope they will).
 
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Davies

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I would actually recommend reading Triplanetary and First Lensman before Children of the Lens; Children makes a lot of references to both.
 
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DanMcS

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Huh, I read most of these 10 or 12 years ago when I was trying to read some of the classics of sci-fi. I didn't realize "The Vortex Blaster" was part of this series. Time to look it up.
 

Ikselam

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If I were in charge of the SyFy miniseries version of Lensmen, I would play up the "this is what the future looked like in 1940" trappings as much as humanly possible. The series is so foundational to space opera as a genre that I feel attempts to update it for modern sensibilities would result in something that, paradoxically, would be of little interest to modern audiences because they've already seen Star Wars.
 

Manitou

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I would actually recommend reading Triplanetary and First Lensman before Children of the Lens; Children makes a lot of references to both.
Um, no?
First Lensmen was written after, and triplanetary wasn't part of the series when it was written...
 

Shadowjack

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By what Shadowjack did not then and never did realize was not merely starkly astounding coincidence, I'm in the middle of reading (half of them for the first time) Smith's "Skylark" series.

Lensmen is better.



I would actually recommend reading Triplanetary and First Lensman before Children of the Lens; Children makes a lot of references to both.
Yeah, I always figure if Children is the end, then I gotta do the prequels before it—and, much like the Star Wars prequels, they really need to be read after the first arc, for proper context. So I do a flashback, then come back to the "present" for the finale.

Unfortunately, because of this, I never did get around to properly reading Vortex Blaster until recently, because I always burned out by the time I got to book 7. :p I was quite charmed by it when I finally did get to it.

If I were in charge of the SyFy miniseries version of Lensmen, I would play up the "this is what the future looked like in 1940" trappings as much as humanly possible. The series is so foundational to space opera as a genre that I feel attempts to update it for modern sensibilities would result in something that, paradoxically, would be of little interest to modern audiences because they've already seen Star Wars.
Seconded. This is gloriously pulp serial. Much like Batman: The Animated Series, I think it calls for a deliberately retro sensibility in the mise-en-scene.

I once remarked, though, that I want the folks who did the magical battles for Nanoha to do Lensmen. The battles have gotta be big, colorful, and loud.



That said… Vortex Blaster is very close to a monster girl harem show already. It's just that everyone is adults with lives.
 

Davies

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Um, no?
First Lensmen was written after, and triplanetary wasn't part of the series when it was written...
At least in the version of Children that I read, there's a scene where one of the Kinnison daughters has a conversation with Mentor, who states that he was Bergenholm, and they discuss other people involved in that era.
 

Davies

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By what Shadowjack did not then and never did realize was not merely starkly astounding coincidence, I'm in the middle of reading (half of them for the first time) Smith's "Skylark" series.

Lensmen is better.
Have you gotten to Skylark Duquesne yet? Because you might not wanna.
 
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