Five star reviews — Triplanetary by E. E. “Doc” Smith

Posted by Shannon Haddock on March 14, 2015 in Reviews |

This is a book I read because it was a Book of the Month choice in a group on Goodreads that I was briefly part of.  And because I’d read part of it years ago and thought that it being chosen as Book of the Month was a good excuse to finally finish it.  I may have nominated it with that ulterior motive, in fact.  I don’t recall.

The description, via multiple places online except Goodreads (the Goodreads description is for the revised version of the book, which is not the one I read):


It is a science fiction book. ‘Doc’ E. E. Smith pretty much invented the space opera genre, and Triplanetary is a good and well-known example. Physics, time, and politics never stand in the way of a plot that gallops ahead without letup. Having earned a PhD in chemical engineering, it’s understandable that the heroes of Smith’s story are all scientists. He didn’t want to be constrained by the limits of known science, however, so in his hands the electromagnetic spectrum becomes a raw material to be molded into ever-more amazing and lethal forms, and the speed of light is no bar to traveling through the interstellar void. Come enjoy this story of yesteryear, set in tomorrow, where real women ignite love at a glance, real men achieve in days what governments manage in decades, and aliens are an ever-present threat to Life-As-We-Know-It.

My review:

This review is of the shorter, original version, because I somehow grabbed that one instead of the other one from Project Gutenberg.

Whether or not Triplanetary is a good book depends on one’s expectations, I guess. I was expecting, due to it’s age, a pulpy adventure. That’s exactly what I got. If you are wanting something more cerebral or otherwise more suited to modern tastes, I suggest reading something else.

The characters are pretty much archetypes, but such wonderful examples of them that I found it hard to be annoyed. And Clio . . . I’ve read lots of much later sf where the female characters were more purely ornamental than her. She wasn’t quite an action hero on her own yet, but in her you see the elements that began the path to females who didn’t need a man to rescue them.

And I think I’ve got a crush on Costigan. He was so utterly heroic and devoted to Clio. I miss heroes who were just heroes. Why must they all be so tormented these days?

The plot was a little too coincidence driven, but, as I said, I was expecting pulp and that’s what I got. That said, it did stress my suspension of disbelief that everything was so quickly reverse engineered all the time. And a lot of violence could’ve been avoided had the Nevians or humans gone “Hey, can we talk?” much, much earlier, but that is acknowledged, at least.

Now, for my favorite thing about this book: The descriptions! Why, oh why, did descriptions like this go out of style?! “Above her, ruddy Mars and silvery Jupiter blazed in splendor ineffable against a background of utterly indescribable blackness–a background thickly besprinkled with dimensionless points of dazzling brilliance which were the stars.” The descriptions alone have sold me on Doc Smith’s writing style, and I’ll certainly be reading more by him just to get to experience more of it.

Personally, since I like my fiction on the pulpy side, I think this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you like your fiction a bit more serious, more carefully constructed and all that . . . you probably won’t like it, I’m sorry to say.

My review sums up my feelings rather nicely.  I loved this book.  Yes, the plot was kind of contrived, the characters were a little wooden . . . but I didn’t give a damn.  The story was good, and story is something far deeper than plot and characters.  It’s the subtle interplay of everything.  (For more on this concept, see Patrick Rothfuss‘s blogpost here, about halfway down.)

And there’ll be another post today!  And then I’m skipping the one that should’ve gone up this week (sorry I got so far behind), because it was supposed to be a short story that reads like a scene from something instead of a stand-alone, so, yeah, it’s not happening.  So I’m back on schedule for next week!  Yay!  I know nobody else cares, but, still, yay!

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