Though he wasn’t nearly as talented a stylist, nor as deep a thinker as, say, his exact contemporaries Olaf Stapledon, Thea von Harbou, and Karel Čapek, E.E. “DOC” SMITH (1890-1965) was something wonderful that these Radium Age sf authors were not: a pulp writer. He earned a living not as a litterateur, but as a food engineer; some claim that he developed the first process for making powdered sugar adhere to doughnuts. Pulp writers whose prose is particularly rococo can be forgiven any shortcomings — and Smith’s imagination was beyond far-out. Though not quite the first “space opera” writer, he almost single-handedly popularized that subgenre — not to be confused with “planetary romance” — via his epic Skylark (serialized 1928-65) and Lensman (1937-50) series. In these eleven books, innumerable stories, and his novel Spacehounds of IPC (serialized in ’31), Smith dreamed up: a future in which space travel was common; whiz-bang technology that would inspire stealth fighters, C3-based warfare, and the Strategic Defense Initiative; and the Galactic Patrol, an interstellar law-enforcement agency and military force without which we mightn’t have, e.g., Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” novels, or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Also: no Smith, no Star Wars. Smith is better.
Each day, HiLobrow.com pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday.
READ MORE about the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).
In 2012, HiLoBooks serialized and then republished (in gorgeous paperback editions, with new Introductions) five forgotten Radium Age science fiction classics! Five more titles will be serialized and published in 2013. For more info: HiLoBooks.
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