"Holy Klono's tungsten teeth and curving carballoy claws!"
E. E. “Doc” Smith's classic series, one of the very first Space Operas. As such, many classic Space Opera tropes were first seen in Smith's books, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the genesis of Science Fiction.The series, assembled from initially-unconnected short stories in Astounding Stories magazine from 1937 onwards, details an epic battle between Good and Evil as personified by Civilization (and their sponsors, Arisia) and Boskone (and their sponsors, Eddore). Each faction is, in fact, the pawn of a different race of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who each have a grand plan for the sentient beings of the universe.The Kinnison bloodline plays an important role for Civilization, since it was carefully bred over millennia by the Arisians to produce a race of super-beings that would ultimately supplant the Arisians themselves.The title object, the Lens of Civilization, is an Empathic Weapon that initially grants its users Psychic Powers which vary in strength and effectiveness from user to user, as well as providing an identification for Law Enforcement that cannot be forged or duplicated and instantly kills anyone attempting impersonation. For certain, special individuals, the Lens is no more than a Magic Feather.As originally written in the 1930s and early 1940s, the Lensman series consisted of four novels:
Second-Stage Lensmen (note plural)
Children of the Lens
In the early 1950s, however, Smith wrote a lengthy prologue to an earlier (and previously unrelated) book of his named Triplanetary, which brought it into the Lensman universe. He also wrote an interquel novel, First Lensman, to bridge the gap between the events in Triplanetary and the events in Galactic Patrol.Masters of the Vortex came along later, and although it exists in the same universe, the events of the Boskonian war are both peripheral and irrelevant to the plot. Atomic powerplants around the galaxy have for many years been exploding, turning into all-consuming, all-polluting, inexorably-growing fireballs that defy analysis, explanation or control. Neal Cloud, a mathematical prodigy who heads up the scientific efforts to do all three, is inspired to develop a means for their destruction when he loses his family to one and sets out to clear the galaxy of them. Along the way, he has various adventures, foils a criminal mastermind and - with the help of a female cybernetic engineer every bit as brilliant as he is - finds out the stunning truth of exactly what the Vortices are and why.The Lensman series was later used as the starting point for a (non-licensed) Japanese Anime movie ("SF New Century Lensman") and series ("Lensman: Galactic Patrol") , which took the basic outline and the names of most of the major characters and turned it all into a Star Wars ripoff. Doc Smith's estate attempted to sue the anime's creators over the series but the lawsuit was thrown out on a technicality (they waited too long before doing anything about it and thus failed to protect their copyright). The movie and a Compilation Movie of part of the series were dubbed in English by Harmony Gold USA; later, Streamline Pictures redubbed the movie with the original soundtrack and no cuts for content.In 1963 the New England Science Fiction Association named their annual SF convention "Boskone" (a play on "Boston Convention) in Smith's honor. The convention newsletter is named "Helmuth", of course.note Helmuth is an intermediate Dragon who always begins his messages to his underlings by saying "Helmuth, speaking for Boskone!" After a group of fans got in trouble with the Boskone organizers, they started up an alternative convention...and, of course, called it "Arisia."
Tropes used in the Lensman series include:
Action Girl - Clarissa Kinnison is surprisingly badass, given the time period.
Especially later on, Clarissa is quite badass for most time periods.
Her daughters, two sets of twins aged eighteen and nineteen, aren't far behind her and later on they turn it up to eleven - possibly twelve.
A God Am I - The Arisians and Eddorians, and even more so, Kimball Kinnison's children.
Alien Lunch: The planet Trenco, where anything has to be willing to eat anything in order to survive, and usually does - to the point where a creature will take pains to finish its lunch even while being lunched upon itself.
Alliterative Name - Conway Costigan, Kimball Kinnison. Joan Janowick (in Masters of the Vortex).
Oh, it doesn't stop there: Christopher "Kit" Kinnison, Kathryn "Kat" Kinnison, Camilla "Cam" Kinnison, Karen "Kay" Kinnison, Constance "Con" Kinnison...
Always Chaotic Evil - Nearly all of Boskone is so evil that virtually no prisoners are ever taken. On both sides of the war. Several entire Boskonian homeworlds (all of them effectively planet-sized fortresses) are destroyed with no survivors over the course of the series, and no one in Civilization ever thinks twice about it.
On at least one occasion, Kinnison notes that the previous life on that planet had been exterminated to make way for the base; this is hinted at as being standard Boskonian technique.
Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Arisians and Eddorians do not engage in direct conflict with each other or with the lesser races, and instead work through cutouts and manipulation. This is because the Arisians are strong enough to keep the Eddorians more or less bottled up, but not strong enough to kill the Eddorians' elite council members, and too much Arisian meddling with Civilization will hinder the development of the lesser races.
The Lens amplifies psi power in humans, it does other things for other species (some of whom are already naturally powerful psionically).
Even a Second (and on occasion a Third) Stage Lensman is advised to wear it when a maximum effort is required. Despite having done everything up to that point without it, Kim Kinnison makes sure he puts his on before duelling Thralian Prime Minister Fossten, and Kim's teenage daughters materialise Lenses for themselves out of thin air when directing their share of the space combat at the Battle of Arisia.
An Axe to Grind - The Valerian space axe. The universe's personal battle armour (and its associated energy shield) deflects most hand-held projectile and energy weapons, and the Valerians are fast enough, thanks to their origin on a high-grav world, to close the distance before the few exceptions can do much good.
Animal Eye Spy - Kinnison does this mostly, using everything from dogs to worms to infiltrate enemy bases or perform critical tasks. Nadreck takes a hint later.
Appeal to Force: In First Lensman, Roderick Kinnison suggests that the Galactic Patrol simply conquer North America by right of the bigger fleet. First Lensman Samms convinces him to cool his jets and challenge the Morgan political machine through free and fair elections instead, because Virgil Samms believes in the rule of law and seizing power by force would undermine the legitimacy of the Galactic Patrol. (Instead, the Lensmen rewrite the rules so that they are legally above the law.)
Author Avatar - In Triplanetary, Ralph Kinnison is reading a Lensman-like sci-fi story when the news about Pearl Harbour comes on the radio. He comes out of retirement, taking a job in a munitions factory where his training in organic chemistry makes him a useful asset. E.E. "Doc" Smith, SF author, had a PhD in organic chemistry (although specifically related to foodstuffs rather than explosives). Would be a Canon Sue, except that Kinnison is ultimately defeated: ( shells and mines loaded at the factory are going off prematurely, killing good men; Kinnison walks away from the job rather than accept orders to violate quality control and safety standards - orders which could be implied as being issued under Eddorian influence).
While details are sketchy at this late date, it was well known to fans who knew Smith that the explosives factory section, including the firing, was autobiographical.
Costigan also has a talent for figuring out the details of how to operate, repair, and modify both alien technologies and alien social interactions with a brief observation.
Badass Army - The Lensmen may have been SF's first, being equipped with small arms that vaporize a person, personal shields that can survive said small arms, a machine gun equivalent that can boil steel in seconds, 'caterpillars' giant tanks fitted with starship-grade weaponry...
Bastard Understudy - Among Boskone (and their controllers, e.g. the Eddorians) it is regarded as quite acceptable, even praiseworthy, for an underling to scheme to supplant their superior – the idea being that if he's successful the superior is no longer fit (e.g. not cunning and ruthless enough) to hold their position anyway.
Beethoven Was an Alien Spy - Several tyrants throughout Earth history, including Nero, Genghis Khan, and Adolf Hitler, were actually guises used by Gharlane of Eddore. Also, an in-universe example with the scientist Bergenholm. In the second book, he comes up with the breakthrough to make the Inertialess Drive safe and efficient. Later, they find out that he was an Arisian.
Beware the Nice Ones - Lensmen get referred to as "sublimated boy scouts" by one character, but Klono help you if they catch you engaging in piracy or dealing drugs. Not to mention that they use planets as strategic weapons.
BFG - The Standish, the equivalent of a machine gun, and it replacement, the semi-portable.
Bizarre Alien Biology - The Palainians' metabolism has to extend into the fourth dimension in order to function in their native environment (Pluto is as far inside Earth's solar system as they feel comfortable living), and there are other races that take this to even greater extremes.
Bizarre Alien Senses: The Rigellians (and many other races) use a bizarre sense that gives a worldview much like the best solid-modeling programs. They can even see things like the innermost components of shielded power reactors. note The flip side of this is that they rely exclusively on that sense and lack both sight and hearing. In consequence, it's sheer torture for other species to spend time in their cities, because their cars have no windows, their buildings have no sources of light and they make no attempt whatsoever to avoid loud noises... a visit to Rigel therefore involves a great deal of sitting around in the dark being startled by loud bangs, screams and howls of various kinds.
The Cahuitans (Masters...) are such high-energy beings that the only relics or evidence of Galactic Civilzation they can perceive are the cores of nuclear power plants. Even their thoughts are on such a high bandwidth that communication with ordinary beings is almost impossible. This lets them down badly when they try to ensure they're doing no harm before turning what they perceive as 'kindling' into incubators for their offspring.
Black and White Morality - Yes and no. The Arisians defy this on numerous occasions, repeatedly stating that good and evil are ultimately relative, and the Arisians and the races of Civilization recognize that different races will have Blue and Orange Morality. However, from the perspective of the races of Civilization, personal liberty is recognized as a pole star to be desired by everyone, the rigid fascism and Social Darwinism of Boskone are utterly inimical to this, and the narrator does use "evil" as a shorthand for Boskonian actions.
Blue and Orange Morality - Recognized among the races of Civilization, to the extent that different races' Lensmen have entirely different codes of honor and conduct. However, Black and White Morality still applies between Civilization and Boskone.
Boarding Party - many, many times. Justified in that the villains are space pirates by nature, and interested in loot as much as interruption of trade.
Boring Invincible Hero: The main characters may appaer as this to some readers since they tend to be good at nearly everything in the story.
Break the Cutie - Herkimer Herkimer III wants Virgilia Samms to tell him the secret of the Lens, and there are no lengths he won't go to in order to make her talk. It ends very badly for him.
Broken Aesop: The Drugs Are Bad Aesop is applied unclearly; in fact, it's only applied to the dealers of a completely fictional drug which is solely manufactured and distributed by the bad guys' food chain. By contrast, the main character picks a marijuana-equivalent drug to adopt as part of a persona, and it's almost completely harmless (the text even takes note of him learning that the drug is better taken after alcohol instead of beforehand). So...drugs are bad if they're specifically designedto fund the Evil Empire?
Brother-Sister Incest - Never happens in the books themselves, but the five Kinnison kids are the new ultimate beings – a race seperate from the rest of humanity and the founding population of a new species of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. One brother, four sisters, do the math. Vaguely foreshadowed (as strongly as the era would allow, anyway) in the last book.
There are also hints at one point that Christopher Kinnison might harbor a few unfilial feelings for his mother Clarissa... and maybe it's mutual.
The Chosen Many - The Lensmen as a whole. In point of fact, according to some sources, the Lensmen inspired another famous Chosen Many, the Green Lantern Corps. (The Corps' creators deny this, although later they made amends by adding GLs named after elements of Lensman.)
Cigarette of Anxiety - Before the final battle in Children of the Lens, one of the Kinnison girls is trying to chain-smoke, but is so wound up that she only manages one or two puffs before stubbing the cigarette out and lighting a new one.
Clothes Make the Superman - The space armor in Triplanetary incorporates forcefields that can resist steel-cutting lasers rays. It only goes up from there.
True in a psychological sense as well, at least for Clarissa, who at one point thinks that she's competent enough wearing anything, or nothing at all for that matter, but when she's in her "grays" she can hit "Service Maximum".
Code Name - "Boskone" originated as the Galactic Patrol's secret codename for operations against the space pirates, unaware that the code name was devised by a Patrol scientist who was a physical manifestation of Arisian telekinetic power. They deliberately fed the Patrol the right name.
"Zwilnik" was the Patrol's codename for their operations against a drug smuggling ring at around the same time as Operation Boskone; by Kimball's time, the word "zwilnik" has become standard slang referring to drug traffickers.
This may well be due more to the properties of the Lens, and the way its translation function works, than to anything else. When translating the Boskonians' own word for themselves, it would be "aware" that a suitable new English word had already been invented to translate it, and would therefore use that word in preference to either reproducing the sound of the Boskonian word or making up a new word itself.
The standard Galactic Patrol hand-to-hand combat textbook largely follows his advice.
Cool Starship: The Boise, the Brittania, and the Dauntless all come to mind.
When one runs the numbers for the starship Dauntless, one learns that its power system can generate six times the solar insolation experienced by Earth. That is, Dauntless could, using 1/6th of its full power, take the place of the Sun for the planet Earth.
The Boise from Triplanetary. Humanity's first interstellar space ship, natch.
From Kinnison's perspective, yes. The reader meets the Palainians first, in First Lensman, and doesn't encounter the Eich for another two books.
Deceptively Human Robots - Most of Gray Roger's crew look outwardly identical to people, but given the setting's lack of processing power, they're effectively remote-controlled puppets.
Where's it say that latter bit? The setting has independently working robots elsewhere – Whole space fleets crewed by them towards the end of the series!
Deflector Shields - Usually referred to as "ether-walls" or "screens." Unlike their Star Trek successors, for ships these are almost always multi-layered (two or three layers is typical) and there's a final layer ("wall-shield") that's almost integral with the outer skin of the ship. When the wall-shield fails, that's it. Screens also reradiate the incoming energy as light of frequency dependent on the intensity of the attack — failing screens are described as going through the spectrum to ultraviolet, then — black.
Personal shields are also standard protection for Patrolmen. As was later the case in Dune, a shield's repulsive force is proportional to the speed of the impacting object — or in this case, proportional to the speed of the impacting object to the 5th power — so ray gun blasts are completely intercepted while an axe swing might just make it through.
Averted when Mentor of Arisia assists Kimball Kinnison in destroying Prime Miniser Fosteen (Gharlane of Eddore), then convinces him that Fosteen was a renegade Arisian and that Kinnison dispatched him without help.
Disintegrator Ray - Without the later trappings of safety and convenience. The beams used really do vaporize their targets, with all the attendant thermodynamics, so best wear a shielded suit when firing unless you want your front half to be blackened cajun-style.
Depends on the weapon. Kim Kinnison fires his DeLameters while unarmoured on several occasions, and it's hinted that its ancestor, the Lewiston, can also be fired by an unprotected user. The Semi-portable projectors, on the other hand...
Equal-Opportunity Evil - Boskone dosn't really care what planet its mooks come from, as long as they don't screw up. On the other hand, the Eddorians are looking for the perfect race to be their front; and because of the very nature of the Eddorians, the more sexless, the better.
The Kalonians got the job initially because the only function of their women is the production of men. The Lyranians, on the other hand, are a Matriarchal society to the same degree. Give them a few years and a little bit of help... Helen of Lyrane and Clarissa Kinnison put a firm stop to that.
The Patrol focuses its efforts on thionite, which is really nasty stuff (and more importantly, whose dealers are part of the Boskonian food chain). Bentlam weed, on the other hand, seems to be the equivalent of marijuana - the Patrol doesn't even bother mentioning it. (Not that using it, even for an undercover job, doesn't make Kinnison feel disgusted...)
Everybody Smokes - Even the women. Tobacco is never once maligned in the series. Fine brand cigarettes are imported to Tellus all the way from Alsakan, all the way across the galaxy. Society marches on...
Evil Only Has to Win Once - Averted. The Arisians point out to Helmuth that there is absolutely no way to defeat them, and that if humanity proves incapable of using the Lens to defeat Boskone, then they'll just let him conquer and corrupt this iteration of Civilization while they wait for another one. Indeed, Triplanetary reveals how the Eddorians have managed to ruin Earth's civilization more than once in the ancient past, only for humanity to keep evolving anyway.
Evolutionary Levels - Lensmen are graded on stages from First to Third; only specially bred individuals get past First-Stage Lensman at the time of the story. It is hinted at that humanity would evolve as a whole to the point that achieving Second Stage would be common.
Explosive Overclocking - Primary beams, which take the mechanism of a regular beam projector and use it as a one-shot cartridge.
Fake Memories - supplied by the Boskonians whenever their agents bite the amnesia pill and on one occasion more benignly by Kim Kinnison in order to rehabilitate one of those agents, who had been their puppet since she was fourteen.
Kinnison once had Worsel give him false memories in order to sow disinformation among the Eich leadership.
Fate Worse Than Death - After the trio has been captured by Gray Roger, Clio has the following conversation with her guide:
"But I wouldn't want to keep on living!" Clio declared, with a flash of spirit. "And I can always die, you know."
"You will find that you cannot die," the passionless creature returned monotonously. "If you do not yield, you will long and pray for death, but you will not die unless Roger wills it. I was like you once. I also struggled, and I became what I am now - whatever it is."
Later Conway remarks that the woman "isn't alive - she's full of the prettiest machinery and communicators that you ever saw!" Which leads to a majorFridge Horror moment when one stops to wonder just how many other of Roger's robots started out as human.
That's the original version of Triplanetary, before it was rewritten for the Lensman series. In the revised version, it's never implied the woman was anything but a robot.
It is deliberately left ambiguous at first; in the revised version of the above quote, the words from "I was like you..." onwards are replaced by "Look at me: I cannot die". Clio assumes that she is a living being rendered unable to die, and is vastly relieved when Costigan informs her of the truth.
The Federation - A multi-species multi-planet civilization is common these days in science fiction, written and visual (see Star Wars, Star Trek, Brin's Uplift Universe, et cetera) but it had a definite start, and it was here. Ironically enough, unlike most modern portrayals where the bad guys tend to be a single species, both the heroes and the villains were multi-species and multi-planet (the heroes unusually so for the time period and possibly still to this day).
Finish Him! - Mentor to Kim Kinnison, regarding Gharlane, and with good reason: "Destroy him therefore, forthwith, before he regains consciousness, lest much and grievous harm befall you."
Florence Nightingale Effect - The Chief Surgeon and the Port Admiral try to set this up between Clarissa and Kinnison, only for the two of them to annoy the hell out of each other at first. Later, of course, they do fall in love. As the Arisians had intended them to do all along. They were the penultimates in their breeding program.
This is lampshaded early on: in the first book Triplanetary it's mentioned ... and demonstrated ... that the two breeding lines would instinctively be incompatible with each other until the time was right.
Friend or Foe - telling the difference was one of the reasons the Lens became a necessity.
Future Slang - Lots of it, including "zwilnik" as mentioned above, but the most prevalent is "QX" as a replacement for "OK."
"Jets" replace "balls," as in "having the jets to pull this off."
Futuristic Superhighway - In the Big Applesauce of the future, Lensman Virgil Samms drives his gyro-stabilised two-wheeler onto the Wright Skyway, a limited-access superhighway with a maze of feeder ramps running all the way up the skyscraper he's working in, and higher (presumably exits for Flying Cars). The only problem is learning to ignore the bombardment of very noisy advertising (which he later discovers is NOT limited to humanity!).
Gadgeteer Genius - Practically every inventor or engineer in the series can whip up new devices or radically modify and rebuild existing ones in a matter of minutes, often in the middle of a raging battle. Justified in Fred Rhodebush and Lyman Cleveland's case, since they are the acknowledged world experts in their fields. La Verne Thorndyke is their equivalent in Kim Kinnison's era.
Kinnison (a combat officer) plays the role himself to a degree, on Velantia, but even here it's justified because the technical breakdown of the captured Boskonian battleship has already been performed by experts and the Velantian engineers are mostly duplicating from blueprints. When it comes to tapping the enemy's communications, however, he has to wait until his Chief Communications Officer arrives. Later in the series, he has technical experts to do the work for him.
He does work out off his own bat that it is possible to adapt the Velantian thought-screens to function without the need for a metallic conductor to carry them, and then performs the necessary modifications himself.
Gambit Roulette - not just the Arisian billion year plan (with redundancies!), but many of Kimball Kinnison's infiltration gambits require him to completely assume a new identity, at one point going so far as to systematically (and psychically) write himself into each and every portion of an enemy soldier's past!
To say nothing of the identity that required him to become an alcoholic drug addict, deflecting attention from himself by getting so smashed and high simultaneously that he could barely move a muscle. His mind, on the other hand...
Gender Restricted Ability - Smith's stories had only one woman who was deemed worthy of the Lens. First Lensman had the Arisians Hand Wave it by explaining that the Lenses were intrinsically "masculine". Some of the authorized sequels just threw other Lenswomen in anyway. And a canon Lenswoman did eventually appear, throwing the original claim somewhat into question, but that's Arisians for you... they say whateverelicits the desired reactions.
The Arisians told the first crew of Lensmen Candidates that there would be, eventually, just one human woman Lensman, which was Clarrissa. Her daughters are not fully human, therefore the Arisians were not lying.
This was mostly Virgilia Samms' conjecture, rather than anything said verbatim by the Arisians.
Gladiator Revolt - In Triplanetary, a small group tries to overthrown Emperor Nero (who is really Gharlane of Eddore.)
Guilt-Free Extermination War - Depending on the book. In First Lensman, this is averted, but in chronologically later books, as the Boskonian war heats up, it becomes an axiom of battle that no quarter is ever asked or offered by either side, and belonging to Boskone is grounds for death without trial. Relaxed after the destruction of Ploor. The Patrol is getting thoroughly sick of the Mook turkey shoot, and lets the fleeing Boskonians return to their homeworlds.
Aversions do occur in later books where circumstances permit - when time constraints are sufficiently relaxed and/or the numbers of Boskonians involved are sufficiently small that it is practical to "rehabilitate" them rather than simply disposing of them. Examples include the crew of the base in the Blakeslee incident, Illona Potter, and indeed Thrale, where vast resources are deployed to rehabilitate the entire planet.
The SF-nal tradition of redheaded heroines may trace back to Heinlein, or it may trace back to Smith.
Hired To Hunt Yourself - Kinnison, while disguised as Major Gannel, arranged for this to happen to himself. He had the Patrol plant evidence that THE Lensman was tracing Boskonian communication lines, and then as Major Gannel had to show only a slight willingness to investigate before being ordered to do so. This was set up to let Kinnison go off-planet and join the Dauntless in investigating a Boskonian ship traveling down a hyperspatial tube.
Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure - From a footnote, “Detet: the distance at which one spaceship can detect another.” A useful unit for ensuring there are no gaps in your watch-formation.
Human Aliens - Kinnison not only manages to pass as a native on Thrale (a planet Civilization's run of humanity could not possibly have colonized – knowingly, anyway), but even manages to impersonate one of Boskone's officers there.
He did telepathically absorb practically all of the memories and skills of the Thralian officer he was replacing, and unknowingly had the Arisians filling in the blanks where he couldn't. His Lens also enables him to tell when someone is suspicious and blank their suspicions accordingly.
Also, in the Lensman universe, convergent evolution is a scientific fact: all the separate branches of humanity are virtually identical, even if they arose in entirely different galaxies. This is attributed to all non-Eddorian life in the known universe sharing an ultimate ancestor (the Arisians), meaning that species differentiation would be produced only by evolving in different environments. This is brought up by characters in the series, where they will mention how close to baseline Tellurians a particular alien is, often saying something like "Tellurian to within ten decimal places." There is a two-dimensional scale, with characteristics listed left to right on some basis of decreasing significance, rated from A for "identical to Tellurian" to Z for "as different as possible" (the places are not "decimal"). The first seven places are stated to refer to, in order: type of atmosphere the being breathes, blood type (warm, cold, frigid etc), stance (bipedal, quadrupedal, etc), type and arrangement of head, type and arrangement of arms, type and arrangement of legs, type of skin. A species described as "Tellurian to ten places" has a classification of AAAAAAAAAA... and from what details of the code are described this can be decoded as meaning an oxygen-breathing, warm-blooded, upright biped with Tellurian-type head, arms, legs and skin.
Humanity Is Superior - Guess who runs Civilization? There were four species the Arisians selectively bred and eugenically improved for millions of years. The four races were the humans, the Velantians, the Rigellians and the Palainians. Humanity was considered the most desirable candidate of the four races because each of the others, despite being superior to humanity in many qualities, had a significant flaw: the Palainians were intrinsically cowardly and very bad at multitasking, the Rigellians too nonaggressive and unambitious, and the Velantians deficient in resistance to mind control and in attention span. Humanity, on the other hand, while having the fewest special strengths, had no specific weaknesses.
Subverted in that Roger is actually an asexual alien who reproduces by binary fission and is mainly just trying to figure out what this "sex" thing is and why other races think it's such a big deal anyway. When he says he wants to use her for experiments pertaining to sex, what he means and what she... and The Hero... think he means are two entirely different things.
Roger is not saying that he "enjoys the society of young and beautiful women"; he is quoting it as an example of the rewards he is able to procure for those who work for him, in an attempt to "turn" the Patrolmen. It doesn't work.
Incorruptible Pure Pureness - Incorruptibility is one of the prerequisites that determines whether or not someone is worthy of becoming a Lensman. It's more emphasized for human recruits, though, as not all non-human beings are subject to the same vices.
Interstellar Weapon - The hyperspatial tube-launched planets are probably one of the more effective examples in play.
Jack of All Stats - Of the five Children of the Lens, Christopher. More generally, humans compared to other races of the Galaxy.
Judge, Jury, and Executioner - With their telepathic powers (and incorruptibility), the Lensmen generally don't bother with trials or due process. That said, quite a few Boskonians Kim Kinnison encounters not only keep their lives but get help to rebuild them.
Lensman Arms Race - Trope Maker and Trope Namer. To give merely the first incident in a long stream of one-upmanship: Triplanetary's first contact with the Nevians end badly when a single Nevian ship destroys a small fleet of spaceships and the city of Pittsburgh while hardly breaking a sweat. Within weeks, humanity has reverse-engineered their allotropic iron technology, developed an inertialess drive which can outrun anything the Nevians can field, and refitted an existing prototype spaceship, the Boise, to take full advantage of these technologies and repay the Nevians in kind. This trend continues throughout the series.
Loyal Phlebotinum - The Lenses, which kill anyone other than their owners who tries to wield them.
Mad Mathematician - Sir Austin Cardynge. (Not actually insane, just... focused. Or perhaps Heinlein would call him unsane.) And he's not necessarily the worst.
The Man Behind the Man - the Arisians, the Eddorians (and the Ploorans, and so on down the Boskone hierarchy), Prime Minister Fossten.
Mecha-Mooks - Grey Roger's minions in Triplanetary. Played with in that the escaping heroes unhesitatingly gun down both robots and humans on sight without a moral quiver (they are enemy troops after all).
Mental Fusion - Mentor of Arisia is actually a fusion of four different Arisian minds, a technique the Children of the Lens later learn for themselves.
Kim Kinnison pulls a neat trick when rehabilitating the drug-blasted mind of a young woman who had been hypnotised into being an enemy agent prior to biting an amnesia capsule when captured. He leaves something in her head as protection for her, against the next person who tries that on.
Mouth of Sauron - Helmuth, "speaking for Boskone," appears to be the Big Bad of the series at first (if you read the series in publication order), but he turns out to be only a part of a much vaster scheme orchestrated by the Eddorians themselves.
My God, What Have I Done? - Played with in Masters of the Vortex.. Medury took great pains to ensure he was doing no harm before he triggered the first Vortex. By the time the Cahuitans realise what the 'kindling' for their incubators actually was, they've evolved beyond remorse but they do act immediately to minimise the damage they've caused.
Never Found the Body - The nature of high-energy space warfare means you usually don't have a body to find, which Grey Roger uses –twice– to his benefit.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero - In Masters of the Vortex, a loose atomic vortex can be destroyed with high explosives if you can match the characteristics of the charge to the activity of the vortex at the time of detonation. If not, you either feed the vortex (and make it larger) or spread it into multiple smaller vortices all over the place. Played straight, it's a mistake of the latter type which costs Neal Cloud his wife and children.
Nice to the Waiter - Even when he's infiltrating the bad guys' organization to work his way up the hierarchy, Virgil Samms refuses to take credit for work those under him did. And when Kim Kinnison sifts through a broken-down, burned-out meteor miner's head to find the information he's looking for, he cures the man's epilepsy and gives him the drive to go back out into space and succeed.
Metal objects don't simply disappear - they glow, melt, and even evaporate if the beam is powerful enough.
In the climactic battle of the last book, anti-matter projectiles are used, and Smith very explicitly states that when an electron and positron collide, they annihilate, giving to two photons of *very* hard radiation. The really big anti-matter projectiles can fill volumes with diametres best expressed in light-minutes with lethal levels of ionizing radiation.
In Masters... Neal Cloud realises this aversion just before he blows out Vortex Number One - the resultant explosion is considerably more violent than he had originally anticipated, and the careful preparations made for his safety are woefully inadequate. He barely gets away with his life.
Not the Fall That Kills You: Smith was also capable of telling physics to take a hike when it suited the story. For instance, he had characters matching "intrinsic velocities" in ways that conveniently ignored just how astronomical (in the literal sense) those velocity differences must have been, up to and including high fractions of lightspeed. And Smith's Technobabble explanation of the impossibly stormy atmosphere of the planet Trenco pretty much ignores the laws of thermodynamics.
Nuclear Option - More like Casual Nuclear War, for lack of a better term. Several variants of atomic weapons are used: Super-atomic bombs which convert their entire rest-mass into energy, and duodecaplylatomate (or "duodec," for short), a chemical high explosive with a yield otherwise only matched by nukes. And of course, the famous negabombs, "antimatter" projectiles that come in every size up to planetary mass. All are used increasingly liberally as the war escalates; expect no trace of any Nuclear Weapons Taboo.
Duodec is not a chemical explosive. It behaves like one, but it is specifically stated to be an atomic explosive; it is described as "the quintessence of atomic destruction" and similar phrases. Probably Justified given the state of public knowledge of real atomic explosive devices at the time of writing.
Oh My Gods! - Spacemen have their own god, named Klono, who shows up in expletives like "Holy Klono's tungsten teeth and curving carballoy claws!" The Valerians prefer Noshabkeming, but quite a few spacemen say prayers to both.
Old-School Dogfight - Averted - the closest thing they have would be speedsters, used for scouting and transportation.
Of course, the Atlanteans, the Romans, and the Americans (and the rest of the modern-day nations of Tellus) might have a different opinion of 'their own good', considering what the Arisians permit to happen to them. And that's just Tellus...
Our Nudity Is Different - Some physically human societies have either radically different nudity taboos or none at all, and Lensman are expected to adopt local customs unless some pressing reason not to do so is in play. Most of them are so used to it that they do not even think about it, but Clarissa strongly dislikes working in the nude (though she can and will do it if necessary).
A few human races are the opposite, as well, with clothing rules that cover everything, like the Tomingans.
Outside-Context Villain - The Nevians in Triplanetary - when they first show up wreck both the patrol and the pirate fleets. Once the Boise gets the proper upgrades, however...
Pardon My Klingon - The Lenses assign random words to alien concepts with no direct human equivalent, and all the lenses use the same word afterwards.
Power of Love: This is what enables Clarissa to find and bring back Kinnison after he went through the Hell Hole and was trapped in a far off dimension that not even Mentor and the children could find. The chapter's even called "The Power of Love".
Given the early publication date, would that make this the Trope Namer?
Prequel - First Lensman, the last Lensman novel written by Smith, which finishes linking Triplanetary to the rest of the series.
Proud Warrior Race Guy - Worsel of Velantia, and also the confusingly named (Human) Valerians and their scion, Van Buskirk (who are a Human Subspecies because of the high gravity of their planet).
Purple Prose - Each space battle seems to be a test to see if Smith can one-up himself.
"And from the mouth of that gargantuan cone [of battle] there spewed forth a miles-thick column of energy so raw, so stark, so incomprehensibly violent that it had to be seen to be even dimply appreciated. It simply cannot be described." (... And he was only up to the second book in the series by this point!)
Rule of Cool - Averted, surprisingly; the basic fictional scientific principles such as the Bergenholm drive, hyperspatial tubes, force fields, rays etc are all handled with consistency and care. Smith finds new ways to apply these principles, rather than whipping out more Applied Phlebotinum. Even his predilection for the Boarding Party, and, of course the Valerian Space Axe Recycled IN SPACE!, are solidly justified.
The Bergenholm drive only averts it in the basic view; in the details it is more an example of playing it straight. "Inertialess" objects still display inertial behaviour in cases where it would be too awkward to behave "realistically". For example, true inertialessness would halt all thermal motion of atoms and molecules, which would wreak lethal havoc on any biological system, far beyond the "space-sickness" which is the worst such effect described (and then only in the case of the first prototype, later developments avoid this). A spaceship going inertialess in a gravity well would instantly, without perceptible time-lapse, fall to the bottom of the well and likely be vaporised in the heart of a star; again this simply does not happen, and the behaviour of the Bergenholm drive in relation to gravitational fields can only be explained by assuming it to also function as a Cavorite-style gravity shield - the first test of the initial prototype inertialess drive indeed does exactly this.
Effectively, it reduces gravitational as well as inertial mass to zero or near-zero? That actually sounds vaguely like it might follow physics. (They're assumed to be the same under the Einsteinian equivalence principle.) On the matter of biochemistry, though, you do need additional technobabble to avoid that. One novel mentioned "pseudo-inertia" in a similar context.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge - Worsel, to avenge the millennia his people suffered at the hands of the Overlords of Delgon (not to mention his own suffering), vows to obliterate the entire species from the universe. Pretty much does. Considers the fact that he has to torture some of them for information to be a bonus.
This is a species that tortures its victims slowly to death in order to enjoy their agonies and then consume their life-force as they die. Little wonder that the Velantians' allies saw fit to help them destroy it.
It's probably not coincidence that the title of the Eddorian leader is also one of the titles of the German Kaiser ("All-Highest").
Also Cf. Helmuth von Moltke, German commander at the start of the First World War.
Schematized Prop - any and all weapons, but particularly the DeLameter blaster. Almost all spaceships.
Science Marches On - spaceships developed on slide rule, with fantastic beam weapons that use vacuum tubes! Given that every spaceship which flew in Smith's lifetime (d.1965) was probably drafted on slide rule, he wasn't doing too badly.
The GURPS RPG supplement threw in the explanation that the Arisians deliberately prevented anyone in Civilization from inventing the transistor or modern computing theory, because the entire point of the Arisian breeding program was to improve the powers of the mind. Allowing the existence of surrogate minds (i.e., computers) would have interfered with that development, by removing most of the need for heightened intellectual capacity beyond the current human average. Some canonical support for this theory exists – when the Arisian breeding program finally reached its end (i.e., when the Children of the Lens were finally born), Civilization did immediately start to develop advanced computing technology, as seen in both Children of the Lens and Masters of the Vortex.
Well before that, they already had Mecha-Mooks to crew at least some of their war fleets, and robots (albeit more primitive ones) were around before humanity had expanded beyond the solar system. Lensman information technology is ... weird by modern standards.
The early version of the Nebular Hypothesis that dominated the books' ideas of stellar and planetary formation, and the pre-DNA eugenics and Evolutionary Levels concepts used in the Lensman breeding programs.
The inertialess drive was theoretically possible when the books were written, but advancements in relativity and quantum mechanics have both made hash of it.
Negamatter. It's essentially antimatter, but as originally imagined by Paul Dirac in the 1930s. As such, it has negative mass and some other weird properties most scientists today don't believe it should have.
The vacuum tubes might not qualify, give that transistors can only handle very small power loads and tube circuits are very much more resistant to EMPs and hard radiation.
The vacuum tubes are best described as qualifying in some cases and not in others. In low-power benchtop gadgets such as the apparatus used by the Delgonians to extract life-force they certainly do. At the other end of the scale, however, the "sunbeam" works by converting an entire solar system into a giant "vacuum tube", and the description of its operation only makes sense in terms of vacuum-tube physics; a solid-state version would just be silly... In any case, vacuum tubes are far from obsolete in Real Life - specialised vacuum tubes are still the device of choice for a lot of high-frequency, high-power applications.
Atomic power generation. As hinted in the "main sequence" and explicitly described in Masters of the Vortex, atomic power plants generate power from a "vortex of atomic destruction" which eats everything, not just fissile materials... and is self-sustaining. So the Lensman-universe equivalent of China Syndrome is an atomic vortex which escapes from the power plant's control, fuelling itself on ordinary rock and spewing a continuous effluvium of highly radioactive reaction products, like a version of Chernobyl that doesn't stop.
The climax of Masters of the Vortex is Neal Cloud and Joan Janowick's discovery of just why those powerplants are exploding, who is responsible, and what can be done about it.
Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted; Smith appears very much aware that he's portraying a galaxy-wide civilization. Here's the Gray Lensman on leading the assault on a major Boskonian stronghold:
Kinnison: "With around a million fleets to handle we can't spend spend much time on any one."
The starships of the Galactic Patrol use total conversion of matter to energy for their engines. At first, the power was conducted in meters-thick, liquid-helium-cooled silver busbars, because nothing less could handle it. It's specifically noted that to utilize their extreme power sources to their fullest, they needed to go a step further than that and discover room-temperature superconductors.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Ploor is destroyed, the remnants of the Boskonian fleet flee back to their respective planets. The Patrol, thoroughly sick of killing mooks like shooting fish in barrels, lets them go.
Show, Don't Tell: Smith's character descriptions tend to be "This is what you should think about this character."
2-D Space: Averted. Englobement is a standard tactic, as is the Cone of Battle.
Space Battle: While most of the action centered on the larger-than-life heroes as individuals, occasionally the emphasis shifted to the larger-than-life fleets of space battleships they commanded.
Space Is Cold: During Virgil Samms's visit to a sub-zero planet, Smith takes pains to explain that vacuum is a very poor conductor. Heat loss to the metallic ground is a much bigger danger, on the other hand.
The Spartan Way: Present, though somewhat downplayed. In Galactic Patrol, it's mentioned that out of an initial selection pool of one million, only about one hundred are deemed worthy of receiving a Lens. Given that a typical Lensman is among the most physically, mentally, and morally tough people in the galaxy, it's to be expected that the selection process must be quite demanding.
Space Friction - When you're totally inertialess, running into a hydrogen atom in the almost-perfect vacuum of space actually does qualify as friction.
Space Pirates - The Boskonian empire was mistaken as being merely these at first.
Stalker with a Test Tube - The Arisians have been interfering with most of human history, conducting a breeding program to produce humans with mental powers rivaling exceeding their own. The Kinnisons become the end result.
State Sec: The Galactic Patrol in First Lensman is a heroic example. They function as Secret Police and spy on Boskone's organization, but also quickly absorb the Triplanetary Service (a regular military outfit) and other military forces of Civilization, as well as building their own fleet. By the time of Galactic Patrol, they have completely subsumed Civilization's government.
Starfish Aliens - The Nevians, Palainians and Rigellians, among many others. Thoroughly inhuman and occasionally monstrous aliens who (at least insofar as the named examples are concerned) are either humanity's allies from the start or become so.
Stun Guns - The Nevian Paralyzer gun. Most of the other hand weapons don't have this setting as default, although it's implied that they can be tuned or modified in the field to produce it.
Subspace Ansible - The Lens grants this functionality. If they're advanced enough, Lensmen in different galaxies can communicate with each other with no more difficulty or inconvenience than an online chat room.
Sufficiently Advanced Aliens - Arisians and Eddorians. Arguably the Ploorans. All three races appear to be naturally evolved Level Three telepaths.
Reverse Mole - one of Kinnison's usual tactics, successful to the point that he eventually ends up running the Evil Empire in time for their (at that stage in the story) climactic battle with Civilization.
Mentor: "Inflated — overwhelmingly by your warped and perverted ideas, by your momentary success in dominating your handful of minions, tied to you by bonds of greed, of passion, and of crime, you come here to wrest from us the secret of the Lens, from us, a race as much abler than yours as we are older — a ratio of millions to one.
"You consider yourself cold, hard, ruthless. Compared to me, you are weak, soft, tender, as helpless as a newborn child. That you may learn and appreciate that fact is one reason why you are living at this present moment. Your lesson will now begin."
Later, one of the lesser Guardians does the same to a couple of trespassing Eich leaders.
The So-Called Coward - Nadreck refers to himself as a Dirty Coward. He's also probably the second most effective Lensman in Civilization, prior to the Children of the Lens; the fact that he doesn't stick his neck out leads him to take no risks and defeat the enemies of Civilization with consummate skill, efficiency and guile.
His race regards cowardice as a virtue. At one point, he's acutely embarrassed by the fact that he was forced to personally kill three enemies in single combat, instead of manipulating them into killing each other.
Eventually, the human penultimate, Kimball Kinnison, reluctantly comes to the conclusion that Nadreck is right about this, and that he has to adopt the same sort of ruthless, coldly pragmatic thinking to succeed.
Touched by Vorlons - Several characters are touched by the Arisians to varying degrees, particularly the second-stage Lensmen in the later books.
Twin Switch - First Lensman Samms does a variation on this so he can infiltrate a drug cartel while under Patrol protection. The reason he can switch with his cousin is carefully explained.
Types of Naval Ships - Played with. Speeders are smallest (room for one or two people) and fastest. Covettes, frigates, and destroyers aren't used at all. Cruisers are generally designed for specialized tasks, such as prevent hostile ships from going "free", scouting, or launching negabombs. Battlecruisers are used for commerce raiding (by the Boskonians), or for fighting commerce raiders (by the Patrol). Battleships and super-dreadnoughts are front-lime combat units although we see far more of the later then former. Finally, the slow maulers and super-maulers were designed for planetary bombardment, although thanks to the strength of theater shields they proved more successful in ship to ship combat.
Uncanny Valley - In-Universe. Both Grey Roger's robot slaves, and Roger himself, receive comments to this effect by various characters.
The Unfettered - Gray Lensmen, officially called Unattached Lensmen, are free to pursue whatever avenues they desire in pursuit of their moral duty to protect Civilisation, and are given pretty much a blank check to use Civilization's resources as they see fit in that pursuit. Technically they are answerable to the Galactic Council and the Port Admiral of the Galactic Patrol, but in the field they answer only to their own conscience.
Unobtainium - Dureum, a "super-dense" metal which allows it to be used inside of Hypertubes.
We Have Reserves: When Patrol marines storm a Boskonian battlecruiser, the defending officers have no reservations about tossing armour-piercing grenades into the melee, which kill almost as many of their own forces as they do of the Patrol attackers.
Worthless Yellow Rocks - Iron, the basis of the Nevians' technology and economy: five pounds is a king's ransom, but to humans it's so common we build our ships' hulls out of it!
The "super-atomic motor" in the stories works by converting the total mass of the fuel into energy. "Allotropic Iron" is an artificially produced allotrope that packs a lot of mass into a very dense liquid, and as such, makes a very efficient and easy to handle fuel for their ship's atomic motors.
Worthy Opponent - Kinnison and Helmuth deeply respect each other's capabilities, which is part of why they each try so hard to kill each other. Two books later, Helmuth is still Kinnison's gold standard for a careful and skilled opponent.
Wouldn't Hit a Girl - Kinnison can mow down male thugs left and right without batting a lash, but he would never harm a woman... which causes him no small headache when he is forced to deal with the genocidally misanthropic matriarchs of Lyrane II.
You Gotta Have Blue Hair - Helmuth is described as having blue hair, blue eyes, and blue-tinted skin. The anime adaptation, for whatever reason, chose to turn him into a forty-foot monstrosity. Something like Leader Desslok of Gamilon, of Space Battleship Yamato fame, is probably what was intended.