"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:
- Galactic Patrol
- Gray Lensman
- 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
, as well as new material interspersed throughout the original story, 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.
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 "Bos
vention) in Smith's honor. The convention newsletter is named "Helmuth", of course.note
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.
- Amulet of Concentrated Awesome - Played straight by having the Lensmen's lenses amplify their Psychic Powers. For the Second-Stage Lensmen they turned out just to be magic feathers, as Second-Stage Lensmen are advanced enough to use mind powers on their own.
- 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.
- Due to being Loyal Phlebotinum, and the nature of mind-to-mind contact, it also functions as an impossible-to-counterfeit badge of rank, and a justification for Lensmen being incorruptible and thus able to operate above the law when necessary.
- 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.
- Ancient Conspiracy - The Eddorian master plan to dominate all life in the Universe is older than our own solar system.
- Ancient Tradition - The Arisians are committed to guarding every intelligent species' right to determine its own way of life, and are both older and more powerful than even the Eddorians.
- 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.
- Animated Adaptation - Obscure anime adaptation, Lensman Galactic Patrol.
- Annoying Patient - The first time Kinnison ends up in Prime Base's hospital, he's one of these, constantly demanding non-hospital food and to be allowed more physical activity than he's capable of doing. Justified by Kinnison's frustration level — he knows perfectly well that he was injured by being an idiot. When he's injured more severely in a later novel, but without the "I had the Idiot Ball" element, he's more reasonable.
- 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.)
- Applied Phlebotinum - Ultrawaves, good for everything from FTL communication to X-Ray Vision!
- Author Avatar - In Triplanetary, Ralph Kinnison is reading a Lensman-like sci-fi story when the news about Pearl Harbor 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.
- Awesomeness by Analysis - The Arisians' "Visualization of the Cosmic All", which effectively gives them precognition from sufficiently analyzing a person or object.
- 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...
- Badass Unintentional - Nadreck the Palainian kills three of Boskone's highest-ranking leaders in single combat in an Offscreen Moment of Awesome. He considers that mission a fiasco because he failed to get them to kill one another instead, and his species values self-preservation as much as those strange, warmblooded Tellurians value courage.
- Balance Between Good and Evil - Civilization v. Boskone
- 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.
- Batman Gambit
- Beam Spam - on a regular basis, escalating throughout the series.
- Beardness Protection Program - Kinnison grows a beard to go undercover as Chester Q. Fordyce.
- 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.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension - Kimball Kinnison and Clarissa MacDougall's first meeting produces some real fireworks, complete with mutual insults and name-calling. Their relationship eventually gets a little less prickly, but Kinnison still finds himself reluctant to admit that he's in love with her because he's done some horrible, horrible things as a Lensman and he's not sure she'd still have him if she knew. Naturally, she does. It helps that she goes on to become a Lensman herself.
- Beware the Nice Ones - Lensmen get referred to as "sublimated boy scouts" by one character, but by Klono's amazingly alliterative appendages, don't let them 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.
- Big Bad - Helmuth, the leader of the Boskone.
- Bigger Bad - The Eddorians.
- The Big Board - Trope Maker, to the extent that the US Navy borrowed the idea.
- 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 High-stage Lensmen can also develop this sense.
- 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.
- An example may help. Nadrek, the Palanian Second-Stage Lensman, is regarded as every bit as much a hero by his race's standards as Kinnison is by human standards. The Blue and Orange part comes in because Palanians consider cowardice and guile to be virtues. Nadrek is so thoroughly ashamed of "botching" his single-handed elimination of a major Boskonian base so badly that three (out of, at the very least, hundreds) of the Boskonians failed to kill each other/themselves and he personally had to eliminate them using (shudder) physical conflict that he records the details of this operation only under strong protest, and immediately places the recording under "Lensman's Seal", which effectively means "Ain't nobody seeing this never." Kinnison's reaction is pretty similar to the reader's: "Took out an entire base all by himself, something nobody else could have done, heroically risked his own life in personal combat to finish up the job, and he's embarrassed because he thinks it wasn't elegant enough. Palanians are weird."
- 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.
- 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.
- Call to Adventure
- Dronvire, the first Rigellian Lensman, especially.
- Casual Interstellar Travel - After the Bergenholm drive was created.
- 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.
- Colony Drop - One weapon (that eventually becomes standardized for both sides) is the "free planet" - a small, rocky, generally otherwise-useless planetoid given a network of inertialess drives so that it can be dragged off wherever needed, then turned loose to seriously wreck someone's day.
- Combat Pragmatist - Costigan. Kinnison also.
- 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.
- The Corrupter - Everyone involved in the galaxy-wide Boskonian thionite smuggling operation is this to some degree or another, working to subvert Civilization from within. In-universe, the Lensmen seem to regard this as an even more insidious danger than the Space Pirates attempting to assault them from without.
- Dark Is Not (Necessarily) Evil: Initially, the frigid-blooded, poison-breathing, multidimensional Eich, briefed in a perpetual aura of near-absolute zero cold, are truly scary monsters and the epitome of evil. But later, the Palainians (a closely related species, about as similar to them as we are to Human Aliens) turn out to be honorable and reliable (if weird) allies of Civilization.
- 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.
- Democracy Is Bad - First Lensman is ambivalent at best about democracy, as one of the main adversaries is a Sleazy Politician who manages to gather a significant amount of populist support, and a heroic character openly suggests resolving the problem with a military coup (the Patrol ultimately decide that the rule of law is important enough to let the voters decide, however). Later in the timeline, galactic government is replaced with an unelected Patrol governed by The Chosen Many, who are completely above the law and answer to no one, and this is unambiguously a good thing.
- Not quite; there is a representative (and presumably civilian) "Galactic Council" that governs, or at least legislates, and most planets we see also have democratic-seeming local governments. First Lensman is generally more about Democracy Is Flawed. That said, the Patrol is a very powerful executive agency within this framework — Almost a sort of heroic State Sec.
- When the Patrol moves into the Second Galaxy, they resort to a manipulated Democracy Imposed From Without, in the hope that in time the ex-slaves of Boskone will get used to the idea of real democracy.
- Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu? - Virgil Samms feels like this after establishing maybe second or third contact with the Palainians.
- 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...
- Dolled-Up Installment: The "first" novel in the series, Triplanetary, was originally unconnected to the saga, but later rewritten and expanded as a "Prequel".
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom - In the third volume the bad guys' main base has a scuttling charge that pulverizes the crust of the planet it's on. This being the origin of the Lensman Arms Race, they have to find a way to beat that. So starting in the forth book, the superweapons of choice are planet-sized antimatter bombs and planets travelling in opposite directions and smashing the target between them. Yeah, beat that. (And they do, with colliding planets from another universe travelling at fifteen times the speed of light.)
- Eldritch Abomination - Not only are the Eddorians already from a horribly different other continuum, but they have to disguise their appearances or mere humans will go insane upon seeing them.
- Empathic Weapon - The Lens.
- Enigmatic Empowering Entity - The Arisians serve this role for much of the plot, bestowing Lenses on those they judge worthy of them.
- 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.
- Eternal Prohibition - All illegal drugs are still illegal in the far future, as they should be; indeed, much of the Galactic Patrol's work is replicating a galactic DEA (with Judge Dredd's plenipotentiary powers). Drug pushing seems to be regarded as the most serious of crimes; the punishment is either death or corrective psychological therapy.
- 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.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel - the "inertialess drive" and later, Hyperspatial tubes.
- 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 major Fridge 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.
- Forced Into Evil - Not all Boskonians are irredeemably evil; in fact, many are as much victims of their oppressive systems as the people the Galactic Patrol tries to protect. The Lensmen try to recover and deprogram the less hardened ones when they can afford to make a distinction.
- 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 whatever elicits 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.
- Generican Empire - The civilization that the protagonists work for is only referred to as "Civilization."
- Gladiator Revolt - In Triplanetary, a small group tries to overthrown Emperor Nero (who is really Gharlane of Eddore.)
- Goggles Do Something Unusual - The ultra-wave "spy ray."
- Good Republic, Evil Empire - For all the extraordinary powers of enforcement the Galactic Patrol has, the Civilization it protects generally puts a high value on personal freedoms and local governmental autonomy. Boskone, on the other hand, is unapologetically despotic and malevolent.
- Great Off Screen War - The Jovian Wars. There were at least four of them, they they resulted in the Triplanetary League forming from Venus, Tellus, and Mars.
- Guile Hero - While Kinnison himself is certainly one, and every Lensman is expected to be one to some degree, the real shining example of this trope in the Lensman 'verse is Nadreck of Palain VII, who prefers to manipulate his enemies into fighting one another by using his powers to amplify their natural flaws, hatreds, and jealousies. He wipes out one Boskonian base that we see using these methods, and there's evidence that he's pulled the same trick on others.
- 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.
- Harmful to Touch - Lenses, when not being worn by their proper owners.
- Heavyworlder - The Valerians, who were originally human colonists, evolving into a Human Subspecies because of it.
- The Hero - Kim Kinnison.
- Hero of Another Story - See the entry for Nadreck the Palainian under Magnificent Bastard.
- Heroes Want Redheads - Kim and Clarissa.
- 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.
- How Do I Shot Web? - Lenses do not come with instruction manuals; each Lensman has to learn how to operate their own Lens in the manner they find most intuitive, to the point where almost all Lensmen are told never to return to Arisia or attempt further contact. Kimball Kinnison is the first (though not by much) to realise that its uses go far beyond what he was initially told about, and will need to approach the Arisians for help in working it out. When his Admiral reminds him of this injunction, he states that he does not recall being given the warning - and with good reason; Mentor actually tells him that if he lived long enough, he would be bound to realise what he did and return for further training.
- 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.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty - Gray Roger, like any good Space Pirate, tries to force himself on The Hero's Love Interest.
- 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.
- Earlier Roger mentions that he enjoys the "society of young and beautiful women," implying that Clio isn't the first.
- 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.
- Inertial Dampening - The Bergenholm inertialess drive, which was the origin of the trope.
- 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.
- Klingon Promotion - Standard operating procedure among the Boskonians, as their hierarchy is built on power and intimidation. If you can't keep your underlings from killing you and taking your job, you clearly weren't doing that well at it in the first place.
- 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.
- Ludicrous Precision - The slang phrase "I check you to nineteen decimals" invokes this for effect, as a rather over-the-top way of saying "Your conclusions / suspicions match up with my own."
- Mad Mathematician - Sir Austin Cardynge. (Not actually insane, just... focused. Or perhaps Heinlein would call him unsane.) And he's not necessarily the worst. Among Tellurians and similar species, it's an accepted fact that high levels of mathematical intellect will lead to a bit of instability, and the exceptions are at least Second Stage.
- The Man Behind the Man - Boskone works like a giant onion around the Eddorians. Each layer plays The Man Behind the Man to its subordinate group, which in turn has its own subordinate bunch.
- 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.
- Mind Rape - Used heavily by the villains. Also occasionally by the heroes. Particularly Nadreck of Palain, although his entire race's moral philosophy differs radically from that of humans.
- 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.
- Minovsky Physics - Ultra-waves, ether, thought-waves, the Bergenholm (extended right to and past to the logical conclusion of "just how big an object can we throw around?").
- 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. Note that Helmuth actually predates Sauron; Galactic Patrol was published fifteen years before The Fellowship of the Ring.
- 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 (though not at Cloud's own hands; the mistake was made by a 'bungling nitwit' who is bluntly stated to have died in the attempt).
- 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. In fact, when Kimball uses a spider as part of his scheme, he makes sure to find a nice, juicy fly for the spider to eat as well, and it's all part of the same thing.
- No Conservation of Energy - Averted; whether it's ray guns actually vaporizing people or Deflector Shields reradiating energy to their surroundings and setting them on fire, Smith is one rare sci-fi author who understands that not only does energy have to be generated, it also has to go somewhere.
- 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. Smith's Technobabble explanation of the impossibly stormy atmosphere of the planet Trenco pretty much ignores the laws of thermodynamics, and his calculations for the destructive power of his ultimate explosive Duodec are an elaborate joke in the form of a mathematical formula. Smith was reportedly delighted to be called on this, because it meant his fans were paying attention.
- 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), an extremely high-yield nuclear explosive described as "the quintessence of atomic destruction" and similar phrases. 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.
- 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.
- Omniscient Morality License - The Arisians like to jerk the lesser races' chains a lot, but it's for their own good. (Eventually.)
- 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... The alternative, however, would have been worse.
- One Riot, One Ranger - Kinnison frequently takes on Boskonian bases single-handedly and wins. He's rarely far away from backup forces that are ready to move at his signal, but even then, most of the time they only come into play to mop up after he's already dealt the deciding blow.
- Our Dragons Are Different - The Velantians.
- Our Nudity Is Different - Some physically human societies have either radically different nudity taboos or none at all, and Lensmen 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.
- Perpetual Storm: First Lensman has the planet Trenco, which has forty seven feet of rainfall each night, the worst electrical storms in known space, and wind velocities of over 800 miles per hour.
- Powered Armor - According to many, the Ur Example, certainly a very early one (decades before Starship Troopers). Includes protective force-fields, inertial dampening tech, rocket thrusters, a generous heat ray, and the multi-kilohorsepower engines required to move it around.
- 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).
- Psychic Block Defense - mechanical thought-screens and their psychically generated equivalents. The former are not always unbreakable, but are in widespread use even among natural telepaths, as they offer the advantage of not requiring any effort from the wearer to maintain his, her or its own psychic shields around the clock. Just make sure the new power-pack is connected in parallel before you slip out the used one...
- 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!)
- Ray Gun
- Raygun Gothic - Before it was retro, even.
- A Real Man Is a Killer - All Tellurian Lensmen are male, because a Lensman must be able to kill without a conscience if the situation calls for it and only men can be natural-born killers like that; women, supposedly, just don't have that kind of sociopathy in them. Virginia Samms is disqualified from being a Lensman for this reason, and she says that there will one day be a woman Lensman, but she'll be an absolute freak of nature. Actually, Virginia's being fed a crock of bullshit. The Arisians don't want women in the Lensman corps because it might screw up their breeding program.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni - In First Lensman, Roderick Kinnison and Virgil Samms have this sort of dynamic going, with Rod's impulsive charisma balanced by Samms's methodical cunning.
- 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.
- 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. Not because they need to do so to live or anything, they just like it. Little wonder that the Velantians' allies saw fit to help them destroy it.
- Save the Villain - Lensmen will try to save even Boskonian agents if rehabilitation is at all possible. They have no hesitation about destroying those that prove to be too hardened or indoctrinated to save (which generally translates to pretty much all of the upper echelons of their leadership).
- Scary Dogmatic Aliens - Boskone is The Empire pitted against the benevolent and free Civilization. Consider the stories were written in the run-up to, and during, WWII and I think you can see who they stand for.
- 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 Hero - Quite often, the tide of the war against Boskone is changed as a result of brilliant scientists whipping up the newest Big Thing just in time to give the Space Pirates a thrashing.
- 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.
- Secret Weapon - Primary beams, kept secret from the Boskonians throughout most of Gray Lensman. The Galactic Partrol only used them when they knew none of its victims could escape to tell the tale.
- Sequel Reset - Every one of the original four novels ends with the Lensmen thinking they've finally destroyed the nerve center of Boskone's operations and wrapped things up for good... which means that every sequel has to have a scene establishing that, no, there's still one level higher to go (at least until they finally confront the Eddorians).
- Serial Escalation - Goes hand-in-hand with the Lensman Arms Race. Each book introduces at least one superweapon that's ultra-powerful at the moment it's revealed but that becomes so ubiquitous by the sequel that it's practically the new baseline for weapons tech, resulting in scientists on both sides developing still more powerful superweapons in an effort to break the status quo. Wash, rinse, repeat.
- Shipper on Deck - After Kinnison's disastrous encounter with the Wheelmen in Galactic Patrol ends up with him laid up in a hospital, Doctor Lacy and Port Admiral Haynes conspire to set him up with Clarissa MacDougall, an eligible nurse who happens to also be related to the Samms family. The two do eventually fall for one another. Just as the Arisians intended from the start of their breeding program.
- Show, Don't Tell - Smith's character descriptions tend to be "This is what you should think about this character."
- Shown Their Work - For such a dated (and often over-the-top) series, Lensman can be surprisingly hard science-fiction at times.
- 2-D Space: Averted. Englobement is a standard tactic, as is the Cone of Battle.
- Sleazy Politician - In the prequel First Lensman, Senator Morgan, who mixes shady political dealing and ties with corrupt corporations and the mob with secret subservience to the evil alien empire. His chief aide, Herkimer Herkimer III, is probably the closest thing Lensman has to an utter monster. (Well, as far as human beings are concerned, at least.)
- Morgan can probably also be considered a mild Strawman Political against left-wing economic populism.
- Sleep Cute - Costigan and Clio Marsden
- So Last Season - The powers of Civilization, Boskone, and the Lensmen keep going up and up and up...
- Sorting Algorithm of Evil - Boskone, played to the hilt.
- 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 Friction - When you're totally inertialess, running into a hydrogen atom in the almost-perfect vacuum of space actually does qualify as friction. Friction from the interstellar medium, in fact, is the only limiting factor on the acceleration of an inertialess drive.
- 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.
- Space Pirates - The Boskonian empire was mistaken as being merely these at first. Not a hard mistake to make, when it's the only face the enemy shows you.
- 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.
- 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.
- Super Prototype - numerous Cool Ships, from the Brittania to the Chicago.
- Supporting Leader - Kinnison's controller, Port Admiral Haynes, doesn't get himself directly involved much unless there's a space battle of stupendous scale to coordinate. Nevertheless, his leadership and support often prove invaluable whenever Kinnison finds himself in a tight spot.
- Taking You with Me - When fighting a losing battle, Boskonian gun crews purposely overload their weapons. This burns out the gun and kills the gun crews, but the resulting high powered beam is enough to break through the shields of the Patrol's defensive cruisers. It backfires when Patrol scientists figure out a way to safely use method, creating the devastating primary beam.
- Technobabble: mixed liberally with actual science, and Smith was reportedly delighted by fans who could spot the difference.
- Telepathic Spacemen - The point of the story.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech - Helmuth receives one when he tries to visit Arisia:
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.
- Too Awesome to Use - Invoked and discussed within the context of the perpetual game of one-upmanship that is the Lensman Arms Race. Every so often, Civilization's scientists will come up with something leaps and bounds ahead of what the Boskonians are capable of dealing with. However, they'll intentionally hold off on using it until a decisive moment or unless they can guarantee no enemy survivors will report back to headquarters because they know that the Boskonians will be able to analyze, reverse-engineer, and develop their own countermeasures for anything wielded against them.
- Touched by Vorlons - Several characters are touched by the Arisians to varying degrees, particularly the second-stage Lensmen in the later books. Generally speaking, this is when said humans are in direct opposition to an Eddorian, specifically Gharlane, and require protection.
- Tractor Beam - They appear here first, as an offshoot of research into anti-inertia forcefields. Interestingly, against negamatter bodies, they behave in the exact opposite fashion, repelling them instead of capturing them.
- Trademark Favorite Food - Kinnison and his big, thick, rare, beefsteaks.
- Transhuman - The end goal of the Arisians' great eons-long plan, realized by Kim and Clarissa Kinnison's offspring, is the creation of a species of superbeings to whom the powers of even a Second-Stage Lensman are second nature from birth.
- Translator Microbes - The Lens of Civilization.
- Tsundere - Clarissa Kinnison (nee MacDougall) may be one of the prototypes for the "feisty, temperamental redhead that ultimately falls for the hero" archetype that's so prevalent in science fiction.
- 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.
Kimball Kinnison: On this job I can recognize nothing of good taste, of courtesy, of chivalry, or even of ordinary common decency.
- Unobtainium - Dureum, a "super-dense" metal which allows it to be used inside of Hypertubes.
- Unusual Euphemism - By Klono's Carballoy Claws! Also a Future Slang version of Curse of the Ancients.
- Klono seems to have whatever alliterative attributes the person swearing by him wants him to have: iridium intestines, gadolinium guts, und so weiter.
- Lampshaded as being why he's such a popular space-god. "He's got so much stuff - teeth and horns, claws and whiskers, tail and everything - that he's much more satisfactory to swear by than any other space-god I know of."
- Unwilling Roboticisation: What happened to Clio's guide - and possibly others - in Triplanetary.
- Wall of Text - It seems Talking and Talking and Talking is a free action...
- To be fair, it's mentioned that telepathic communication is vastly faster than speech.
- We Didn't Start The Führer - Or the Kaiser, or Nero, or the Tyrant of Asia... Many of history's most famous tyrants were actually Eddorian sleeper agents.
- 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.
- We Will Spend Credits in the Future — possibly the Trope Codifier.
- 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 if he could help it... 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.
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle - Except for the two prequels that he is not in, all of the novels end with Kim thinking that THIS time he's finally obliterated Boskone's leadership for sure... Although in Children... he begins to think that "there IS no top."
The Lensman anime contains the following tropes:
- Conspicuous CG - For several spacecraft, a holographic Helmuth communicating to his minions, an illusionary chase sequence, and the Lens. The anime was one of the first uses of CG for the mass market.
- Doomed Hometown - Boskone destroys Anime!Kimball's peaceful farm world practically as soon as the Lens is on his hand.
- Evil Is Visceral - Boskone ships are purple organic-looking blobs, in contrast with the silver geometric shapes of Galactic Patrol ships.
- Recycled Soundtrack - The Harmony Gold dub used part of the score for the unreleased Robotech II: The Sentinels.
- Streamline Pictures - Released a dubbed version of the anime movie. Harmony Gold also produced a Compilation Movie of the first episodes of the series.
- Sufficiently Advanced Aliens: Helmuth, oddly enough, in the books he's just a blue skinned humanoid with a machine gun.
- Take Up My Sword - Kim is given his lens by a dying Lensman he finds when he saves the Britannia from crashing. (Of course, Lenses just don't work that way in the original series.)
- The anomaly is immediately lampshaded in the film.
- Tron Lines - Spreading from the Lens on the back of Kim's hand.
- You Have Failed Me - Helmuth loves this trope.