Over the last week or so, when I got tired of concentrating on downloaded Doctor Who novels on my PDA screen, I've been turning for variety to this classic novel, the first in Smith's famous Lensman series. I bought a whole bunch of them at Worldcon; hadn't read any before; and to be honest it will be a while before I try getting into them again. Humanity is the battleground for the centuries-long struggle for galactic domination between the Arisian and Eddorian civilisations. We start with a snapshot of an ancient high-tech Atlantis, wiped out by atomic war, and then a rather puzzling vignette from Rome under Nero; then the first and second world wars. And then a third of the way through the book, we're in space opera territory; our heroes are kidnapped by space pirates, re-kidnapped by an amphibian race, themselves under attack by other forces:
[The attackers were] fish some five feet in length. Fish with huge, goggling eyes; fish plentifully equipped with long, arm-like tentacles; fish poised before control panels or darting about intent upon their various duties. Fish with brains, waging war!The war between the alien amphibians and humanity is resolved, the Earth is saved (apart from Pittsburgh), and the pirate captain, in fact an incarnation of the evil Eddorians, escapes to the next novel.
I can see why this (and I suppose the rest of the series) is a taproot text for so much sf - direct or indirect descendants must include autopope's Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, much of Bujold, Ender's Game, etc etc etc. The amphibians' habit of sucking all the iron out of planets they encounter reminded me of Douglas Adams' Doctor Who story, The Pirate Planet. But I can't really pretend that it was very good.