Lensman: Tangential Connections

Triplanetary 11 – Chapter 4: 1918

Welcome to the read! This is another post where I’m not going to engage in the usual long-form close read, because this chapter isn’t particularly interesting from that perspective. In fact, most of the interest comes from material that isn’t included. This is the first chapter in what’s called Book 2 – The World War, and in many respects it is not at all like the preceding chapters. It is another flavor of ordinary pulp story in the middle of the larger narrative, but that seems to be the only connection.

First, there’s no awareness at all of the larger sci-fi conflict. We don’t get any Arisian or Eddorian discussion to lead in, it’s just straight to the human perspective. Second, the main character isn’t a member of the bloodline we followed in the two previous stories, lacking the signature coloration. Third, it doesn’t end with anything even as dramatic as the failure to remove Nero, let alone the end of the Atlantean era. It’s literally just a WW1 action yarn, with no particular connection to the larger story.

In short, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for this chapter. As far as the Lensman narrative is concerned, you might as well read any random WW1 story as this one.

The only actual connection is that the main character’s last name is Kinnison. If you came to this book as a prequel, having already read the original series, you would know that Kinnison is the last name of that series’ main character, and so we were getting his ancestors’ perspective. At the end of Book 2, we also get a note that strongly hints that the Kinnison bloodline is another one that the Arisians have been cultivating. So it’s not completely random, just mostly.

What’s puzzling to me is how the narratives of these bloodlines are presented. Book 1 has two human-focused chapters, each starring a member of the Phrygean line, but two isn’t quite enough to form a pattern, and also the logistics of how the descendants made it from North America to Thrace are unclear. The three chapters of Book 2 each star a Kinnison (the same one for two of them), and in a much more satisfying and coherent way, but that also means that the last we see of the Phrygeans before we go into the science-fiction future is the 1st Century. It kind of feels like these sequences were written with the constraints of the magazine format in mind, even though as far as I know they were only ever published in book form.

I think it would have made better sense to alternate between the bloodlines. Have the Phryges character be of the Kinnison line, so his family escaping to North America could show up again much later as a family now from North America. The peculiarly specific redheads could show up in the gladiator revolt, and then again in one of the World War era stories to stay present. Maybe have one more story set somewhere between 9500 BCE and ~65 CE to keep the number of appearances even.

Anyway, there are two pieces of positive content I want to mention from this chapter. The first is that it opens with a barrage of derogatory slang words for Germans. We get ‘Boche,’ ‘hun,’ and ‘kraut.’ Perfectly accurate to the soldiers of the period and to the style of WWI stories that the author was paying homage to, but I thought it was worth mentioning because they’re still ethnic slurs in the text, and because of the germanophobic stereotyping I thought I detected in the description of the Eddorians.

The second thing is that we have a male character come very close to fainting! I mentioned back when Kinnexa didn’t quite lose consciousness that I didn’t think we ever saw a man do the same thing even if they had more cause to, but Captain Ralph Kinnison does it.

“Better tell us what it is, hadn’t you?” The ambulance was now jolting along what had been the road. “They’ve got phones at the hospital where we’re going, but you might faint or something before we get there.”

Kinnison told, but fought to retain what consciousness he had. Throughout that long, rough ride he fought. He won.

Now, he’s coming from a position other than emotional distress, having been previously KO’d by a blast and badly wounded by shrapnel, but low blood pressure is low blood pressure. It’s not equality, but it’s a lot closer than I expected.

Anyway, join me next time for the WW2 portion of the World War.