Lensman: The Case Against

Triplanetary 2 – Chapter 1: Arisia and Eddore

Welcome to the read! In this installment, we’re going to get a lot more detail on just how bad the Eddorians are.

Since Eddore was peopled originally by various races, perhaps as similar to each other as are the various human races of Earth, it is understandable that the early history of the planet—while it was still in its own space, that is—was one of continuous and ages-long war.

The sentence that comes immediately before this is the one about how all Eddorians have a consuming lust for power, and I’d like to read this sentence in context with that one – that the continual warfare is the result of that will to dominate. Unfortunately there’s a paragraph break between them, indicating that this is the start of a new thought, that thought being that the coexistence of multiple races ‘understandably’ results in a state of war. That’s really hard to reconcile with even the Triplanetary society presented later in this book, let alone the Civilization of later books, where beings of amazingly different physical and mental setups live and cooperate in harmony. I can only guess that either this is meant to be read in context with the previous sentence, or else it’s an artifact of the author’s toxic racial context.

And, since war always was and probably always will be linked solidly to technological advancement, the race now known simply as “The Eddorians” became technologists supreme.

This sentence is meant to do two things: first, to draw a contrast between the Eddorian mastery of technology and the Arisian abandonment of technology for mental powers; and second, to further build up the Eddorians as a formidable threat.

On a side note, I’m not sold on the assertion that war is ‘linked solidly’ to advances in technology, even though it’s a kind of common wisdom that I still hear repeated today. I think that connection only happens when the contest is both close enough that innovating for advantage is seen as a necessity, and yet also spares the combatants the resources to fuel that innovation. From the perspective of 1948, where World War 2 had spurred innovation in almost every field, and where even World War 1 and the American Civil War had brought significant developments, that might seem reasonable. On the other hand, between the start of the Civil War and the end of the Second World War, the U.S. was involved in an astonishing number of wars, mostly against its own indigenous population, in which the U.S. had overwhelming advantages, and those were not associated with any particular technological development. Of course, those wars weren’t (and aren’t) part of the popular understanding of history.

All other races disappeared. So did all other forms of life, however lowly, which interfered in any way with the Masters of the Planet.

This is obviously meant to be an indictment of the Eddorians on moral grounds: they have committed multiple genocides and also multiple extinctions. I happen to think it indicts them on intellectual grounds as well: diversity is strength, especially in the long-term. I wonder if it’s also a War of the Worlds reference – in that book it’s speculated that the Mars has no bacteria (and thus the Martians no resistance to such) because the Martians eliminated them all.

Then, all racial opposition liquidated and overmastering lust as unquenched as ever, the surviving Eddorians fought among themselves: “push-button” wars employing engines of destruction against which the only possible defense was a fantastic thickness of planetary bedrock.

This seems to support the less racist reading of that first sentence – even in the absence of racial divides, the war goes on.

Finally, unable either to kill or to enslave each other, the comparatively few survivors made a peace of sorts.

So, peace does come after they’re down to one race (sigh), but it also comes with a particular technological situation where the defense of subterranean bunkers has trumped the available offenses, and that’s given actual credit as the reason. It must also have seemed like an intractable problem at the time, because the Eddorians are both immortal and very patient, so if they thought they could invent their way around it (and given how many weapons we see later against which planetary bedrock would be little defense) they probably would have just taken the time.

Since their own space was practically barren of planetary systems, they would move their planet from space to space until they found one which so teemed with planets that each living Eddorian could become the sole Master of an ever increasing number of worlds.

The term ‘from space to space’ here refers to interdimensional travel, although that’s not really explained in the text for a very long time. The idea had a long pedigree by science fiction standards – back to the 1890s at least, or 1884 if you count Flatland; but at the time it was a fancy owing more to fairy tales than scientific theory, because the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics doesn’t show up until 1952.

This was a program very much worthwhile, promising as it did an outlet for even the recognizedly insatiable Eddorian craving for power.

It’s interesting that the Eddorians are able to distinguish their power-craving, given that it’s a relatively abstract motivation and they would seem to have no context for people without it.

Therefore the Eddorians, for the first time in their prodigiously long history of fanatical non-cooperation, decided to pool their resources of mind and of material and to work as a group.

So at first glance this is nonsensical; surely there must have been cooperation in the past, to allow the specializations of labor necessary to develop the science and technology that they are masters of. Even if, with their unlimited lifespan, they could eventually become supreme polymaths, and even if their mutable bodies are substantially more powerful and versatile than human, it’s just ridiculously inefficient for an aspiring world conqueror to do everything by themselves. I think the key words are ‘decided’ in this sentence and ‘enslave’ from three sentences ago. There have been group projects before, but they involved one Eddorian compelling others to work together by force.

Union of a sort was accomplished eventually; neither peaceably nor without highly lethal friction. They knew that a democracy, by its very nature, was inefficient; hence a democratic form of government was not even considered. An efficient government must of necessity be dictatorial.

So they effectively use a democratic consensus to decide upon a dictatorship. Remember that, because we’re going to see it again later in this series, and not where you might expect.

Nor were they all exactly alike or of exactly equal ability; perfect identity of any two such complex structures was in fact impossible, and any difference, however slight, was ample justification for stratification in such a society as theirs.

At first glance that sounds appropriately dreadful for a species with the sort of psychology we’ve seen depicted. On second thought it becomes faintly ridiculous, suggesting that one Eddorian may end up subordinate to another based on, I don’t know, being able to recite a single extra historical factoid, or displaying a vocabulary one word larger. On further reflection, though, that ridiculous version would still be a nerve-wracking dystopia to actually live in, where there’s such a fetish for personal ability that literally any iota of knowledge could mean the difference between Bob giving you orders and vice versa.

Thus one of them, fractionally more powerful and more ruthless than the rest, became the All-Highest—His Ultimate Supremacy—and a group of about a dozen others, only infinitesimally weaker, became his Council; a cabinet which was later to become known as the Innermost Circle.

There are two ways to look at this. From one perspective, you have the big bad being distinguished from his lowliest underling only by the tiniest margin: the equivalent of Scrabble scores. From another perspective, you have an organization where every member is a big bad because they’re distinguished only by Scrabble scores.

The tally of this cabinet varied somewhat from age to age; increasing by one when a member divided, decreasing by one when a jealous fellow or an envious underling managed to perpetrate a successful assassination.

So even after the increased exposure to each other re-opens the possibility of trying to kill or enslave each other directly, the social order they’ve established endures; there’s murder, but not war. At least there’s no explicit attribution of that to a lack of racial diversity.

And thus, at long last, the Eddorians began really to work together. There resulted, among other things, the hyper-spatial tube and the fully inertialess drive—the drive which was, millions of years later, to be given to Civilization by an Arisian operating under the name of Bergenholm.

On one hand, this is the author getting way ahead of himself, because these inventions aren’t going to become relevant for quite a while and mentioning them here just muddies up the intro. I will say that when each of those does show up in the narrative they’re treated as game-changing breakthroughs. That’s probably intended to increase how threatening the Eddorians are, because things that are tech miracles to our POV characters (themselves having tech miracles relative to the reader) are millions of years old to them. It does raise the question of how, with such a head start, they can be contested at all. I don’t think that’s ever really addressed.

There’s a kind of inexplicable technological progress plateau that shows up in a lot of sci-fi. For example, Star Wars tech seems to be unchanged since the Old Republic era, and all the major powers in Star Trek seem to have reached the exact same level of technology at the same time (and progress from TOS to TNG eras is pretty limited). When I say inexplicable, I obviously mean from an in-universe perspective, because it’s plain that those franchises and others use particular technology details as part of their setting identity. In this case, I’m reminded of the Babylon 5 setup, where the elder beings (who also have a crazy long head start on the younger beings) have technology that is merely ‘very impressive’ and not ‘incomprehensibly overwhelming.’ That is, they seem to have some important breakthroughs and refinements, but they are still operating on more-or-less the same assumptions.

Another result, which occurred shortly after the galactic inter-passage had begun, was the eruption into normal space of the planet Eddore.

Speaking of important breakthroughs, the Eddorians can move their entire planet between dimensions. We’re told earlier that the planet came to our ‘space,’ but now we know it was deliberate.

“I must now decide whether to make this space our permanent headquarters or to search farther,” the All-Highest radiated harshly to his Council.

This is an odd choice. Until now, the Eddorians have been presented as extremely alien. With their amorphous shapes, extradimensional origins, and astronomical antiquity, they’d fit in nicely alongside any of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror entities. That’s kind of severely undermined by giving them ordinary dialogue, especially dialogue this banal, which I don’t think was necessary. They get so little dialogue that it seems totally possible to have worked around that and maintained that mystique.

What is nice is the use of the term ‘radiated,’ which is an efficient method for suggesting an exotic form of communication, and that does introduce a little more unfamiliarity into this depiction.

“On the one hand, it will take some time for even those planets which have already formed to cool. Still more will be required for life to develop sufficiently to form a part of the empire which we have planned or to occupy our abilities to any great degree. On the other, we have already spent millions of years in surveying hundreds of millions of continua, without having found anywhere such a profusion of planets as will, in all probability, soon fill both of these galaxies.

There’s that astronomical scale again: they have surveyed hundreds of millions of dimensions. So their dimension-hopping isn’t like a thing that’s unreliable or meaningfully taxes their resources, they apparently can do it about a hundred times a year, and probably only that infrequently because it takes a few days to survey the new territory.

There may also be certain advantages inherent in the fact that these planets are not yet populated. As life develops, we can mold it as we please.

What it means for the Eddorians to ‘mold’ life is unclear. Genetic engineering as we understand it isn’t really a concept when this is written. My guess is that this means artificial selection, probably also social engineering. The idea of malevolent aliens meddling with your species since before it was sapient is pretty chilling; there’s no possible defense, and maybe you don’t even mind because you’ve been modified not to. While we meet a number of unpleasant aliens, I think we only see one species that’s confirmed to be the result of an Eddorian ‘molding’ project, and they really are the worst.

Krongenes, what are your findings in regard to the planetary possibilities of other spaces?” 

The term “Krongenes” was not, in the accepted sense, a name. Or, rather, it was more than a name. It was a key-thought, in mental shorthand; a condensation and abbreviation of the life-pattern or ego of that particular Eddorian.

This is the first hint we get that the Eddorians’ exotic communication method is thought transmission – telepathy.

“Not at all promising, Your Supremacy,” Krongenes replied promptly. “No space within reach of my instruments has more than a small fraction of the inhabitable worlds which will presently exist in this one.”

Some of the limits of Eddorian tech are on display; their instruments have a maximum range, and they apparently cannot make planets in anything resembling a reasonable time-frame or they would have spent the last hundreds of millions of years doing that instead.

“Very well. Have any of you others any valid objections to the establishment of our empire here in this space? If so, give me your thought now.”

No objecting thoughts appeared, since none of the monsters then knew anything of Arisia or of the Arisians. Indeed, even if they had known, it is highly improbable that any objection would have been raised. First, because no Eddorian, from the All-Highest down, could conceive or would under any circumstances admit that any race, anywhere, had ever approached or ever would approach the Eddorians in any quality whatever; and second, because, as is routine in all dictatorships, disagreement with the All-Highest did not operate to lengthen the span of life.

First, while it seems inefficient to waste time asking for constructive dissent when you’ve already established a culture that punishes dissent, I think that might actually be a very efficient way for the All-Highest to get his power fix; a single sentence, and the submission of his near-peers is established. Second, this section introduces Eddorian racial arrogance, which was notably missing from previous descriptors. Arrogance is a classic evil overlord weakness, but taken to this extreme it kind of compromises how threatening the Eddorians seem, because it’s just so irrational.

Think about what that description of Eddorian arrogance means: were there beings on their homeworld that were, say, physically stronger than the Eddorians, as horses or oxen or whales are stronger than humans? If so, they could never admit it, which strikes me as a terrible survival trait. Was that kind of irrational egotism somehow selected for strongly early on in their development? Perhaps a telepathic predator which projected crushing self-doubt that could only be countered by pathological egotism?

It also means that no Eddorian could ever write an equivalent of War of the Worlds, could ever be prepared to engage an alien species of even near-equal development. Presumably their only hypothetical alien contact scenarios depict only their own total dominance. That assumption isn’t going to do them any favors when they meet the Arisians in the next sentence.

“Very well. We will now confer as to… but hold! That thought is not one of ours! Who are you, stranger, to dare to intrude thus upon a conference of the Innermost Circle?”

“I am Enphilistor, a younger student, of the planet Arisia.” This name, too, was a symbol.

So this is the meeting between the two species of ancient superbeings, and while they have been set up as being extremely different, at this moment of meeting we are shown that they have very similar naming conventions.

Nor was the young Arisian yet a Watchman, as he and so many of his fellows were so soon to become, for before Eddore’s arrival Arisia had had no need of Watchmen.

Eddore’s arrival creates a whole new role in Arisian society.

“I am not intruding, as you know. I have not touched any one of your minds; have not read any one of your thoughts. I have been waiting for you to notice my presence, so that we could become acquainted with each other. A surprising development, truly—we have thought for many cycles of time that we were the only highly advanced life in this universe….”

I remember the depiction of telepathy in this series being at least a little incoherent. There’s a distinction made here between ‘reading’ private thoughts and ‘receiving’ radiated thoughts that I think is blurred later on.

“Be silent, worm, in the presence of the Masters. Land your ship and surrender, and your planet will be allowed to serve us. Refuse, or even hesitate, and every individual of your race shall die.”

That’s some pretty hackneyed evil overlord dialogue, but it does a pretty good job of communicating just how aggressively unreasonable the Eddorians are supposed to be.

“Worm? Masters? Land my ship?” The young Arisian’s thought was pure curiosity, with no tinge of fear, dismay, or awe. “Surrender? Serve you? I seem to be receiving your thought without ambiguity, but your meaning is entirely….”

This response cracks me up, but it’s also a really good demonstration of how different the contexts of the two species are. Enphilistor understands all the words used, but the arrangement is completely baffling to him.

“Address me as ‘Your Supremacy’,” the All-Highest directed, coldly. “Land now or die now—this is your last warning.”

“Your Supremacy? Certainly, if that is the customary form. But as to landing—and warning—and dying—surely you do not think that I am present in the flesh? And can it be possible that you are actually so aberrant as to believe that you can kill me—or even the youngest Arisian infant? What a peculiar—what an extraordinary—psychology!”

And just like that, we’re back to similarities: here’s some Arisian arrogance on display. The interaction between these two species is a few not-very-informative sentences, and yet Enphilistor considers it bizarre – a sign of defective mentality – that his species’ invulnerability isn’t taken for granted.

“Die, then, worm, if you must have it so!” the All-Highest snarled, and launched a mental bolt whose energies were calculated to slay any living thing.

Here we see that the Eddorians, apart from telepathic communication, have some ability to use mental powers to replicate what less-gifted species have to use technology for. It’s a bit strange because it’s not so long ago that they were set up as the technologists in contrast to the Arisian mentalists, and now they plainly have access to both.

Enphilistor, however, parried the vicious attack without apparent effort. His manner did not change. He did not strike back. The Eddorian then drove in with an analyzing probe, only to be surprised again—the Arisian’s thought could not be traced!

On the other hand, they do seem much less good at mentalism than the Arisians. Remember, this is the All-Highest, the single most competent (no matter how slim the margin) of his species, while Enphilistor is ‘a younger student.’

And Enphilistor, while warding off the raging Eddorian, directed a quiet thought as though he were addressing someone close by his side:

“Come in, please, one or more of the Elders. There is a situation here which I am not qualified to handle.”

This is a simple thing, but it also demonstrates the differences between Arisians and Eddorians. Can you imagine an Eddorian as they’ve been presented calling for help? Admitting that they weren’t qualified to handle a problem?

Anyway, that’s the show portion of the show-and-tell on the Eddorians, and their terrible first contact protocols. Next time, we’ll get the Arisian response.

Lensman: Inherent Morality

Welcome to the reading! If you’ve previously read this series, I hope you find something of value in my comments. If this is your first encounter with this property, then buckle up; this story does not mess around.

Triplanetary 1 – Chapter 1: Arisia and Eddore

Triplanetary was published in serial form in 1934, and originally had nothing to do with the Lensman series. It was rewritten in 1948 from its original form to be incorporated as a prequel, and a deal of material was added, both to bulk it up to book size and also to connect it to the rest of the series. In particular, the first six chapters are entirely new additions and include the very memorable grand opening.

Two thousand million or so years ago two galaxies were colliding; or, rather, were passing through each other.

In general, I prefer the story without the prequel material, but I will admit that Triplanetary has a much better opening sentence than Galactic Patrol. I think it perfectly demonstrates that typical miracle of science, that a simple and dry description of an event can awaken a sense of profound wonder, in this case due to the literally astronomical scale in both space and time. Today we have computer simulations of what galactic interactions look like, and they are awe-inspiring to watch. In the 1940s, a young science-fiction reader couldn’t hope to have an accurate vision of such an event, but the text engages the imagination with a challenge to try, to think about hundreds of billions of stars hurtling past each other in vast formations. As an invitation to enter imaginative space, it’s remarkably efficient and powerful.

Now, our understanding of the universe being the ever-changing beast that it is, even a work that valued scientific accuracy over entertainment was going to wind up having some funny bits in it when it was grounded in a 1930s understanding. That concept is especially important for this reading because a fair amount of what makes this whole series problematic is theories that were, shall we say, more popular in the 1930s than they are today. On the other hand, sometimes I’m just going to introduce a little historical context, which in this case is a mention that Edwin Hubble’s discovery of galaxies beyond our own was published in 1924, so it was a relatively recent but not brand-new concept.

A couple of hundreds of millions of years either way do not matter, since at least that much time was required for the inter-passage.

There’s a reiteration the time-scale in question. A two hundred million year margin of error is acceptable in terms of the events in question.

At about that same time—within the same plus-or-minus ten percent margin of error, it is believed—practically all of the suns of both those galaxies became possessed of planets.

And here’s a reiteration of the spatial scale. On a story level, this is setting the stage, and that stage is two galaxies worth of stars worth of planets. At the same time, the narration is slowly introducing unreliability: first admitting to a margin of error, now we have the term ‘it is believed,’ which is much less certain than ‘it is known,’ or just ‘it is.’ Unreliable narration was a device much in fashion in American literature during this period, so it’s not terribly surprising to see it here.

There is much evidence to support the belief that it was not merely a coincidence that so many planets came into being at about the same time as the galactic inter-passage. Another school of thought holds that it was pure coincidence; that all suns have planets as naturally and as inevitably as cats have kittens.

And now the unreliability is openly admitted, but the gloss on it is scholastic. The narrator is not portrayed as deceiving or dissembling, but simply as in possession of incomplete information. This creates the expectation in the reader that although some things may be left mysterious, the narrator will not actually lie. It is a very safe form of unreliability.

Be that as it may, Arisian records are clear upon the point that before the two galaxies began to coalesce, there were never more than three solar systems present in either; and usually only one.

In our current day, when exoplanets are being discovered at a fantastic rate, it can be easy to forget that ‘how common are planets’ was a real mystery for a very long time. The text has it both ways: planets seem normally to be very rare, but the interactions during the passage of the two galaxies has made them very common. Here we also get our first fantastic term: Arisian. The natural question of what it means for records to be ‘Arisian’ is raised, and (in the next sentence) immediately addressed.

Thus, when the sun of the planet upon which their race originated grew old and cool, the Arisians were hard put to it to preserve their culture, since they had to work against time in solving the engineering problems associated with moving a planet from an older to a younger sun.

There’s a lot of information in that statement and I’m not going to unpack it all, but the key data are that the Arisians are a people, and they were capable of remarkable feats.

Since nothing material was destroyed when the Eddorians were forced into the next plane of existence, their historical records also have become available.

Here’s the first mention of the Eddorians, and by the previous introduction of the Arisians we are primed to understand them as being another people. Also, ‘forced into the next plane of existence’ really sounds like a euphemism for being killed, and although we won’t get there for quite a while, it is.

Those records—folios and tapes and playable discs of platinum alloy, resistant indefinitely even to Eddore’s noxious atmosphere—agree with those of the Arisians upon this point. Immediately before the Coalescence began there was one, and only one, planetary solar system in the Second Galaxy; and, until the advent of Eddore, the Second Galaxy was entirely devoid of intelligent life.

I want to focus on the term ‘noxious’ here, because it’s an attempt to manipulate the reader into disliking the Eddorians immediately. At this point, when we know almost nothing about them, we get a very negative descriptor applied to their world’s atmosphere. Noxious: unpleasant, harmful, or poisonous; but noxious to who? To the native life, the atmosphere is presumably as wholesome as our own air, unless it’s been fouled by industrial pollution or similar.

This becomes a question of perspective. If the term noxious is used from the Eddorian perspective, then their world is poisonous to them, and it’s possible they could rightly be judged for messing it up. If the term noxious is used from the reader’s (i.e. a human) perspective, then the Eddorians are being judged simply for being different. Keep this in mind because it’s going to come up again shortly.

Thus for millions upon untold millions of years the two races, each the sole intelligent life of a galaxy, perhaps of an entire space-time continuum, remained completely in ignorance of each other. Both were already ancient at the time of the Coalescence. The only other respect in which the two were similar, however, was in the possession of minds of power.

I want to bring up the use of the word ‘race’ here. In our time, after such things as the human genome project and the discovery that races don’t have a biological existence, we have a very different relationship to the word ‘race’ than people in 1948. ‘Race’ used to have a much broader set of uses, e.g. in this case it’s being used to mean ‘species,’ since the text makes it clear that the Arisians and Eddorians are not even slightly related. That’s a use that you don’t really see any more outside of role-playing games (computer and tabletop) where it’s been inherited through D&D from Tolkien, who distinguished his fantastic peoples as ‘races.’

This would only be a passing curiosity of archaic language use if it weren’t for another use of the term later on in this chapter. But I’ll cover that when we come to it.

Since Arisia was Earth-like in composition, atmosphere, and climate, the Arisians were at that time distinctly humanoid.

The idea that an Earth-like environment will necessarily produce a human-resembling form is obviously bad biology, but I don’t know if it does or does not have any grounding in theories of the period. On the other hand, the naked statements that their planet was like ours and that they were like us are clearly meant to set us up to identify with the Arisians. The use of past tense, suggesting that neither is still true, is a distancing factor but a relatively minor one.

The Eddorians were not. Eddore was and is large and dense; its liquid a poisonous, sludgy syrup; its atmosphere a foul and corrosive fog. Eddore was and is unique; so different from any other world of either galaxy that its very existence was inexplicable until its own records revealed the fact that it did not originate in normal space-time at all, but came to our universe from some alien and horribly different other.

I regard this as being the answer to the question of perspective raised above, even if it isn’t completely explicit. Eddore and its inhabitants are being portrayed as both Other and associated with unpleasant things, with great energy, well before we get any actual words or deeds to judge them by.

As differed the planets, so differed the peoples. The Arisians went through the usual stages of savagery and barbarism on the way to Civilization. The Age of Stone. The Ages of Bronze, of Iron, of Steel, and of Electricity.

This is interesting. Usually the terms ‘savagery’ and ‘barbarism’ call up comparisons to Howard’s Conan, and all the associated racial baggage. Here, however, we see that even the age of electricity is lumped in with the previous ‘stages,’ suggesting that even modern technology is just one more step on ‘the way to Civilization.’ This is a bit of real science-fiction thought, of the kind that was best popularized in Star Trek: from the perspective of the future, our modern situation is only slightly less undeveloped than e.g. medieval times.

Indeed, it is probable that it is because the Arisians went through these various stages that all subsequent Civilizations have done so, since the spores which burgeoned into life upon the cooling surfaces of all the planets of the commingling galaxies were Arisian, not Eddorian, in origin.

This is a very weird statement. Sure, it’s a setting conceit that Arisian ‘spores’ seeded the galaxies, making the Arisian biosphere the ancestor of all other biospheres that we’ll see. The thing that bothers me is the idea that simple descent ties a species’ technological development to that of its ancestors, rather than available resources or a natural progression of ideas. If nothing else, we will later meet aliens whose native environment is only a few degrees above absolute zero, and when your relationship to oxygen is as an ore, having a Bronze Age is a pretty weird idea.

What’s being presented is a view in which even distant heredity is an overwhelmingly powerful influence on very specific behavior, and that’s an idea that has a rather infamous history in American bigotry, not just in openly racial terms, but in things like Lombrosian Criminal Anthropology, which held (among other laughable things) that being a criminal was an inheritable trait.

Eddorian spores, while undoubtedly present, must have been so alien that they could not develop in any one of the environments, widely variant although they are, existing naturally or coming naturally into being in normal space and time.

I’m going to put a pin in this statement for later review, because the No Eddorian Offspring Postulate (NEOP) is going to be sorely tested in later books.

The Arisians—especially after atomic energy freed them from physical labor—devoted themselves more and ever more intensively to the exploration of the limitless possibilities of the mind.

Remember how atomic energy freed us from physical labor? Ha ha, optimism.

Even before the Coalescence, then, the Arisians had need neither of space-ships nor of telescopes. By power of mind alone they watched the lenticular aggregation of stars which was much later to be known to Tellurian astronomers as Lundmark’s Nebula approach their own galaxy.

So the Arisians use mental powers instead of technology. Neat. The term ‘Tellurian’ is this series’ word for ‘from Earth.’ It’s based on the Latin word ‘tellus,’ which means ‘earth,’ but gets less use than it’s better-known synonym ‘terra,’ so when you read Tellurian, think Terran. This term was apparently used more often in old-timey sci-fi, so the target audience could be assumed to be familiar with it.

They observed attentively and minutely and with high elation the occurrence of mathematical impossibility; for the chance of two galaxies ever meeting in direct, central, equatorial-plane impact and of passing completely through each other is an infinitesimal of such a high order as to be, even mathematically, practically indistinguishable from zero.

I think there’s two ways to read this. The first is that this is simply an edge-on galactic collision, and this is another artifact of old science; modern astronomy tells us that such collisions are relatively common. The second is found in the phrase ‘passing completely through each other.’ Galactic collisions involve a lot of disruption of the galactic structures, and individual stars can be traded off, or even flung out into intergalactic space; a collision which by some quirk of gravitic interactions left both galaxies ‘completely’ intact would indeed be an extremely low-probability event.

They observed the birth of numberless planets, recording minutely in their perfect memories every detail of everything that happened; in the hope that, as ages passed, either they or their descendants would be able to develop a symbology and a methodology capable of explaining the then inexplicable phenomenon. Carefree, busy, absorbedly intent, the Arisian mentalities roamed throughout space—until one of them struck an Eddorian mind.

The Arisians get a lot of play in this series as nigh-omniscient and infallible, so it’s always nice to see them portrayed as still striving for a more complete understanding.

* * * * *

While any Eddorian could, if it chose, assume the form of a man, they were in no sense man-like. Nor, since the term implies a softness and a lack of organization, can they be described as being amoeboid. They were both versatile and variant. Each Eddorian changed, not only its shape, but also its texture, in accordance with the requirements of the moment. Each produced—extruded—members whenever and wherever it needed them; members uniquely appropriate to the task then in work. If hardness was indicated, the members were hard; if softness, they were soft. Small or large, rigid or flexible; joined or tentacular—all one. Filaments or cables; fingers or feet; needles or mauls—equally simple. One thought and the body fitted the job.

So here’s our first physical description of an Eddorian, and they actually sound pretty awesome.

They were asexual: sexless to a degree unapproached by any form of Tellurian life higher than the yeasts. They were not merely hermaphroditic, nor androgynous, nor parthenogenetic. They were completely without sex.

This feels like a call-back to War of the Worlds, where the Martians were also sexless. Wells used it to make his invaders seem more other and monstrous, and that seems to be the goal here. Being a superhero-level shapeshifter is a pretty good power fantasy, but it’s much less appealing if it comes packaged with no nookie.

They were also, to all intents and purposes and except for death by violence, immortal. For each Eddorian, as its mind approached the stagnation of saturation after a lifetime of millions of years, simply divided into two new-old beings. New in capacity and in zest; old in ability and in power, since each of the two “children” possessed in toto the knowledges and the memories of their one “parent.”

This seems like a mix of playing up how good the Eddorians have it and how weird they are. Immortality is a classic fantasy, but this is immortality in the style of the symmetrically-dividing bacteria, where every time you rejuvenate you also get an identical duplicate.

And if it is difficult to describe in words the physical aspects of the Eddorians, it is virtually impossible to write or to draw, in any symbology of Civilization, a true picture of an Eddorian’s—any Eddorian’s—mind. They were intolerant, domineering, rapacious, insatiable, cold, callous, and brutal.

So, here we go, into the very questionable territory. All the physical differences are just that – differences. We might think sexless poisonous immortal shapeshifters are weird or even disgusting, but there’s no moral judgement on any of that. A long list of antisocial behaviors is a different story.

They were keen, capable, persevering, analytical, and efficient.

We also get a list of positive traits, but almost none of these serve to mitigate the antisocial traits. Instead, the positive traits serve to magnify the negative ones, providing greater ability to act upon the antisocial motivations. The specific combination of traits actually strikes me as very similar to Germanophobic stereotypes of the period.

They had no trace of any of the softer emotions or sensibilities possessed by races adherent to Civilization. No Eddorian ever had anything even remotely resembling a sense of humor.

Back to the negative traits, and I want to focus on the phrase ‘No Eddorian ever…’. It has already been established that, in this fictional reality, even distant descent can dictate specific behaviors. Close descent is presumably even more influential, especially in a species that reproduces through asexual cloning. The implication is that the characterization of this species that we’re being presented with is not the result of a toxic culture or similar, but biological and, as such, universal throughout the population.

We are meant to take this as meaning that they are not only anti-social, but also irredeemable, as individuals and as a species. That an Eddorian can’t be taught to be e.g. tolerant any more than a human can be taught to digest grass. There’s no getting around that this is a profoundly racist mode of thought, the same that white supremacists use to cast e.g. black people as irredeemably lazy or Jewish people as irredeemably greedy. Even though the Eddorians are a bizarre alien species, it’s not a great approach to use. I don’t think this (or any) story is served by having an evil species in any way that it wouldn’t be equally served by having a species with an evil society.

Also, note how many potential avenues of rehabilitation are cut off by the established Eddorian biology. You can’t try to raise them from infancy in a nurturing environment because they’re born with all the memories of their ‘parent.’ Addressing the problem on even the genetic level is extremely problematic, ethics aside, partly because of the clonal reproduction and partly because even countless generations have been shown to be insufficient to shed ancestral behaviors.

While not essentially bloodthirsty—that is, not loving bloodshed for its own sweet sake—they were no more averse to blood-letting than they were in favor of it. Any amount of killing which would or which might advance an Eddorian toward his goal was commendable; useless slaughter was frowned upon, not because it was slaughter, but because it was useless—and hence inefficient.

There’s the only example of one of their positive traits mitigating their negative ones.

And, instead of the multiplicity of goals sought by the various entities of any race of Civilization, each and every Eddorian had only one. The same one: power. Power! P-O-W-E-R!!

In that ‘each and every Eddorian’ we have a repetition of the species-wide applicability of this description.

So, we’ve been presented with an inherently and incorrigibly evil species, and that’s a very unfortunate thing to include in any fiction because it leads to discussions about how genocide may be an appropriate response. To this day, fiction fans have discussions about orcs and Daleks that are horrifyingly similar to discussions that white supremacists have about their non-fictional hated peoples. Daleks and Eddorians are at least alien enough to not have children or civilians, so they escape some of the more distasteful angles of debate.

Since Eddore was peopled originally by various races, perhaps as similar to each other as are the various human races of Earth, it is understandable that the early history of the planet—while it was still in its own space, that is—was one of continuous and ages-long war.

Emphases mine. So in about 1200 words of the story, we have the word ‘race’ being used to distinguish both the explicitly extremely different alien species of Arisia and Eddore, and also being used to distinguish the ‘human races’ of Earth. This isn’t a case of more sensitive language not existing at the time, terms like ‘peoples’ had been in use since the 1500s. It’s also not a case of less prejudiced viewpoints not existing at the time, there were many who held that racial differences were cosmetic and/or social long before that was scientifically confirmed.

Now, I don’t know how racist the author was or wasn’t, but it’s clear that his context for thinking (and writing) about race was pretty toxic. Which isn’t at all surprising because, y’know, 1930’s-40’s America. The past approximately eighty years had involved a lot of bogus science desperately trying to justify American and European imperialism (and American slavery) by dehumanizing non-whites, and that was only the scholastic arm of the enormous swell of grassroots prejudice. It is that context which is one of the great problematic elements of the Lensman story.

On Canonicity

How many Lensman books there are is a question each fan must answer for themselves, even if you exclude later additions to the series by other authors. The original magazine serial was published as four books, but there’s a fifth book that was written as an unrelated story and later rewritten as a prequel, and a sixth book that was written to bridge the first prequel and the rest of the series. There’s also a seventh book which is supposedly set in the same universe, but seems strangely unconnected, not just to the events in the other books, but also to the setting.

Now, I’m less fond of the prequels than the original stories. They have some interesting and worthwhile material, but the seams show. I have given strong consideration to not including them, or at least including them less than the original material. In the end, however, I decided that I was going to cover the material as it exists and has been published since before the signing of the Warsaw Pact, and that means that the prequels are in, full membership.

That said, I definitely will not be including that seventh book. It really isn’t part of the same story.

A Love of Problematic Things

I’m pretty sure everyone has guilty pleasures. Sometimes we enjoy a thing out of all proportion to its actual quality. Sometimes a thing of otherwise high quality includes questionable elements. One of my guilty pleasures is the science fiction classic series Lensman. I think it’s a genuinely great work, despite certain quality issues and regressive politics, but those unfortunate things are part of the text, and distinguishing them is useful as a reader.

Anyway, inspired by Ana Mardoll’s epic deconstructions of the Narnia and Xanth series, I’ve decided to try a close read of the Lensman books. I don’t have a particular goal in mind, except to spend some time getting to know an old favorite better, and see what I can discover, whether delightful or distressing. If my thoughts can entertain, intrigue, or spark discourse among others, that would be icing.