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.

Lensman: Antisemitic Canards

Triplanetary 10 – Chapter 3: The Fall of Rome

Welcome to the read! In this post I’m going to deviate from my standard format where I reproduce all the text and occasionally interject my commentary, because I tried that and it’s not working for me for some reason. Instead, it’s going to be more selective excerpts for illustrative purposes.

First, the chapter title is the Fall of Rome, which is a dramatic and recognizable tagline that usually refers to events in the 5th century CE, and is not really justified by the activities of the chapter, which takes place during the reign of Nero, about 400 years earlier. The established conceit is that Nero is an Eddorian puppet and his actions put an end to any hopes of a return to a less tyrannical form of government, but calling that ‘the fall of Rome’ requires hopelessly conflating Rome and republicanism. It’s a big stretch just to not have to come up with a more original chapter title.

Second, it’s a gladiator story.

“But what have you, Livius, or any of us, for that matter, got to live for?” demanded Patroclus the gladiator of his cell-mate. “We are well fed, well kept, well exercised; like horses. But, like horses, we are lower than slaves. Slaves have some freedom of action; most of us have none. We fight—fight whoever or whatever our cursed owners send us against. Those of us who live fight again; but the end is certain and comes soon. I had a wife and children once. So did you. Is there any chance, however slight, that either of us will ever know them again; or learn even whether they live or die? None. At this price, is your life worth living? Mine is not.”

The theme of slave gladiators seeking their liberty is by now very familiar, indelibly pressed into popular culture by Kubrick’s 1960 film Spartacus. The Spartacus narrative seems to have been fairy popular even before 1948, though, with novels based on those events published in 1933 and 1939. It seems that just as the author could count on an audience’s interest carrying through a short spy thriller for the Atlantis segment, he could count on it carrying through a short gladiator story for this segment.

Patroclus has Captain Phryges’ protagonist coloring: red-bronze-auburn hair and gold-flecked tawny eyes. Patroclus is a Thracian, and Livius comments: ‘from your build and hair and eyes you descend from Spartacus himself,’ and this combination raises a question. That very specific coloration is supposed to be the mark of a particular Arisian-cultivated bloodline, last seen heading to North America. How did it cross the Atlantic to show up in Greece? It seems like the author was cheating so he could ‘follow’ this bloodline down through history, while at the same time having it show up wherever he wanted.

Also, note that Patroclus is established as having fathered children already, so he can die without compromising the Arisian plans.

Anyway, Patroclus recruits Livius into a gladiatorial conspiracy to assassinate Nero, and the motive isn’t well-established. It’s part of a broader revolt that includes slaughtering the gladiators’ owners at a party, and Patroclus has a personal reason for going after the commander of the Praetorian Guard, but the reasons for including Nero among the targets are just kind of left out. I guess it’s vaguely implied that the noble members who are providing the weapons and armor are using the gladiators for a political assassination, but it’s pretty vague. It bugs me because a line or two of dialogue could clear that right up, and when the story’s about a conspiracy to assassinate Nero, the motive for the crime is kind of an important detail.

***

Something I want to delve into a bit is that Patroclus seems to be deliberately written as less than usually relatable for a pulp protagonist. Here he is talking about getting rid of the Emperor’s secret agents, and sounding much more like a pulp villain than a hero.

Many of his spies among us have died; most, if not all, of the rest are known. They, too, shall die. Glatius, for instance. Once in a while, by the luck of the gods, a man kills a better man than he is; but Glatius has done it six times in a row, without getting a scratch. But the next time he fights, in spite of Nero’s protection, Glatius dies.’

An actual surprise for me was to see that the author was willing to have both Patroclus and Livius be completely and matter-of-factly unsympathetic towards Christians. A lot of this kind of fiction, pulp and otherwise, was justified by making them at least tangentially Christian stories, and Christian sympathies were shorthand for ‘good guy.’ But check out this exchange.

“The prisons and the pits are so crowded with Christians that they die and stink, and a pestilence threatens. To mend matters, some scores of hundreds of them are to be crucified here tomorrow.”

“Why not? Everyone knows that they are poisoners of wells and murderers of children, and practitioners of magic. Wizards and witches.”

“True enough.”

That’s cold.

Nero did persecute Christians, whom he blamed for causing the Great Fire of Rome, so it’s not ahistorical to see them here, although ‘some scores of hundreds’ seems like an inflated number for dramatic purposes. What is ahistorical are the specific things Livius is accusing them of, which are not, AFAICT, actual Roman-era anti-Christian prejudice. They are what are charmingly referred to as antisemitic canards. Wikipedia tells me that Roman folk scares about Christians cast them as specifically cannibalistic (because of their Communion ritual) and incestuous (because of their referring to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’). Well-poisoning and child-murder, on the other hand, are particularly signature accusations against Jews, with origins in the medieval period. The only place I recall seeing Jews accused of sorcery is in the film Borat, but I can easily believe it’s another canard, it’s a very convenient way to blame someone for something they had no visible method of accomplishing.

Now, I believe that the author is making a risky ironic statement about bullshit religious persecution, by subjecting the historical antecedents of his audience’s majority religion to the exact same false accusations that had been leveled at Jews by Christians for hundreds of years (keeping in mind he was writing in 1948). The problem is that in the period in question, most Christians were Jewish, and it could also be read as the author thoughtlessly or maliciously backdating these antisemitic canards by over a thousand years and also validating them as the beliefs of his heroic duo. I don’t believe that’s the case, and here’s why:

Skipping ahead a little (past a fight scene I will get to), Patroclus and Livius have both won their bouts, and eaten, and come back to watch the crucifixions. And instead of them losing their lunch at the horror, or anything similar, we get this paragraph:

And, if the truth must be told, those two men enjoyed thoroughly every moment of that long and sickeningly horrible afternoon. They were the hardest products of the hardest school the world has ever known: trained rigorously to deal out death mercilessly at command; to accept death unflinchingly at need. They should not and can not be judged by the higher, finer standards of a softer, gentler day.

I don’t see paragraphs like this nearly often enough. A lot of entertainment either set in or inspired by the bad old days seems written specifically to wallow in the bad behaviors allowed or encouraged by less-enlightened societies without even implicit condemnation, so it’s really refreshing to see explicit condemnation. Even though it’s the narrator commenting in a distracting way, I think that a lot of readers might have been somewhat distracted at that point anyway, because the preceding paragraph is a description of a mass crucifixion, albeit not a graphic one.

So I think it’s obvious that Patroclus and Livius are not intended to be sympathetic, especially in their views on Christians, despite being the main characters of this fragment of the story, and in that light their demonstrated anti-Christian prejudice is intended to be the bullshit that it in fact is. It’s just a shame there’s any room for interpretation at all, and the author would have been on much firmer ground if he’d stuck to historical anti-Christian tropes. I should mention that there’s a lot of attention to other historical details in this part of the story, so there clearly was at least some research involved.

The question that’s raised in light of the rest of the series is: how sympathetic are the future-folk, like Kimball Kinnison, supposed to be? That’s something I’ll bring up again when their various monstrosities are performed.

***

Patroclus’ fight scene is really quite good, including pre-fight strategizing, and generally showing that he has cunning and forethought as well as strength and skill. My criticism is that it’s completely disconnected from the plot and could have been skipped entirely at very little loss, except that gladiator stories must have a gladiator match in them, apparently. The stakes we’re given are that is he loses, Patroclus is certain to get the death-signal and not be able to participate in the uprising; but he’s still just one of many and it seems like the uprising could plausibly continue without him. If it were crucial to the assassination plot that Patroclus be the overall champion of the games because only the champion would get special access to the Emperor or something, those would be some relevant stakes, but we’ve been specifically told that all surviving gladiators get the relevant invitation. Or he could have been matched against Glatius, the spy mentioned above, and the fight gotten more emphasis as a battle of wits, with Glatius’ various treacheries matched against Patroclus trying to make an execution look like an accident of battle, and the stakes would still have been plot-relevant because the plan couldn’t proceed with the spy in their midst. It’s still good, it just sort of obviously could have been better.

 

Something that gets established before and after the fight, is that Patroclus believes he’s invincible due to protection from the god Jupiter, and this is almost-mirrored in Livius, who appeals to many different gods for aid until he feels that he’s found a willing patron. This comes up again in a moment.

***

 

The plan goes off more or less as planned – or so it seems. Most of the gladiator’s owners die, but Patroclus was delayed by ‘misfortune,’ and meets a high-ranking member of the conspiracy, who was in position to stab Nero, but was inexplicably paralyzed and sent running, presumably by Gharlane’s mental powers. Patroclus is daunted, but depends on his divine protection and goes to try the murder himself, cutting a path through the emperor’s protectors. And then this happens:

And Nero, sitting at ease with a beautiful boy at his right and a beautiful harlot at his left, gazed appreciatively through his emerald lens at the flaming torches; the while, with a very small fraction of his Eddorian mind, he mused upon the matter of Patroclus and Tigellinus.

Should he let the Thracian kill the Commander of his Guard? Or not? It didn’t really matter, one way or the other. In fact, nothing about this whole foul planet—this ultra-microscopic, if offensive, speck of cosmic dust in the Eddorian Scheme of Things—really mattered at all. It would be mildly amusing to watch the gladiator consummate his vengeance by carving the Roman to bits. But, on the other hand, there was such a thing as pride of workmanship. Viewed in that light, the Thracian could not kill Tigellinus, because that bit of corruption had a few more jobs to do. He must descend lower and lower into unspeakable depravity, finally to cut his own throat with a razor. Although Patroclus would not know it—it was better technique not to let him know it—the Thracian’s proposed vengeance would have been futility itself compared with that which the luckless Roman was to wreak on himself.

Wherefore a shrewdly-placed blow knocked the helmet from Patroclus’ head and a mace crashed down, spattering his brains abroad.

* * * * *

Thus ended the last significant attempt to save the civilization of Rome; in a fiasco so complete that even such meticulous historians as Tacitus and Suetonius mention it merely as a minor disturbance of Nero’s garden party.

It’s not nearly as elegant as his work with Atlantis, where no hero even got close to Gharlane’s meat-puppet, and no one person was ever in a position to thwart the vast processes he put into motion. Nevertheless, this is another example of heroic individuals putting forth their finest effort, only to fail miserably in the face of Eddorian ability.

It is good to see something of Gharlane’s plan for Tigellinus and a glimpse of just how terrible Eddorian domination is, where they craft nightmare lives and deaths for people out of ‘pride of workmanship.’

Alas, we don’t get a denouement about how the noble patrons of the conspiracy were closet republicans whose failure and executions damaged and discredited their movement beyond recovery. That would have gotten as close as anything could to validating this chapter’s title. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this event being just a run-of-the-mill assassination attempt, but it would have been stronger story if it was also tied into the larger narrative.

The denouement we get is this:

The planet Tellus circled its sun some twenty hundred times. Sixty-odd generations of men were born and died, but that was not enough. The Arisian program of genetics required more. Therefore the Elders, after due deliberation, agreed that that Civilization, too, must be allowed to fall. And Gharlane of Eddore, recalled to duty from the middle of a much-too-short vacation, found things in very bad shape indeed and went busily to work setting them to rights. He had slain one fellow-member of the Innermost Circle, but there might very well have been more than one Master involved.

There’s a fair amount to unpack here. So, we’re skipping ahead to more-or-less the modern day, which is not long enough for the Arisian plan to bear fruit… so the Arisians agree that modern civilization must be allowed to fall? That doesn’t follow, until we also get the information that Gharlane is back. That’s just sloppy, it should very clearly be 1) Gharlane’s coming back to kick over our anthill, 2) We still aren’t in a position to stop him, 3) Welp, I guess the latest round of not-sucky human society is over, then.

Also, Gharlane has killed one of his peers, presumably for the crime of messing with him discussed in the first part of the chapter, and… huh? On the surface, it definitely gives him more stature, he has now killed more of the bad guys than anyone else we know of. Look a little deeper, and that’s badly undermined because of how wrong he got it. He killed the wrong thing, and not only does Gharlane he not know he made a mistake, he’s hot on the trail of further mistakes to make. I can buy his making such an error once and retaining credibility, because maybe he killed the guy just to make sure everyone else knew he wasn’t fucking around. Persisting in his paranoid delusion just makes him seem a bit pathetic.

Anyway, that’s the third and final chapter of Book One: Dawn. Next up is Book Two: The World War, where we’ll presumably find out how Gharlane murders the twentieth century, and whether Hitler is involved.

Lensman: Mayanism and Modernization

Triplanetary 6 – Chapter 2: The Fall of Atlantis

Welcome to the read! I mentioned in an earlier installment that I think this might be the very first example of a sci-fi take on Atlantis, so let’s see what that turns out to be.

3. — ATLANTIS

Ariponides, recently elected Faros of Atlantis for his third five-year term, stood at a window of his office atop the towering Farostery.

Faros is a Greek word (or close approximation thereof) meaning lighthouse or beacon, which I think is a cool title for an elected official; it is not linguistically related to the Egyptian title of Pharoah. Farostery seems to be an entirely original word, but I assume it’s a poetically lighthouse-like structure that serves as the Faros’ administrative headquarters. I also assume that the Faros is the head-of-state, as lesser civil servants don’t usually have towering buildings named for their title.

Plato’s Atlantis was ruled by a confederation of ten kings, so this is greatly deviant from the source material, and as far as I can tell is breaking new ground – that is, no previous interpretations of Atlantis put aside the rule of kings. I suspect this is representative of the ‘cultural pattern’ they have developed that is at odds with the Eddorian principles.

His hands were clasped loosely behind his back. He did not really see the tremendous expanse of quiet ocean, nor the bustling harbor, nor the metropolis spread out so magnificently and so busily beneath him.

Ariponides is getting his brood on, I see. Plato’s city of Atlantis did not have a harbor, instead being connected to the sea by a canal. This seems like a much more conventional arrangement.

(Experiment time! We haven’t had a description, but notice what sort of clothing you picture this guy wearing.)

He stood there, motionless, until a subtle vibration warned him that visitors were approaching his door.

I’ve always read this ‘subtle vibration’ as a technological alert system, but on closer inspection it could just be Ariponides feeling his visitors’ footsteps through the floor.

“Come in, gentlemen…. Please be seated.” He sat down at one end of a table molded of transparent plastic.

The aim here is obviously to modernize the Atlantean setting. We already know that this Atlantis is a nuclear power, but now we get to see that they have other modern technologies as well. Plastic (including transparent varieties) was around before the American Civil War, but it was really taking off in the 1940s.

“Psychologist Talmonides, Statesman Cleto, Minister Philamon, Minister Marxes and Officer Artomenes, I have asked you to come here personally because I have every reason to believe that the shielding of this room is proof against eavesdroppers; a thing which can no longer be said of our supposedly private television channels. We must discuss, and if possible come to some decision concerning, the state in which our nation now finds itself.

(Experiment follow-up: What sort of clothing do you picture the various Atlanteans wearing at this point, and how does it compare to your original vision?)

I think almost all councils in this series, official or impromptu, include a psychologist; it just seems to be a quirk of the setting. The shielded room and private television channels are more modern context. Broadcast television in the U.S. was properly established in 1941, and so was still only a handful of years old when this was being written.

“Each of us knows within himself exactly what he is. Of our own powers, we cannot surely know each others’ inward selves. 

This is some oddly philosophical talk for a state-of-the-nation meeting.

The tools and techniques of psychology, however, are potent and exact; and Talmonides, after exhaustive and rigorous examination of each one of us, has certified that no taint of disloyalty exists among us.”

In this respect, at least, the Atlanteans seem to be more advanced than the author’s day (and indeed our own). I don’t know what ‘tools and techniques’ Talmonides is supposedly using, but I suspect they’re related to the polygraph, whose prototype was bought by the FBI in 1939.

“Which certification is not worth a damn,” the burly Officer declared. “What assurance do we have that Talmonides himself is not one of the ringleaders?

Ah, so we have some sort of conspiracy that’s infiltrated the government. That contextualizes all the ‘inward selves’ and ‘loyalty’ talk.

Mind you, I have no reason to believe that he is not completely loyal. In fact, since he has been one of my best friends for over twenty years, I believe implicitly that he is.

Well, then we have the assurance of you as a character witness, don’t we?

Nevertheless the plain fact is, Ariponides, that all the precautions you have taken, and any you can take, are and will be useless insofar as definite knowledge is concerned. The real truth is and will remain unknown.”

This is an unusually florid way to say ‘we can be certain of nothing.’ I’m surprised that it is the military officer who is so concerned about philosophical absolute certainty, the job seems to call for a more pragmatic approach.

“You are right,” the Psychologist conceded. “And, such being the case, perhaps I should withdraw from the meeting.”

I don’t get the motivation for this gesture. If Talmonides is under sufficient suspicion to recuse himself, then (as Artomenes just pointed out) his certifications are worthless and everyone else is just as suspect.

“That wouldn’t help, either.” Artomenes shook his head. “Any competent plotter would be prepared for this, as for any other contingency. One of us others would be the real operator.”

Artomenes seems to attribute extraordinary abilities of foresight to ‘any competent plotter.’

“And the fact that our Officer is the one who is splitting hairs so finely could be taken to indicate which one of us the real operator could be,” Marxes pointed out, cuttingly.

From an in-fiction perspective, I agree with Marxes; Artomenes’ comments generate an air of paranoia and otherwise accomplish nothing. As a reader, I suspect that the air of paranoia is intended by the author, but handing all responsibility for it to a single character just colors that character.

“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” Ariponides protested. “While absolute certainty is of course impossible to any finite mind, you all know how Talmonides was tested; you know that in his case there is no reasonable doubt.

The Faros cuts through the crap. Apparently there was the assurance of testing that leaves no reasonable doubt, which Artomenes knew of; I guess he dismissed it because his paranoiac tendencies demand philosophical certainty.

Such chance as exists, however, must be taken, for if we do not trust each other fully in this undertaking, failure is inevitable. With this word of warning I will get on with my report.

That’s some decent leadership-type talk.

“This worldwide frenzy of unrest followed closely upon the controlled liberation of atomic energy and may be—probably is—traceable to it.

Nuclear weapons are dramatic things, and despite strong anti-Japanese sentiment, the use of them against the Empire of Nippon created widespread unrest in our own history, so this is a reasonable assumption. We aren’t given any context for how nuclear weapons were introduced to these peoples’ geopolitics, so it’s not clear how justified a ‘frenzy’ might be.

It is in no part due to imperialistic aims or acts on the part of Atlantis. This fact cannot be stressed too strongly. We never have been and are not now interested in Empire.

These, and the four following sentences, appeal to me as a writer. At first glance they seem like clumsy exposition, as the Faros makes the Atlantean case to Atlantean officials who must know the facts already and need no persuasion. On the other hand, the Faros’ position probably requires him to give frequent speeches, so maybe he just unconsciously slides into oratory mode every so often, at which point it’s characterization that also justifies exposition, which is a neat little technique.

It is true that the other nations began as Atlantean colonies, but no attempt was ever made to hold any one of them in colonial status against the wish of its electorate.

This sentence is such an appeal to American identity that at this point I’m convinced that we’re supposed to read Atlantis as a close analogue for the contemporary-at-the-time late-1940s USA. I will also say that even if the sentiment isn’t actually sincere, simply expressing it as an ideal makes the Atlanteans the best people we’ve seen in the story so far.

All nations were and are sister states. We gain or lose together. Atlantis, the parent, was and is a clearing-house, a co-ordinator of effort, but has never claimed or sought authority to rule; all decisions being based upon free debate and free and secret ballot.

This is the sort of thing that sounds good, especially to Americans in 1948, but is also romantic and naive. I think it’s meant to be taken by the reader at simple face value, which is fine, but I think it gets more interesting if it’s read with a skeptical and cynical eye.

If Atlantis is meant to be a close analogue for the late-1940s USA, then it’s an analogue for a country that had a history of talking a good deal about freedom while also continually engaging in empire-building, both explicit and implicit. Debates and ballots both are vulnerable to corruption, intimidation, and propaganda, and Atlantis could be using non-military force to push its foreign policy upon other nations while using the non-military nature of that force as deniability. That wouldn’t necessarily make them bad, or even not good (international politics being what they are, some moral compromise is only realistic), but it would mean that Atlantis is not a cartoon of virtue, nor its colonies cartoons of suspicion.

“But now! Parties and factions everywhere, even in old Atlantis. Every nation is torn by internal dissensions and strife.

It sounds a little like this is implying that parties and factions are not the usual condition, which is weird because one-party states don’t have a great rep, but whether it’s notable that they exist or just that there’s more than usual, it seems they’ve gotten out of hand.

Nor is this all. Uighar as a nation is insensately jealous of the Islands of the South, who in turn are jealous of Maya. Maya of Bantu, Bantu of Ekopt, Ekopt of Norheim, and Norheim of Uighar.

Uighar seems to be a reference to the Uyghurs, a group with ancient roots in northern China and Mongolia. Maya is a reference to the Mayans of South America. Bantu is a reference to the African language group and associated peoples. Ekopt seems to be a portmanteau of Egypt and also the Copts. Norheim is the name of a few places (in Norway and Germany) and generally implies a north Germanic situation. The Islands of the South is a less obvious reference, but at a guess it refers to Australasia. So the Atlantean diaspora is a global-scope international community.

The idea that Atlantis is the original source of the human species, with all ancient civilizations being Atlantean colonies, is part of the Atlantean myth popularized by Ignatius Donnelly, but he didn’t originate the idea. It’s drawn from a centuries-old racist pseudohistorical movement called Mayanism, which attributes the achievements of the Mayans (and other ancient civilizations) to an advanced Atlantean precursor nation, or extraterrestrials, either being apparently more plausible than dark-skinned people having architectural skills.

I don’t know if this perpetuation of a racist trope is deliberate or thoughtless on the part of the author, but I do know that it’s unnecessary. This Atlantis already deviates from the popular Donnelly version of Atlantis in technological advancement, democratic principles, and apparently geography, so it’s not like the author was shackled to an established version for authenticity. It’s also never plot-relevant that the other nations be Atlantean colonies and not just other nations lost to time.

A vicious circle, worsened by other jealousies and hatreds intercrossing everywhere. Each fears that some other is about to try to seize control of the entire world; and there seems to be spreading rapidly the utterly baseless belief that Atlantis itself is about to reduce all other nations of Earth to vassalage.

It’s never explicitly stated that this is what Gharlane is up to, but I don’t think there’s any doubt. It’s pretty clever as dastardly plans go. The development of atomic power was mentioned as a turning point in Arisian history, but the first step to atomic power is nuclear weapons, which creates both a means to collapse a planet’s development and also a political instability. Gharlane seems to have simply bolstered the natural nuclear paranoia and let human nature take its course.

“This is a bald statement of the present condition of the world as I see it. Since I can see no other course possible within the constituted framework of our democratic government, I recommend that we continue our present activities, such as the international treaties and agreements upon which we are now at work, intensifying our effort wherever possible.

There’s a nice example of real principle: Ariponides isn’t willing to pursue courses outside the framework of his democratic government, even if he might see them. It’s not clear what it is that he’s not proposing, but his commitment is clear enough.

We will now hear from Statesman Cleto.”

“You have outlined the situation clearly enough, Faros. My thought, however, is that the principal cause of the trouble is the coming into being of this multiplicity of political parties, particularly those composed principally of crackpots and extremists.

‘This multiplicity of’ is importantly distinct from ‘multiple,’ so I think my earlier concern about the text condemning the mere existence of multiple parties was unfounded.

The connection with atomic energy is clear: since the atomic bomb gives a small group of people the power to destroy the world, they reason that it thereby confers upon them the authority to dictate to the world.

This seems a bit tenuous. I don’t really buy that there are that many people who would be willing to hold the world hostage, especially when following through on that threat destroys themselves as well. That would require a degree of cultural nihilism that just isn’t established. I think a far more plausible connection would be that since whoever controls the government now has the power to destroy the world, there are a lot more people interested in being the government, if only to keep that power out of other peoples’ hands.

My recommendation is merely a special case of yours; that every effort be made to influence the electorates of Norheim and of Uighar into supporting an effective international control of atomic energy.”

Note that the nations of concern correspond to Germany and (probably) China. At a guess, Russia didn’t get an analogue because it didn’t have a famous ancient culture. It’s a little weird that China gets villainized here, because the most recent relation they’d had with the USA in 1948 was ally against the Japanese, and because the country didn’t properly go communist until late 1949. Maybe as the pan-Asian representatives, they’re standing in for Japan, and this reflects lingering postwar anti-Japanese sentiment?

“You have your data tabulated in symbolics?” asked Talmonides, from his seat at the keyboard of a calculating machine.

“Yes. Here they are.”

“Thanks.”

A calculating machine is a mechanical (as opposed to electronic) calculator, and were apparently what passed for a desktop computer from the 1900s to the 1960s.

“Minister Philamon,” the Faros announced.

“As I see it—as any intelligent man should be able to see it—the principal contribution of atomic energy to this worldwide chaos was the complete demoralization of labor,” the gray-haired Minister of Trade stated, flatly.

Huh, this makes it sound like the Atlanteans have made it to nuclear power plants, not just weapons, since I don’t know how nuclear weapons would especially demoralize labor. That would put the Atlanteans as not 1940s America, but 1940s America twenty minutes into the future, seeing that nuclear power plants didn’t become practical until the early 50s.

“Output per man-hour should have gone up at least twenty percent, in which case prices would automatically have come down. Instead, short-sighted guilds imposed drastic curbs on production, and now seem to be surprised that as production falls and hourly wages rise, prices also rise and real income drops.

Yes, that’s definitely nuclear power that Philamon is talking about; nuclear weapons don’t improve ‘output per man-hour,’ but more abundant electricity… might? So I guess it’s a double-threat: nuclear weapons causing political strife, and nuclear power causing economic turbulence.

I don’t know enough to really comment on the econo-speak and whether it’s at all plausible.

Only one course is possible, gentlemen; labor must be made to listen to reason. This feather-bedding, this protected loafing, this….”

“I protest!” Marxes, Minister of Work, leaped to his feet. “The blame lies squarely with the capitalists. Their greed, their rapacity, their exploitation of….”

Marxes is revealed as a Karl Marx reference.

“One moment, please!” Ariponides rapped the table sharply. “It is highly significant of the deplorable condition of the times that two Ministers of State should speak as you two have just spoken.

Given their titles, it seemed very likely to me that this bickering was simply an older argument intruding into the affair of the moment, but it’s supposed to be a reflection of the general turbulence of the time.

I take it that neither of you has anything new to contribute to this symposium?”

Both claimed the floor, but both were refused it by vote.

It seems harsh that after being asked a question the two Ministers are then denied the opportunity to answer it, but at least it’s democratically harsh.

“Hand your tabulated data to Talmonides,” the Faros directed. “Officer Artomenes?”

“You, our Faros, have more than intimated that our defense program, for which I am primarily responsible, has been largely to blame for what has happened,” the grizzled warrior began.

The only defense program that’s been mentioned here is the simple existence of nuclear weapons (of which nuclear power is a natural development), so is Artomenes supposed to be a stand in for General Groves, the military administrator of the Manhattan Project? I guess there’s a read where this more-than-intimation happened off-screen in a previous conversation, but that would be extremely awkward writing.

“In part, perhaps it was—one must be blind indeed not to see the connection, and biased indeed not to admit it. But what should I have done, knowing that there is no practical defense against the atomic bomb?

Okay, for Artomenes and his defense program to be ‘to blame’ for the situation triggered by nuclear technology, they have to have been the ones to develop the first nuclear technology. To have developed the first nuclear technology out of concern for defense from nuclear technology implies a nuclear race – the principles were out there, other people were also seeking to develop them, and in lieu of a ‘practical’ defense, they needed first-strike advantage (in the short run) and a deterrent (in the long run). So far, so like our own history.

Every nation has them, and is manufacturing more and more.

Here’s a deviation. At the time this work was published, the USA was still the only nuclear power in the world, the USSR not detonating their first bomb until 1949. Apparently part of their twenty-minutes-into-the-future includes the fulfillment of nuclear proliferation anxieties.

Every nation is infested with the agents of every other. Should I have tried to keep Atlantis toothless in a world bristling with fangs? And could I—or anyone else—have succeeded in doing so?”

This reads to me like Artomenes has a guilt complex about his part in creating the nuclear state of affairs. I’m sure there’s a psych term for his desperate casting about for alternatives he didn’t take. In fact, Artomenes comes off as pretty unstable throughout this scene. First he’s paranoid, then he’s guilty, and later on…

“Probably not. No criticism was intended; we must deal with the situation as it actually exists. Your recommendations, please?”

The Faros practices some more good leadership. He briefly addresses Artomenes’ point to let him know he’s been heard, but redirects the conversation back to immediate practical matters.

“I have thought this thing over day and night, and can see no solution which can be made acceptable to our—or to any real—democracy. Nevertheless, I have one recommendation to make. 

Unlike the Faros, Artomenes is willing to propose a course which is against the principles of their society.

We all know that Norheim and Uighar are the sore spots—particularly Norheim. We have more bombs as of now than both of them together.

This doesn’t sound like it’s going anywhere good.

We know that Uighar’s super-sonic jobs are ready.

The first manned supersonic flight took place in 1947, so this is another reference to a recent-to-1948 tech development. It’s not clear if Uighar’s ‘jobs’ are bombers or missiles, though.

We don’t know exactly what Norheim has, since they cut my Intelligence line a while back, but I’m sending over another operative—my best man, too—tonight. If he finds out that we have enough advantage in speed, and I’m pretty sure that we have, I say hit both Norheim and Uighar right then, while we can, before they hit us. And hit them hard—pulverize them.

There it is: Artomenes is proposing a nuclear first-strike strategy.

Then set up a world government strong enough to knock out any nation—including Atlantis—that will not cooperate with it.

As a follow-up, he proposes a mind-boggling feat of politics: just the unification of the world, after making a pariah nation out of Atlantis.

This course of action is flagrantly against all international law and all the principles of democracy, I know; and even it might not work. It is, however, as far as I can see, the only course which can work.”

It is a particularly military perspective, especially in states of total war, that sometimes there are no acceptable courses of action, so you must choose from the monstrous courses of action available. In some respects, this is the same position that the Eddorians put the Arisians in; except of course that the Arisians never acknowledge the unacceptability of their actions.

“You—we all—perceive its weaknesses.” The Faros thought for minutes. “You cannot be sure that your Intelligence has located all of the danger points, and many of them must be so far underground as to be safe from even our heaviest missiles.

Hidden and/or protected launch sites are second-strike nuclear strategy, allowing a nation that does not get first strike to retaliate. I was surprised to see such a well-developed sense of nuclear strategy in a book published before the Soviets had the bomb, but apparently gaming out nuclear conflict scenarios began well before even the Manhattan project produced results, and that made its way into fiction.

We all, including you, believe that the Psychologist is right in holding that the reaction of the other nations to such action would be both unfavorable and violent.

Well, obviously! As far as I can see, the closest Artomenes’ plan could come to working is that after Atlantis pulverizes Uighar and Norheim, and is pulverized itself either by its targets’ second-strike or by the other nations, the remaining nations might be so aghast at what’s happened that they’d be driven to a diplomatic solution. Even that’s an optimistic scenario.

Your report, please, Talmonides.”

“I have already put my data into the integrator.” The Psychologist punched a button and the mechanism began to whir and to click.

This is interesting, because it supposes an extraordinary advance in computing powers in the ‘twenty minutes’ Atlantis is ahead of the 1948 USA. I don’t think any mechanical calculator could perform a function more advanced than calculating a square root, so dealing with the kind of sophisticated data described here would be far beyond them. Pre-transistor predictions about the future of computing are infamous for underestimating how far and fast the field would advance, and this series will provide us with at least one spectacular example of that; but this is closer than a lot of people got: it’s much more powerful than machines of the time when it was written, and it doesn’t seem to be particularly enormous.

“I have only one new fact of any importance; the name of one of the higher-ups and its corollary implication that there may be some degree of cooperation between Norheim and Uighar….”

This is actually strange, because in the circle of international hate set up above, Norheim was listed as being ‘insensately jealous’ of Uighar, which makes their cooperation seem unlikely.

He broke off as the machine stopped clicking and ejected its report.

“Look at that graph—up ten points in seven days!” Talmonides pointed a finger. “The situation is deteriorating faster and faster. The conclusion is unavoidable—you can see yourselves that this summation line is fast approaching unity—that the outbreaks will become uncontrollable in approximately eight days.

There was a mechanical calculator called the Ordonnateur Statistique, created in the mid-1800s, that was somehow supposed to summarize social statistical correlations, but I know nothing else about it. At a guess, that machine is intended as the ancestor of this fictional one.

With one slight exception—here—you will notice that the lines of organization and purpose are as random as ever. In spite of this conclusive integration I would be tempted to believe that this seeming lack of coherence was due to insufficient data—that back of this whole movement there is a carefully-set-up and completely-integrated plan—except for the fact that the factions and the nations are so evenly matched.

Talmonides has intuited Gharlane’s influence, but cannot seem to conceive of a nihilist and non-national actor, the now-stereotypical Nolan-Joker sort. That’s not really believable, given how one of their problems is a multitude of fringe political movements, but perhaps Talmonides has thought of the possibility and rejected it without mention; maybe the resources to covertly carry out such a plan simply aren’t available to any of the local crackpots.

But the data are sufficient. It is shown conclusively that no one of the other nations can possibly win, even by totally destroying Atlantis. They would merely destroy each other and our entire Civilization. According to this forecast, in arriving at which the data furnished by our Officer were prime determinants, that will surely be the outcome unless remedial measures be taken at once.

This raises the question of why the other nations don’t seem to know this. Why would they aggress if it could be ‘shown conclusively’ that they could not possibly win? Are their calculators not as good as Atlantis’, or are they being written as unreasoningly aggressive?

You are of course sure of your facts, Artomenes?”

“I am sure. But you said you had a name, and that it indicated a Norheim-Uighar hookup. What is that name?”

“An old friend of yours….”

“Lo Sung!” The words as spoken were a curse of fury.

Lo Sung is a reasonable approximation of a Chinese name (and not of a Japanese name), which suggests that Uighar is meant to be more of an analogue for China than Japan.

“None other. And, unfortunately, there is as yet no course of action indicated which is at all promising of success.”

“Use mine, then!” Artomenes jumped up and banged the table with his fist. “Let me send two flights of rockets over right now that will blow Uigharstoy and Norgrad into radioactive dust and make a thousand square miles around each of them uninhabitable for ten thousand years! If that’s the only way they can learn anything, let them learn!”

Man, that ‘curse of fury’ description was not underselling it. I don’t know the background, but Lo Sung’s name makes Artomenes so angry that he becomes even more irrational than he was.

Also, ‘Norgrad’ is obviously intended to sound like a Russian city name, like Kaliningrad or Volgograd. I’m not aware of any cities that end in -stoy, but I guess that suffix is meant to recall Tolstoy, a famous Russian name. I think this is meant to hammer home that the two nations are also standing in for a nuclear USSR, but it’s a pretty confused analogous space at this point.

“Sit down, Officer,” Ariponides directed, quietly. “That course, as you have already pointed out, is indefensible. It violates every Prime Basic of our Civilization. Moreover, it would be entirely futile, since this resultant makes it clear that every nation on Earth would be destroyed within the day.”

When speaking for himself Ariponides stopped with the moral argument, but he includes a practical element when speaking to someone who is willing to go beyond the moral arguments.

“What, then?” Artomenes demanded, bitterly. “Sit still here and let them annihilate us?”

Artomenes has been all over the place in this scene, and now he’s moved on to childish. It’s kind of bizarre, because it seems like he’s behaving in a way that displays a manifest unfitness for his responsibilities, but neither the text nor the other characters ever comment on it.

“Not necessarily. It is to formulate plans that we are here. Talmonides will by now have decided, upon the basis of our pooled knowledge, what must be done.”

“The outlook is not good: not good at all,” the Psychologist announced, gloomily. “The only course of action which carries any promise whatever of success—and its probability is only point one eight—is the one recommended by the Faros, modified slightly to include Artomenes’ suggestion of sending his best operative on the indicated mission.

What mission is this? The only recommendation Ariponides has made is  the continuation of ‘our present activities, such as the international treaties and agreements upon which we are now at work.’ The only mission that’s been mentioned was part of Artomenes’ rejected first-strike plan.

For highest morale, by the way, the Faros should also interview this agent before he sets out. Ordinarily I would not advocate a course of action having so little likelihood of success; but since it is simply a continuation and intensification of what we are already doing, I do not see how we can adopt any other.”

This foreshadows the grimness to come. The high officials are out of options and are simply doing their utmost with the course that is left to them, and although that sort of situation is usually the set-up for a heroic success, we know that Atlantis is doomed, that even their best efforts are simply not enough. That’s decent pathos, and also the demonstration of the effectiveness of one Eddorian against a whole world of a younger species.

“Are we agreed?” Ariponides asked, after a short silence.

They were agreed.

Join me next post for the last of this chapter, where after three sessions of set-up, we get some genuine action as pay-off.

Lensman: A Good Cause?

Triplanetary 5 – Chapter 2: The Fall of Atlantis

Welcome to the read!

Very often in fiction it is the supposed ‘good guys’ that best reveal problematic elements, because the text has a tendency to clearly support them even when they engage in behavior that is morally grey or worse. Sometimes you do get a villain who is condemned for actions which aren’t particularly bad, but that’s less common; much more often the villains are simply painted completely black in order to justify any action against them. The Eddorians are so bad that when the Arisians are artificially selecting other intelligent species without consent to create a super-species for the purpose of genocide, we’re supposed to support them. Blech.

One thing I haven’t really touched on is how much relative information we don’t get about the Arisians (mostly because an absence of text is difficult to quote). With the Eddorians we got a long list of their negative traits and also a history that demonstrated their practical badness, but we’ve had no such material for the Arisians. Mostly we’re told that they are nothing like the Eddorians, even as we keep seeing that they do in fact have commonalities. What’s missing is a positive depiction of the Arisians, some demonstration that they actually are less bad than the Eddorians. ‘Looking like humans’ and ‘not being immigrants’ isn’t enough.

(Yeah, I just got that the Eddorians coming from another dimension – instead of simply being native to the Second Galaxy – plays into nativist tropes. That actually connects to the thing where they supposedly have no offspring species; unlike contemporary American white nativism which fearmongers about immigrant fecundity, early American white nativism had a narrative about how foreign seed tended to fail in America, so presumably if you cut off the influx of immigrants then the ones already here would conveniently fade away.)

Anyway, this is the Arisian perspective of the fall of Atlantis, the first we’ll see of their operations involving a younger species. That’s a good opportunity to demonstrate some benevolence. Let’s see if they pull it off.

2. ARISIA

“We, the Elder Thinkers in fusion, are spreading in public view, for study and full discussion, a visualization of the relationships existing and to exist between Civilization and its irreconcilable and implacable foe.

Oo, government transparency! It’s not exactly benevolence, but it’s a small step in the right direction.

Several of our younger members, particularly Eukonidor, who has just attained Watchmanship, have requested instruction in this matter. 

This is the second time that Watchmen have been mentioned, but still no specifics of what the title entails. The implication, of course, is that they keep watch on Eddorian activity, but the need for that isn’t obvious, given the apparent accuracy of the Elders’ visualizations.

Being as yet immature, their visualizations do not show clearly why Nedanillor, Kriedigan, Drounli, and Brolenteen, either singly or in fusion, have in the past performed certain acts and have not performed certain others; or that the future actions of those Moulders of Civilization will be similarly constrained.

This torrent of proper names introduces us to the four ‘Moulders of Civilization’ who seem to have the responsibility of actually carrying out the practical aspect of the Arisian project. Four seems like a very small number of operatives to cover two galaxies, even if they’re trying to stay as unobtrusive as possible. I forget whether it’s a coincidence that there are four Moulders and also four troublesome planets.

“This visualization, while more complex, more complete, and more detailed than the one set up by our forefathers at the time of the Coalescence, agrees with it in every essential. The five basics remain unchanged.

First: the Eddorians can be overcome only by mental force.

It’s a little bit weird that the Arisians would feel the need to say this, because mental force seems to be their only option in general, given that they don’t have other technologies.

Second: the magnitude of the required force is such that its only possible generator is such an organization as the Galactic Patrol toward which we have been and are working.

This is an interesting conceit of the series, and a glimpse of how the Arisian mental technology-analogue works. The foreshadowed Galactic Patrol is, to the humans and other species who comprise it, an organization which serves as a military/police force, but to the Arisians it is a colossal generator for mental energy.

Third: since no Arisian or any fusion of Arisians will ever be able to spear-head that force, it was and is necessary to develop a race of mentality sufficient to perform that task.

On some level, the new race is also a piece of Arisian technology: having invented an energy source so extraordinary that there’s no means of harnessing it, they need another extraordinary invention to harness it.

Fourth: this new race, having been instrumental in removing the menace of Eddore, will as a matter of course displace the Arisians as Guardians of Civilization.

This is reading as really ominous to me. The Arisians have not been properly established as particularly moral beings, and there’s no reason to believe that their creation will be any better, even if it is more capable. Also, the word ‘displace’ implies the use of force; in a way that ‘replace’ or ‘succeed’ does not. It really sounds like this super-species, having been used as a tool of genocide, is going to use its superior abilities to forcibly take over the Arisian side of things; a situation which does not promise good government. It would be really bleak if the only solution to the Eddorian conquest is to replace them with a different, more powerful set of conquerors who are only probably less bad.

Fifth: the Eddorians must not become informed of us until such a time as it will be physically, mathematically impossible for them to construct any effective counter-devices.”

This sentence does a good job of conveying both the threat that the Eddorians pose and also how careful the Arisians are being. I think it’s undermined in later material when the Arisians start acting more openly, but it works for the moment.

“A cheerless outlook, truly,” came a somber thought.

“Not so, daughter. A little reflection will show you that your present thinking is loose and turbid.

We haven’t really got into the sexual politics of the series, but it’s an unfortunate foreshadowing that this Arisian who is introduced as being in need of correction is identified only as being female. For extra credit, keep an eye out and see how many other Arisians are ever identified as female.

When that time comes, every Arisian will be ready for the change. We know the way. We do not know to what that way leads; but the Arisian purpose in this phase of existence—this space-time continuum—will have been fulfilled and we will go eagerly and joyfully on to the next.

This makes what the Arisians will experience after the Eddorians are exterminated sound a lot like death, even if their perspective on it isn’t fearful; something like the ‘going west’ that was the pseudo-death of myth-mystics and Tolkien elves. It’s a little weird, since the Arisian concern in the first chapter was that the Eddorians would drive them from their ‘native space and time,’ but apparently they’re happy to leave as long as it occurs on their own terms.

Are there any more questions?”

There were none.

“Study this material, then, each of you, with exceeding care. It may be that some one of you, even a child, will perceive some facet of the truth which we have missed or have not examined fully; some fact or implication which may be made to operate to shorten the time of conflict or to lessen the number of budding Civilizations whose destruction seems to us at present to be sheerly unavoidable.”

Hours passed. Days. No criticisms or suggestions were offered.

This is the best we’ve seen of the Arisians so far. Taking pains to shorten the war and reduce destruction is exactly what you’d expect from benevolent elder aliens; both goals seem like they’re about trying to minimalize the suffering of the younger species. The problem is the context that’s been established.

First, the plan to wipe out the Eddorians has been given so much more precedence and text that the well-being of the younger species seems like an incidental concern at best. Second, because the younger species actually are the materiel the Arisians are using to win the war, almost anything that might express concern for them could be read as expressing concern for the war effort with equal validity. Third, to this point no Arisian has been depicted as expressing the slightest empathy or sympathy for the suffering of the younger species, which makes it hard to read that into anything they do or say.

I recall that in the non-prequel material the Arisians actually do lay out their moral case and it working pretty well in context, but this is supposed to be the first book and they needed to make their case here as well. Ideally before the genocide plan was introduced.

“We take it, then, that this visualization is the fullest and most accurate one possible for the massed intellect of Arisia to construct from the information available at the moment.

From my 2016 perspective, familiar as I am with the awesome power of crowdsourcing, it seems kind of laughably elitist that the Elders’ visualization could not be improved upon by the amount of brain power that ‘the massed intellect of Arisia’ must represent. I can’t really fault the author for subscribing to the think-tank model, though.

The Moulders therefore, after describing briefly what they have already done, will inform us as to what they deem it necessary to do in the near future.”

Expositing about upcoming exposition is a clumsy thing.

“We have observed, and at times have guided, the evolution of intelligent life upon many planets,” the fusion began.

What suggests to me that the author is on some level aware of how troubling this activity is, is how he uses (and has the Arisians use) language which downplays the Arisians’ agency. ‘Guided’ sounds like they merely showed the intelligent life a way, which that life then chose to take. The truth is that since they are acting covertly, without consent or explanation, upon beings completely unable to resist them, all such actions are use of force.

“We have, to the best of our ability, directed the energies of these entities into the channels of Civilization; we have adhered consistently to the policy of steering as many different races as possible toward the intellectual level necessary for the effective use of the Lens, without which the proposed Galactic Patrol cannot come into being.

‘Directed,’ with its overtones of authority, is a slightly more honest term than ‘guided.’ ‘Steering’ is about right, though.

“For many cycles of time we have been working as individuals with the four strongest races, from one of which will be developed the people who will one day replace us as Guardians of Civilization. Blood lines have been established.

So the 4:4 correspondence isn’t just a coincidence, nice to know.

We have encouraged matings which concentrate traits of strength and dissipate those of weakness.

So here’s the open practice of eugenics, even if what’s admitted to is among the least noisome applications of that philosophy – there’s no forcible culling of undesirables, for instance. The term ‘encourage’ is another bit of agency-obscuring language, though. Given the urgency of their mission and the relatively slow turnover of human generations, I can’t imagine that the Arisians would spare any degree of mental compulsion to get their preferred pairings.

While no very great departure from the norm, either physically or mentally, will take place until after the penultimates have been allowed to meet and to mate, a definite general improvement of each race has been unavoidable.

I think it’s worth considering: what counts as improvement? Above, they talk about strength and weakness, similarly undefined. Do these terms apply to what the species’ members would consider better, or just to what is most useful to the Arisian plan?

Also, note the phrase ‘a definite general improvement of each race has been unavoidable.’ This seems a little weird, because isn’t the general improvement of each (and indeed every possible) species part of the plan? All I can make of that is that ‘definite’ is supposed to be subbing in for ‘noticeable,’ because…

“Thus the Eddorians have already interested themselves in our budding Civilization upon the planet Tellus, and it is inevitable that they will very shortly interfere with our work upon the other three.

So even though the Arisians have disguised their action on these worlds as mere statistical inevitability, the Eddorians are coming to ‘interfere.’ What will the Arisians do?

These four young Civilizations must be allowed to fall. It is to warn every Arisian against well-meant but inconsidered action that this conference was called.

Apparently they’ll do nothing. This is a prime opportunity for the author to establish the Arisians as benevolent, and it’s all but being thrown away. Note that warning against ‘well-meant but inconsidered action’ could mean Arisians trying to save the poor Earth-people for their own sake, but could just as easily mean Arisians trying to preserve promising pieces of their war effort.

We ourselves will operate through forms of flesh of no higher intelligence than, and indistinguishable from, the natives of the planets affected.

Ah, so the Arisians will be active at the fall of Atlantis and its alien equivalents, just not to save the societies. What their goals are remains a mystery.

No traceable connection will exist between those forms and us. No other Arisians will operate within extreme range of any one of those four planets; they will from now on be given the same status as has been so long accorded Eddore itself.

I think the fall of Atlantis is being sold as a sort of Churchill/Coventry moment, where the costs of preserving secrecy will hopefully be paid off in the long term. Once again, the problem is that without any mention of concern for life or suffering, we have no reason to assume it is for anything other than practical purposes.

The Eddorians must not learn of us until after it is too late for them to act effectively upon that knowledge. Any chance bit of information obtained by any Eddorian must be obliterated at once. It is to guard against and to negate such accidental disclosures that our Watchmen have been trained.”

The actual function of the Watchmen is revealed – not to monitor Eddorian activities (at least not primarily) but to keep the secret of Arisia’s existence. ‘Obliterating’ information and ‘negating’ disclosures presumably means limited memory erasure, since I don’t know how else they would remove information that had already leaked.

“But if all of our Civilizations go down….” Eukonidor began to protest.

As above, we don’t actually know what Eukonidor’s concern is. It could be for the suffering of the younger species, it could be for the potential failure of the genocide plan. That was kind of an unfortunate sentence to leave unfinished.

“Study will show you, youth, that the general level of mind, and hence of strength, is rising,” the fused Elders interrupted.

So here we get the previously mentioned ‘strength’ being equated with ‘level of mind.’ That does fall into the Venn overlap of ‘things a generic species would probably appreciate’ and ‘useful to the Arisian plan.’

Also note that Eukonidor’s correction doesn’t come with a critique of his thinking as did that of the unnamed ‘daughter.’

“The trend is ever upward; each peak and valley being higher than its predecessor.

From an in-fiction perspective, watching the Eddorians do whatever they do to cause civilizations to fall, across two galaxies for billions of years, could totally explain the kind of detachment that the Arisian elders are demonstrating. That scale of tragedy for that long, and no one could be blamed for suppressing their empathy. It could even explain why the Arisian elders back at the beginning of the conflict were so cold – if their ‘visualization’ is vivid enough, they could have been living with the weight of these decisions for a very long time. But I have to infer all of that, because it’s simply not present in the text. All we see depicted are the Arisians being cavalier with other people’s lives.

When the indicated level has been reached—the level at which the efficient use of the Lens will become possible—we will not only allow ourselves to become known to them; we will engage them at every point.”

More foreshadowing of the Lens, and also of the Arisians eventually revealing themselves.

“One factor remains obscure.” A Thinker broke the ensuing silence. “In this visualization I do not perceive anything to preclude the possibility that the Eddorians may at any time visualize us.

Now this seems like it could be a real threat. The Arisians are extremely paranoid about keeping themselves secret from the Eddorians, but apparently the enemy could just deduce their existence at any time. That’s the sort of thing that’ll keep an Elder up at night.

Granted that the Elders of long ago did not merely visualize the Eddorians, but perceived them in time-space surveys; that they and subsequent Elders were able to maintain the status quo; and that the Eddorian way of thought is essentially mechanistic, rather than philosophic, in nature. There is still a possibility that the enemy may be able to deduce us by processes of logic alone. 

First, this bit about ‘time-space’ surveys conflicts with an earlier statement about how the two parties were ‘completely in ignorance’ of each other until Enphilistor stumbled over the Eddorians; which statement was already part-contradicted by the visualization of the Eddorians in the first place – it seems like the author was continually revising his view on how much the Arisians knew and just didn’t go back to make sure all the references matched.

Second, the mechanistic/philosophic divide goes back to the Eddorian physical technology contrasting with the Arisian mental technology, and implies that the mechanists are either less able or less willing to engage in speculative deduction.

This thought is particularly disturbing to me at the present time because a rigid statistical analysis of the occurrences upon those four planets shows that they cannot possibly have been due to chance. With such an analysis as a starting point, a mind of even moderate ability could visualize us practically in toto.

What an Arisian means by ‘moderate ability’ is of course not to scale with any human use of the term, and given how the All-Highest was handled by a ‘young student’ back at the dawn of the war, one wonders if any of the Eddorians qualify as moderate. But even if a moderate mind is required to visualize the Arisians in toto, the Arisians would consider it a disaster to be vizualized at all.

I assume, however, that this possibility has been taken into consideration, and suggest that the membership be informed.”

“The point is well taken. The possibility exists. While the probability is very great that such an analysis will not be made until after we have declared ourselves, it is not a certainty.

So for all the talk of how the Eddorians must not become aware of them (until it is too late), the Arisians actually have been taking a calculated risk with their operations. My impression is that this was unavoidable, that operating more cautiously would have been counter-productive.

Immediately upon deducing our existence, however, the Eddorians would begin to build against us, upon the four planets and elsewhere. Since there is only one effective counter-structure possible, and since we Elders have long been alert to detect the first indications of that particular activity, we know that the situation remains unchanged.

If it changes, we will call at once another full meeting of minds.

Spoiler warning: this set-up never actually pays off. I mention it here because I don’t believe there’s a better opportunity to do so. I think it’s a real shame that the Arisian plan goes as smoothly as it does, it’s a waste of dramatic potential and further undercuts the Eddorians as a threat.

It does, however, make total sense in context with the established Eddorian megalomania. Deducing the Arisians would mean recognizing that another species was capable enough to oppose the Eddorians while remaining hidden from them, and I think that falls squarely in the category of things that no Eddorian could ever admit to.

Are there any other matters of moment…? If not, this conference will dissolve.”

That’s it for this section. All the groundwork has been laid, all that’s left is the action. See you on Earth!

Lensman: For the Most Troublesome

Triplanetary 4 – Chapter 2: The Fall of Atlantis

Welcome to the read! In the Critias of Plato, the story of Atlantis is said to take place around 9500 BCE, so while we are still deep in the past, we are picking up the story approximately two billion years after the last chapter ended. It’s an interesting technique to set up the Eddorians and their super-science shenanigans, then skip an unimaginable distance forward in time, and come to a period associated with prehistoric fantasy stories. For instance, the supposedly unrecorded Hyborian Age that Robert Howard’s Conan stories take place in is supposed to begin after Atlantis sinks.

1. Eddore

“Members of the innermost circle, wherever you are and whatever you may be doing, tune in!” the All-Highest broadcast.

Using what are essentially radio terms for telepathic activity is something of a signature for this series, but while it works to increase relatability when the humans and other younger races do it, having the ancient cosmic big bad yell ‘tune in!’ damages its already tenuous mystique.

“Analysis of the data furnished by the survey just completed shows that in general the Great Plan is progressing satisfactorily.

This banal line also damages that mystique. Here’s a truly fantastical being, and he’s going on about survey data. It’s possible that juxtaposition could have been made interesting, but it isn’t.

There seem to be only four planets which our delegates have not been or may not be able to control properly: Sol III, Rigel IV, Velantia III, and Palain VII.

So it seems the Eddorians have by this point turned most of the actual work over to underlings. The four planets named eventually produce some very special individuals, and it seems like an open question as to whether the life on these planets has developed in a way that is particularly incompatible with Eddorian control, or whether organic lapses in that control allowed the planets to better develop the conditions for such individuals to arise.

Also, consider the term ‘only four planets,’ as opposed to ‘only four known planets’ or ‘only four influenced planets.’ The implication is that Eddorian control, however indirect or limited, touches every planet in both galaxies.

All four, you will observe, are in the other galaxy. No trouble whatever has developed in our own.

Location does make some difference, apparently. I’m not sure what the capabilities of the Eddorian operation are supposed to be at this point, so it could be a purely technical matter. I like to think that the Eddorians have retained some subconscious aversion to the Arisian’s home territory, so it gets less attention.

“Of these four, the first requires drastic and immediate personal attention.

First, go Earth! I think this is a deliberate ego-stroke for the human reader; our species is the most troublesome. Second, this is a strange statement in context. When you see what the solution is, and then later what some of the Eddorian minions are capable of, it doesn’t seem like this mission actually requires an Eddorian. Maybe it needed Eddorian judgement to decide on the most appropriate course of action, or maybe they have no minions nearby and haven’t shared their most advanced transport tech yet, so that only an Eddorian can get there in a timely fashion?

Its people, in the brief interval since our previous general survey, have developed nuclear energy and have fallen into a cultural pattern which does not conform in any respect to the basic principles laid down by us long since.

As far as I can tell, this may be the first published depiction of Atlantis as a nuclear power. Ignatius Donnelly, father of the modern Atlantean mythology, writing in 1882, portrayed Atlantis as being about as advanced as 1700s Europe; but my Google-fu doesn’t turn up any other published atomic Atlantean scenarios until the late 60’s, which this predates by ~20 years. So not only do we get to see a sci-fi Atlantis, we get to see what might be the first sci-fi Atlantis. I actually remember nothing about that part, so I’m now curious.

Our deputies there, thinking erroneously that they could handle matters without reporting fully to or calling for help upon the next higher operating echelon, must be disciplined sharply. Failure, from whatever cause, can not be tolerated.

I’m not planning to delve into the Eddorian operating principles until the text describes them better much later on, but I will say that they demand a really unreasonable level of judgement. You get punished for not passing matters that are beyond your abilities up the chain of command, but – spoiler warning – you also get punished for bothering the chain of command with something you could have handled yourself, and if you couldn’t have known which was which until after the fact, that’s unfortunate. That said, ‘disciplined sharply’ probably doesn’t mean killed; the Eddorians are evil overlord stereotypes, but they don’t usually speak in euphemisms. It could mean almost any other unpleasant thing, though.

“Gharlane, as Master Number Two, you will assume control of Sol III immediately.

So here’s Gharlane, who I think is one of only two named Eddorians (along with Krongenes from the last chapter), and who is the active Eddorian agent in the story, when he shows up at all. I’m pretty sure that his rank of ‘Master Number Two’ makes him the All-Highest’s second-in-command.

This Circle now authorizes and instructs you to take whatever steps may prove necessary to restore order upon that planet.

It’s a little strange that Eddore is explicitly a dictatorship, but orders are issued by ‘this Circle,’ even when the All-Highest is directly participating.

Examine carefully this data concerning the other three worlds which may very shortly become troublesome.

It’s a shame that we don’t get to hear what kinds of trouble the other planets are up to, because it would be a good opportunity to explore how different their inhabitants are from humans.

Is it your thought that one or more others of this Circle should be assigned to work with you, to be sure that these untoward developments are suppressed?”

This seems to be a genuine question and not just a dominance ritual; the Eddorians are capable of treating each other with some actual regard, if no one else.

“It is not, Your Supremacy,” that worthy decided, after a time of study. “Since the peoples in question are as yet of low intelligence; since one form of flesh at a time is all that will have to be energized; and since the techniques will be essentially similar; I can handle all four more efficiently alone than with the help or cooperation of others.

For an evil overlord stereotype, Gharlane sounds shockingly reasonable here; he prefers to work alone not out of raw ego but because he judges that the combination of factors involved make it a broth for which one cook is the optimal number. The process of ‘energizing’ a ‘form of flesh’ sounds interesting, but what it means is left obscure for the moment.

If I read this data correctly, there will be need of only the most elementary precaution in the employment of mental force, since of the four races, only the Velantians have even a rudimentary knowledge of its uses. Right?”

‘Mental force’ as used here is more specific than just telepathy – for instance, the Rigellians, as we will later learn, are deaf and mute, using telepathy for communication instead of sound. I suspect it refers to compulsion – mind control – which the Velantians, again as we will later learn, have had some exposure to.

“We so read the data.” Surprisingly enough, the Innermost Circle agreed unanimously.

It’s not at all clear why it should be surprising that the Circle is unanimous, I don’t think we’ve ever seen any arguments among them. They’re all extremely close in both ability and temperament, so agreement would seem more natural than disagreement, even if they didn’t exist in a dissent-punishing environment. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever seen them disagree about anything.

“Go, then. When finished, report in full.”

“I go, All-Highest. I shall render a complete and conclusive report.”

So this is going to be our first demonstration of an Eddorian in action against ordinary people; one alien super-being against a human nuclear power; even if you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen and how from the setup, it should be good stature-building for our ultimate villains.

This was a short segment. Next time, we check in on the opposition and their take on things.

Lensman: Inappropriate Measures

Triplanetary 3 – Chapter 1: Arisia and Eddore

Welcome to the read! In this installment we’re going to finish off the chapter, which is mostly the Arisian response to encountering the Eddorians and all their awfulness.

“We, the Elders of Arisia in fusion, are here.” A grave, deeply resonant pseudo-voice filled the Eddorians’ minds; each perceived in three-dimensional fidelity an aged, white-bearded human face.

Later on, we learn that the term ‘in fusion’ refers to a specific telepathic state of cooperation, but at this point it still works because it could just as easily be a fancy way of saying ‘together,’ like the slightly archaic term ‘in concert.’ There’s a lot of invented slang in this series, it would fit right in.

Also, notice how the Elders manifest as an explicitly ‘human’ face, even though this is ~2 billion years before humans have evolved. Arisians are sufficiently human-like (at least in appearance) that the adjective can be applied to them without the -like. That’s how much we’re supposed to identify with them.

“You of Eddore have been expected. The course of action which we must take has been determined long since.

This is a hard to reconcile with previous statements that the two races were ‘completely in ignorance of each other’ before this meeting. You could possibly take it to mean that the Arisians have had a Batman-style contingency plan for making contact with powerful and hostile aliens, although referring to them by name makes that interpretation a bit awkward.

You will forget this incident completely. For cycles upon cycles of time to come no Eddorian shall know that we Arisians exist.”

Even before the thought was issued the fused Elders had gone quietly and smoothly to work. The Eddorians forgot utterly the incident which had just happened. Not one of them retained in his conscious mind any inkling that Eddore did not possess the only intelligent life in space.

This seems like it depicts an overwhelming advantage for the Arisians, being able to remove memories from even the strongest of the opposition with little effort or apparent resistance. If they can do that, how can the Eddorians contest them at all? Well, that gets answered a little later on, but I’d just like to add here that the only memories the Arisians are removing are those which the Eddorians would probably want to be rid of: memories of an alien species which approaches (and in some cases surpasses) their own abilities, something they’re inherently incapable of accepting.

* * * * *

And upon distant Arisia a full meeting of minds was held.

“But why didn’t you simply kill them?” Enphilistor asked. “Such action would be distasteful in the extreme, of course—almost impossible—but even I can perceive….” He paused, overcome by his thought.

Here it is: one of the Arisians, probably the most sympathetic character introduced so far, and he’s proposing xenocide. The worst part is that he’s more-or-less right to do so. The Eddorians have been set up very specifically to be a problem that can really only be solved by total extermination. They can’t be reformed, because they’re inherently evil; they can’t be bargained with, because their need to dominate is too extreme; they can’t be imprisoned, because they’re too powerful and ingenious – even interdimensional banishment wouldn’t do; they can’t even be left alone, because they are actively seeking to subject as many other beings as possible to slavery or death, and standing by while they did that would be more wicked. Unfortunately, most of those are justifications for genocide that have been applied in the real world to real groups of people.

Sure, this is fiction, but so is the Nazi antisemitic narrative, and so is the white supremacist anti-black narrative, and so on. They’re all stories where, inside the fiction, the most extreme racist arguments and goals are correct. It’s not great, and its important to be aware of as a reader.

“That which you perceive, youth, is but a very small fraction of the whole. We did not attempt to slay them because we could not have done so. Not because of squeamishness, as you intimate, but from sheer inability.

This is the start of the deconstruction of the apparent Arisian overwhelming advantage: they cannot kill the Eddorians. Note that killing them is not the wrong thing to do, it’s just impractical.

The Eddorian tenacity of life is a thing far beyond your present understanding; to have attempted to kill them would have rendered it impossible to make them forget us.

Here’s an explicit limit of the Arisian ability to affect the Eddorians.

We must have time… cycles and cycles of time.” The fusion broke off, pondered for minutes, then addressed the group as a whole:

“We, the Elder Thinkers, have not shared fully with you our visualization of the Cosmic All, because until the Eddorians actually appeared there was always the possibility that our findings might have been in error. Now, however, there is no doubt.

This ‘visualization of the Cosmic All’ is a concept better developed much later on, but I think that it’s the most narratively problematic of all the concepts in the story (as opposed to socially problematic). The short version is that the elders of Arisia can deduce the future in great detail, and it has a tendency to badly undermine the dramatic tension. I’m given to understand that in the story as it was published in Astounding Stories this ability existed in a substantially less irritating form.

The Civilization which has been pictured as developing peacefully upon all the teeming planets of two galaxies will not now of itself come into being. We of Arisia should be able to bring it eventually to full fruition, but the task will be long and difficult.

This seems to be a remnant of that less irritating form – they are not fully certain of their ability to overcome the Eddorian influence.

“The Eddorians’ minds are of tremendous latent power. Were they to know of us now, it is practically certain that they would be able to develop powers and mechanisms by the use of which they would negate our every effort—they would hurl us out of this, our native space and time.

There it is, in no uncertain terms. In open conflict with the Eddorians, the Arisians would straight-up lose. This deviates from the usual racist narratives where a ‘superior’ ethnic majority is somehow threatened by an ‘inferior’ scapegoat race, usually by casting them as cunning monsters who are subverting society, and are best defeated by casting that society aside and confronting them with naked force. It’s almost a straight reversal, because the Eddorians (who are racially evil and must be exterminated) have the superior force, and the Arisians must rely on covert action.

That dynamic does kind of reverse itself once we leave the ancient prehistory era of the story. The Eddorians voluntarily withdraw, using layers of underlings to do the actual work, becoming secret masters by virtue of distance if nothing else. The Arisians, on the other hand, become much more public. I’ll get into that in more detail when it comes up.

I do think it’s a difficult sell, to go from showing the Arisians as apparently completely dominant in their first encounter with the Eddorians, to asking the audience to accept them as the underdogs.

We must have time… given time, we shall succeed. There shall be Lenses… and entities of Civilization worthy in every respect to wear them. But we of Arisia alone will never be able to conquer the Eddorians.

This is the first reference to the Lenses that will eventually make the titular Lensmen, but it’s purely foreshadowing, they aren’t explained at all. More significant is the admission that the Arisians will never be able to defeat the Eddorians alone. They need outside help, and given that they and the Eddorians are the only intelligent life in the galaxy, that help doesn’t yet exist.

Indeed, while this is not yet certain, the probability is exceedingly great that despite our utmost efforts at self-development our descendants will have to breed, for some people to evolve upon a planet not yet in existence, an entirely new race—a race tremendously more capable than ours—to succeed us as Guardians of Civilization.”

So the Arisians’ plan is to replace themselves with a better model. Unfortunately, their chosen method is breeding, which brings up a few issues. First, the Arisians are basically using the same method to create their successors as the Eddorians are using to create their slaves, with all the associated issues. Second, this is more or less eugenics, which was discredited due to its association with Nazi philosophy – it’s something that was very questionable to portray positively even in 1948 when this chunk of text was first published. So both in and out of the fiction, the Arisians’ plan seems kind of sketchy.

It’s actually very strange because the Arisians are totally sold on the concept of teamwork. The eventual defeat of the Eddorians is a profound expression of the power of cooperation. In the framework where one person’s strengths can cover for another’s weaknesses, there shouldn’t be any need for a single super-race to watch over the others, you could just have a group of diversely-competent people from many backgrounds sharing responsibility; and, until Book 6, that appears to be exactly what the Arisians are setting up.

I’ve mentioned before how this series juxtaposes certain old-fashioned prejudicial thoughts with what is almost a festival of diversity and tolerance. (Again, we haven’t seen much of the latter yet, but I promise it is coming.) I’m just now starting to see how extensive that strange duality is, and how much incoherence that conflict introduces into the story.

* * * * *

Centuries passed. Millenia. Cosmic and geologic ages. Planets cooled to solidity and stability. Life formed and grew and developed. And as life evolved it was subjected to, and strongly if subtly affected by, the diametrically opposed forces of Arisia and Eddore.

I haven’t yet spent a lot of words on the influence that Lensmen has had on other later properties, but this is so obvious I can’t really avoid it. Swap out the names of the elder races involved, and this passage could come right out of Babylon 5. In fact, I think there’s a good argument to be made that Babylon 5 is simply an adaptation of the Lensmen story into another product of the same era: the hardboiled/noir story. In that vein, all the things that are benevolent if paternalistic authorities in Lensmen (the human government, the telepathic police, the enigmatic elder race) are, in Babylon 5, at best much more morally complicated and at worst actively villainous.

Anyway, that’s the chapter. Next up we’ll have our first look at the manipulations of these two peoples on another species – our own.

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.