Lensman

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"Holy Klono's tungsten teeth and curving carballoy claws!"

E. E. "Doc" Smith's classic series, one of the very first Space Operas. As such, many classic Space Opera tropes were first seen in Smith's books, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the genesis of Science Fiction.

The series, assembled from initially-unconnected short stories in Astounding Stories magazine from 1937 onwards, details an epic battle between Good and Evil as personified by Civilization (and their sponsors, Arisia) and Boskone (and their sponsors, Eddore). Each faction is, in fact, the pawn of a different race of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who each have a grand plan for the sentient beings of the universe.

The Kinnison bloodline plays an important role for Civilization, since it was carefully bred over millennia by the Arisians to produce a race of super-beings that would ultimately supplant the Arisians themselves.

The title object, the Lens of Civilization, is an Empathic Weapon that initially grants its users Psychic Powers which vary in strength and effectiveness from user to user, as well as providing an identification for Law Enforcement that cannot be forged or duplicated and instantly kills anyone attempting impersonation. For certain, special individuals, the Lens is no more than a Magic Feather.

As originally written in the 1930s and early 1940s, the Lensman series consisted of four novels:

  • Galactic Patrol
  • Gray Lensman
  • Second-Stage Lensmen (note plural)
  • Children of the Lens

In the early 1950s, however, Smith wrote a lengthy prologue to an earlier (and previously unrelated) book of his named Triplanetary, which brought it into the Lensman universe. He also wrote an Interquel novel, First Lensman, to bridge the gap between the events in Triplanetary and the events in Galactic Patrol.

The Lensman series was later used as the starting point for a Japanese Anime movie ("SF New Century Lensman") and series ("Lensman: Galactic Patrol") , which took the basic outline and the names of most of the major characters and turned it all into a Star Wars ripoff. Doc Smith's estate attempted to sue the anime's creators over the series but the lawsuit was thrown out of court. Information about this lawsuit seems hard to obtain on the Internet, with the same rumors copied over and over again. The movie and a Compilation Movie of part of the series were dubbed in English by Harmony Gold USA; later, Streamline Pictures redubbed the movie with the original soundtrack and no cuts for content.

In 1963 the New England Science Fiction Association named their annual SF convention "Boskone" (a play on "Boston Convention) in Smith's honor. The convention newsletter is named "Helmuth", of course.[1] After a group of fans got in trouble with the Boskone organizers, they started up an alternative convention...and, of course, called it "Arisia."


Tropes used in Lensman include:
  • Action Girl - Clarissa Kinnison is surprisingly badass, given the time period.
    • Especially later on, Clarissa is quite badass for most time periods.
    • Her daughters, two sets of twins aged eighteen and nineteen, aren't far behind her and later on they turn it Up to Eleven - possibly twelve.
  • A God Am I - The Arisians and Eddorians, and even more so, Kimball Kinnison's children.
  • Alien Lunch: The planet Trenco, where anything has to be willing to eat anything in order to survive, and usually does - to the point where a creature will take pains to finish its lunch even while being lunched upon.
  • Alliterative Name - Conway Costigan, Kimball Kinnison
    • Oh, it doesn't stop there: Christopher "Kit" Kinnison, Kathryn "Kat" Kinnison, Camilla "Cam" Kinnison, Karen "Kay" Kinnison, Constance "Con" Kinnison...
  • Exclusively Evil - Nearly all of Boskone is so evil that virtually no prisoners are ever taken. On both sides of the war. Several entire Boskonian planets (all of them effectively planet-sized fortresses) are destroyed with no survivors over the course of the series.
    • On at least one occasion, Kinnison notes that the previous life on that planet had been exterminated to make way for the base; this is hinted at as being standard Boskonian technique.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Arisians and Eddorians do not engage in direct conflict with each other or with the lesser races, and instead work through cutouts and manipulation. This is because the Arisians are strong enough to keep the Eddorians more or less bottled up, but not strong enough to kill the Eddorians' elite councilmembers, and too much Arisian meddling with Civilization will hinder the development of the lesser races.
  • Amulet of Concentrated Awesome - Played straight by having the Lensmen's lenses amplify their Psychic Powers. For the Second-Stage Lensmen they turned out just to be magic feathers, as Second-Stage Lensmen are advanced enough to use mind powers on their own.
    • The Lens amplifies psi power in humans, it does other things for other species (some of whom are already naturally powerful psionically).
    • Even a Second (and on occasion a Third) Stage Lensman is advised to wear it when a maximum effort is required. Despite having done everything up to that point without it, Kim Kinnison makes sure he puts his on before duelling Thralian Prime Minister Fossten, and Kim's teenage daughters materialise Lenses for themselves out of thin air when directing their share of the space combat at the Battle of Arisia.
    • Due to being Loyal Phlebotinum, and the nature of mind-to-mind contact, it also functions as an impossible-to-counterfeit badge of rank, and a justification for Lensmen being incorruptible and thus above the law.
  • An Axe to Grind - the Valerian space axe. The universe's personal battle armour (and its associated energy shield) deflects most hand-held projectile and energy weapons, and the Valerians are fast enough, thanks to their origin on a high-grav world, to close the distance before the few exceptions can do much good.
  • Animal Eye Spy - Kinnison does this mostly, using everything from dogs to worms to infiltrate enemy bases or perform critical tasks. Nadreck takes a hint later.
  • Animated Adaptation: Obscure anime adaptation, Lensman Galactic Patrol.
  • Applied Phlebotinum - Ultrawaves, good for everything from FTL communication to X-Ray Vision!
  • Author Avatar - In Triplanetary, Roderick Kinnison is reading a Lensman-like sci-fi story when the news about Pearl Harbour comes on the radio. He comes out of retirement, taking a job in a munitions factory where his training in organic chemistry makes him a useful asset. E.E. "Doc" Smith, SF author, had a PHD in organic chemistry (although specifically related to foodstuffs rather than explosives). Would be a Canon Sue, except that Kinnison is ultimately defeated: ( shells and mines loaded at the factory are going off prematurely, killing good men; Kinnison walks away from the job rather than accept orders to violate quality control and safety standards - orders which could be implied as being issued under Eddorian influence).
  • Awesomeness By Analysis - The Arisians' "Visualization of the Cosmic All", which effectively gives them precognition from sufficiently analyzing a person or object.
    • Costigan also has a talent for figuring out the details of how to operate, repair, and modify both alien technologies and alien social interactions with a brief observation.
  • Badass Army - the Lensmen may have been SF's first, being equipped with small arms that vaporize a person, personal shields that can survive said small arms, a machine gun equivalent that can boil steel in seconds, 'caterpillars' giant tanks fitted with starship-grade weaponry...
  • Balance Between Good and Evil - Civilization v. Boskone
  • Bastard Understudy - Among Boskone (and their controllers, e.g. the Eddorians) it is regarded as quite acceptable, even praiseworthy, for an underling to scheme to supplant their superior – the idea being that if he's successful the superior is no longer fit (e.g. not cunning and ruthless enough) to hold their position anyway.
  • Batman Gambit: Used whenever Xanatos isn't available for personal appearances
  • Beam Spam - on a regular basis, escalating throughout the series.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Several tyrants throughout Earth history, including Nero, Genghis Khan, and Adolf Hitler, were actually guises used by Gharlane of Eddore. Also, an in-universe example with the scientist Bergenholm. In the second book, he comes up with the breakthrough to make the Inertialess Drive safe and efficient. Later, they find out that he was an Arisian.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Lensmen were referred to as "sublimated boy scouts" by one character, but Klono help you if they catch you engaging in piracy. Not to mention that they use planets as strategic weapons.
  • BFG: The Standish, the equivalent of a machine gun, and it replacement, the semi-portable.
  • The Big Board - Trope Maker, to the extent that the US Navy borrowed the idea.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology - the Palainians' metabolism has to extend into the fourth dimension in order to function in their native environment (Pluto is as far inside Earth's solar system as they feel comfortable living), and there are other races that take this to even greater extremes.
  • Black and White Morality: Yes and no. The Arisians defy this on numerous occasions, repeatedly stating that good and evil are ultimately relative, and the Arisians and the races of Civilization recognize that different races will have Blue and Orange Morality. However, from the perspective of the races of Civilization, personal liberty is recognized as a pole star to be desired by everyone, the rigid fascism and Social Darwinism of Boskone are utterly inimical to this, and the narrator does use "evil" as a shorthand for Boskonian actions.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Recognized among the races of Civilization, to the extent that different races' Lensmen have entirely different codes of honor and conduct. However, Black and White Morality still applies between Civilization and Boskone.
  • Boarding Party - many, many times. Justified in that the villains are space pirates by nature, and interested in loot as much as interruption of trade.
  • Brother-Sister Incest - Never happens in the books themselves, but the five Kinnison kids are the new ultimate beings – a race seperate from the rest of humanity and the founding population of a new species of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. One brother, four sisters, do the math. Vaguely foreshadowed (as strongly as the era would allow, anyway) in the last book.
    • There are also hints at one point that Christopher Kinnison might harbor a few unfilial feelings for his mother Clarissa...and maybe it's mutual.

...each of the Kinnison girls knew it would be a physical and psychological impossibility for her to become even mildly interested in a man not at least her father's equal. They each had dreamed of a man who would be her own equal, physically and mentally, but it had not yet occurred to any of them that one such man already existed.

  • Call to Adventure
  • Casual Interstellar Travel - After the Bergenholm drive was created.
  • The Chosen Many - The Lensmen as a whole. In point of fact, according to some sources, the Lensmen inspired another famous Chosen Many, the Green Lantern Corps. (The Corps' creators deny this, although later they made amends by adding GLs named after elements of Lensman.)
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Before the final battle in Children of the Lens, one of the Kinnison girls is trying to chain-smoke, but is so wound up that she only manages one or two puffs before stubbing the cigarette out and lighting a new one.
  • Clothes Make the Superman - The space armor in Triplanetary incorporates forcefields that can resist steel-cutting lasers rays. It only goes up from there.
    • True in a psychological sense as well, at least for Clarissa, who at one point thinks that she's competent enough wearing anything, or nothing at all for that matter, but when she's in her "grays" she can hit "Service Maximum".
  • Code Name - "Boskone" originated as the Galactic Patrol's secret codename for operations against the space pirates, unaware that the code name was devised by a Patrol scientist who was a physical manifestation of Arisian telekinetic power. They deliberately fed the Patrol the right name.
    • "Zwilnik" was the Patrol's codename for their operations against a drug smuggling ring at around the same time as Operation Boskone; by Kimball's time, the word "zwilnik" has become standard slang referring to drug traffickers.
  • Combat Pragmatist - Costigan. Kinnison also.
    • The standard Galactic Patrol hand-to-hand combat textbook largely follows his advice.
  • Cool Starship: The Boise, the Brittania, and the Dauntless all come to mind.
    • When one runs the numbers for the starship Dauntless, one learns that its power system can generate six times the solar insolation experienced by Earth. That is, Dauntless could, using 1/6th of its full power, take the place of the Sun for the planet Earth.
    • The Boise from Triplanetary. Humanity's first interstellar space ship, natch.
  • Dark Is Not (Necessarily) Evil: Initially, the frigid-blooded, poison-breathing, multidimensional Eich, briefed in a perpetual aura of near-absolute zero cold, are truly scary monsters and the epitome of evil. But later, the Palainians (a closely related species, about as similar to them as we are to Human Aliens) turn out to be honorable and reliable (if weird) allies of Civilization.
  • Deceptively-Human Robots - Most of Gray Roger's crew look outwardly identical to people, but given the setting's lack of processing power, they're effectively remote-controlled puppets.
    • Where's it say that latter bit? The setting has independently working robots elsewhere – Whole space fleets crewed by them towards the end of the series!
  • Deflector Shields - Usually referred to as "ether-walls" or "screens." Unlike their Star Trek successors, for ships these are almost always multi-layered (two or three layers is typical) and there's a final layer ("wall-shield") that's almost integral with the outer skin of the ship. When the wall-shield fails, that's it.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: Virgil Samms feels like this after establishing maybe second or third contact with the Palainians.
  • Disintegrator Ray - Without the later trappings of safety and convenience. The beams used really do vaporize their targets, with all the attendant thermodynamics, so best wear a shielded suit when firing unless you want your front half to be blackened cajun-style.
    • Depends on the weapon. Kim Kinnison fires his DeLameters while unarmoured on several occasions, and it's hinted that its ancestor, the Lewiston, can also be fired by an unprotected user. The Semi-portable projectors, on the other hand...
  • Dolled-Up Installment: The "first" novel in the series, Triplanetary, was originally unconnected to the saga, but later rewritten and expanded as a "Prequel".
  • Earthshattering Kaboom - In the third volume the bad guys' main base has a scuttling charge that pulverizes the crust of the planet it's on. This being the origin of the Lensman Arms Race, they have to find a way to beat that. So starting in the forth book, the superweapons of choice are planet-sized antimatter bombs and planets travelling in opposite directions and smashing the target between them. Yeah, beat that. (And they do, with colliding planets from another universe travelling at fifteen times the speed of light.)
  • Eldritch Abomination: Not only are the Eddorians already from a horribly different other continuum, but they have to disguise their appearances or mere humans will go insane upon seeing them.
  • Empathic Weapon - the Lens
  • Equal Opportunity Evil: Boskone dosn't really care what planet its mooks come from, as long as they don't screw up. On the other hand, the Eddorians are looking for the perfect race to be their front; and because of the very nature of the Eddorians, the more sexless, the better.
    • The Kalonians got the job initially because the only function of their women is the production of men. The Lyranians, on the other hand, are a Matriarchal society to the same degree. Give them a few years and a little bit of help... Helen of Lyrane and Clarissa Kinnison put a firm stop to that.
  • Eternal Prohibition: All illegal drugs are still illegal in the far future, as they should be; indeed, much of the Galactic Patrol's work is replicating a galactic DEA (with Judge Dredd's plenipotentiary powers). Drug pushing seems to be regarded as the most serious of crimes; the punishment is either death or corrective psychological therapy.
    • The Patrol focuses it's efforts on thionite, which is really nasty stuff (and more importantly, whose dealers are part of the Boskonian food chain). Bentlam weed, on the other hand, seems to be the equivalent of marijuana - the Patrol doesn't even bother mentioning it.
  • Everybody Smokes: Even the women. Tobacco is never once maligned in the series. Fine brand cigarettes are imported to Tellus all the way from Alsakan, all the way across the galaxy.
  • Evil Only Has to Win Once: Inverted. The Arisians point out to Helmuth that there is absolutely no way to defeat them, and that if humanity proves incapable of using the Lens to defeat Boskone, then they'll just let him conquer and corrupt this iteration of Civilization while they wait for another one.
  • Evolutionary Levels - Lensmen are graded on stages from First to Third; only specially bred individuals get past First-Stage Lensman.
  • Explosive Overclocking: Primary beams.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel - the "inertialess drive" and later, Hyperspatial tubes.
  • Fake Memories - supplied by the Boskonians whenever their agents bite the amnesia pill and on one occasion more benignly by Kim Kinnison in order to rehabilitate one of those agents, who had been their puppet since she was fourteen.
    • Kinnison once had Worsel give him false memories in order to sow disinformation among the Eich leadership.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: After the trio has been captured by Gray Roger, Clio has the following conversation with her guide:

"But I wouldn't want to keep on living!" Clio declared, with a flash of spirit. "And I can always die, you know."
"You will find that you cannot die," the passionless creature returned monotonously. "If you do not yield, you will long and pray for death, but you will not die unless Rodger wills it. I was like you once. I also struggled, and I became what I am now - whatever it is."

    • Later Conway remarks that the woman "isn't alive - she's full of the prettiest machinery and communicators that you ever saw!" Which leads to a major Fridge Horror moment when one stops to wonder just how many other of Roger's robots started out as human.
      • That's the original version of Triplanetary, before it was rewritten for the Lensman series. In the revised version, it's never implied the woman was anything but a robot.
  • The Federation - a multi-species multi-planet civilization is common these days in science fiction, written and visual (see Star Wars, Star Trek, Brin's Uplift Universe, et cetera) but it had a definite start, and it was here. Ironically enough, unlike most modern portrayals where the bad guys tend to be a single species, both the heroes and the villains were multi-species and multi-planet (the heroes unusually so for the time period and possibly still to this day).
  • Finish Him!
  • Florence Nightingale Effect - The Chief Surgeon and the Port Admiral try to set this up between Clarissa and Kinnison, only for the two of them to annoy the hell out of each other at first. Later, of course, they do fall in love. As the Arisians had intended them to do all along. They were the penultimates in their breeding program.
    • This is lampshaded early on: in the first book Triplanetary it's mentioned ... and demonstrated ... that the two breeding lines would instinctively be incompatible with each other until the time was right.
  • Friend or Foe
  • Future Slang - Lots of it, including "zwilnik" as mentioned above, but the most prevalent is "QX" as a replacement for "OK."
    • "Jets" replace "balls," as in "having the jets to pull this off."
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Practically every inventor or engineer in the series can whip up new devices or radically modify and rebuild existing ones in a matter of minutes, often in the middle of a raging battle. Justified in Fred Rhodebush and Lyman Cleveland's case, since they are the acknowledged world experts in their fields.
    • Kinnison (a combat officer) plays the role himself to a degree, on Velantia, but even here it's justified because the technical breakdown of the captured Boskonian battleship has already been performed by experts and the Velantian engineers are mostly duplicating from blueprints. When it comes to tapping the enemy's communications, however, he has to wait until his Chief Communications Officer arrives. Later in the series, he has technical experts to do the work for him.
  • Gender-Restricted Ability - Smith's stories had only one woman who was deemed worthy of the Lens. First Lensman had the Arisians Hand Wave it by explaining that the Lenses were intrinsically "masculine". Some of the authorized sequels just threw other Lenswomen in anyway. And a canon Lenswoman did eventually appear, throwing the original claim somewhat into question, but that's Arisians for you... they say whatever elicits the desired reactions.
    • The Arisians told the first crew of Lensmen Candidates that there would be, eventually, just one human woman Lensman, which was Clarrissa. Her daughters are not fully human, therefore the Arisians were not lying.
  • Gladiator Revolt - In Triplanetary, a small group tries to overthrown Emperor Nero (who is really Gharlane of Eddore.)
  • Goggles Do Something Unusual - The ultra-wave "spy ray"
  • Great Offscreen War: The Jovian Wars. There were at least four of them, they they resulted in the Triplanetary League forming from Venus, Tellus, and Mars.
  • Green Lantern Ring - the Lens.
  • Guilt-Free Extermination War: Depending on the book. In First Lensman, this is averted, but in chronologically later books, as the Boskonian war heats up, it becomes an axiom of battle that no quarter is ever asked or offered by either side, and belonging to Boskone is grounds for death without trial. Relaxed after the destruction of Ploor. The Patrol is getting thoroughly sick of the Mook turkey shoot, and lets the fleeing Boskonians return to their homeworlds.
  • Heavyworlder - The Valerians, who were originally human colonists, evolving into a Human Subspecies because of it.
  • Hero of Another Story - See the entry for Nadreck the Palainian under Magnificent Bastard.
  • Heroes Want Redheads - Kim and Clarissa.
    • The S Fnal tradition of redheaded heroines may trace back to Heinlein, or it may trace back to Smith.
  • Human Aliens - Kinnison not only manages to pass as a native on Thrale (a planet Civilization's run of humanity could not possibly have colonized – knowingly, anyway), but even manages to impersonate one of Boskone's officers there.
    • He did telepathically absorb practically all of the memories and skills of the Thralian officer he was replacing, and unknowingly had the Arisians filling in the blanks where he couldn't. His Lens also enables him to tell when someone is suspicious and blank their suspicions accordingly.
    • Also, in the Lensman universe, convergent evolution is a scientific fact: all the separate branches of humanity are virtually identical, even if they arose in entirely different galaxies. This is attributed to all non-Eddorian life in the known universe sharing an ultimate ancestor (the Arisians), meaning that species differentiation would be produced only by evolving in different environments.
      • This is brought up by characters in the series, where they will mention how close to baseline Tellurians a particular alien is, often saying something like "Tellurian to within ten decimal places." However, it is unclear as to whether the decimal places part is meant to represent an actual mathematical formula, or is simply tongue-in-cheek.
  • Humanity Is Superior - guess who runs Civilization? There were four species the Arisians selectively bred and eugenically improved for millions of years. The four races were the humans, the Velantians, the Rigellians and the Palainians. Humanity was considered the most desirable candidate of the four races because each of the others, despite being superior to humanity in many qualities, had a significant flaw: the Palainians were intrinsically cowardly and very bad at multitasking, the Rigellians too nonaggressive and unambitious, and the Velantians deficient in resistance to mind control and in attention span. Humanity, on the other hand, while having the fewest special strengths, had no specific weaknesses.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty - Gray Roger, like any good Space Pirate, tries to force himself on The Hero's Love Interest.
    • Subverted in that Roger is actually an asexual alien who reproduces by binary fission and is mainly just trying to figure out what this "sex" thing is and why other races think it's such a big deal anyway. When he says he wants to use her for experiments pertaining to sex, what he means and what she... and The Hero... think he means are two entirely different things.
  • Inertial Dampening - The Bergenholm inertialess drive, which was the origin of the trope.
  • Interstellar Weapon - The hyperspatial tube-launched planets are probably one of the more effective examples in play.
  • Jack of All Stats - Of the five Children of the Lens, Christopher. More generally, humans compared to other races of the Galaxy.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: The Lensmen generally don't bother with trials or due process.
  • Lensman Arms Race - Trope Maker and Trope Namer.
  • Loyal Phlebotinum - The Lenses, which kill anyone other than their owners who tries to wield them.
  • Mad Mathematician -- Sir Austin Cardynge. (Not actually insane, just... focused. Or perhaps Heinlein would call him unsane.)
  • The Man Behind the Man - the Arisians, the Eddorians (and the Ploorans, and so on down the Boskone hierarchy), Prime Minister Fossten.
  • Mecha-Mooks - Grey Roger's minions in Triplanetary. Played with in that the escaping heroes unhesitatingly gun down both robots and humans on sight without a moral quiver (they are enemy troops after all).
  • Mental Fusion
  • Mind Rape: Used heavily by the villains. Also occasionally by the heroes. Particularly Nadreck of Palain, although his entire race's moral philosophy differs radically from that of humans.
  • Minovsky Physics - Ultra-waves, ether, thought-waves
  • Never Found the Body - The nature of high-energy space warfare means you usually don't have a body to find, which Grey Roger uses –twice– to his benefit.
  • Nice to the Waiter - Even when he's infiltrating the bad guys' organization to work his way up the hierarchy, Virgil Samms refuses to take credit for work those under him did.
  • No Conservation of Energy: Averted hard; whether it's ray guns actually vaporizing people or Deflector Shields reradiating energy to their surroundings and setting them on fire, Smith is one rare sci-fi author who understands that not only does energy have to be generated, it also has to go somewhere.
    • Metal objects don't simply disappear - they glow, melt, and even evaporate if the beam is powerful enough.
    • In the climactic battle of the last book, anti-matter projectiles are used, and Smith very explicitly states that when an electron and positron collide, they annihilate, giving to two photons of *very* hard radiation. The really big antimaterial projectiles can fill volumes with diametres best expressed in light-minutes with lethal levels of ionizing radiation.
  • Nuclear Option: More like Casual Nuclear War, for lack of a better term. Several variants of atomic weapons are used: Super-atomic bombs which convert their entire rest-mass into energy, and duodecaplylatomate (or "duodec," for short), somewhat less energetic but apparently in wider use (perhaps cheaper?). And of course, the famous negabombs, "antimatter" projectiles that come in every size up to planetary mass. All are used increasingly liberally as the war escalates; expect no trace of any Nuclear Weapons Taboo.
    • Other passages suggswt that "duodec" is chemical high explosive with a yield otherwise only matched by nukes.
  • Old School Dogfighting: Averted - the closest thing they have would be speedsters, used for scouting and transportation.
  • Omniscient Morality License - The Arisians like to jerk the lesser races' chains a lot, but it's for their own good.
    • Of course, the Atlanteans, the Romans, and the Americans (and the rest of the modern-day nations of Tellus) might have a different opinion of 'their own good', considering what the Arisians permit to happen to them. And that's just Tellus...
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Velantians.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: Some physically human societies have either radically different nudity taboos or none at all, and Lensman are expected to adopt local customs unless some pressing reason not to do so is in play. Most of them are so used to it that they do not even think about it, but Clarissa strongly dislikes working in the nude (though she can and will do it if necessary).
    • A few human races are the opposite, as well, with clothing rules that cover everything, like the Tomingans.
  • Outside Context Villain: The Nevians in Triplanetary - when they first show up wreck both the patrol and the pirate fleets. Once the Boise gets the proper upgrades, however...
  • Pardon My Klingon - The Lenses assign random words to alien concepts with no direct human equivalent, and all the lenses use the same word afterwards.
  • Powered Armor: According to many, the Ur Example, certainly a very early one (decades before Starship Troopers). Includes protective force-fields, inertial dampening tech, rocket thrusters, a generous heat ray, and the multi-kilohorsepower engines required to move it around.
  • Power of Love: This is what enables Clarissa to find and bring back Kinnison after he went through the Hell Hole and was trapped in a far off dimension that not even Mentor and the children could find. The chapter's even called "The Power of Love".
    • Given the early publication date, would that make this the Trope Namer?
  • Prequel - First Lensman, the last Lensman novel written by Smith, which finishes linking Triplanetary to the rest of the series.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy - Worsel of Velantia, and also the confusingly named (Human) Valerians and their scion, Van Buskirk (who are a Human Subspecies because of the high gravity of their planet).
  • Psychic Block Defense
  • Purple Prose - Each space battle seems to be a test to see if Smith can one-up himself.

"And from the mouth of that gargantuan cone [of battle] there spewed forth a miles-thick column of energy so raw, so stark, so incomprehensibly violent that it had to be seen to be even dimply appreciated. It simply cannot be described." (... And he was only up to the second book in the series by this point!)

  • Ray Gun
  • Raygun Gothic - Before it was retro, even.
  • Rule of Cool - averted, surprisingly; the basic fictional scientific principles such as the Bergenholm drive, hyperstatial tubes, force fields, rays etc are all handled with consistency and care. Smith finds new ways to apply these principles, rather than applying Applied Phlebotinum. Even his predilection for the Boarding Party, and, of course the Valerian Space Axe Recycled in Space, are solidly justified.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge - Worsel, to avenge the millennia his people suffered at the hands of the Overlords of Delgon (not to mention his own suffering), vows to obliterate the entire species from the universe. Pretty much does. Considers the fact that he has to torture some of them for information to be a bonus.
    • This is a species that tortures its victims slowly to death in order to enjoy their agonies and then consume their life-force as they die. Little wonder that the Velantians' allies saw fit to help them destroy it.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens - Boskone is The Empire pitted against the democratic and free Civilization. Consider the stories were written in the run-up to, and during, WWII and I think you can see who they stand for.
    • It's probably not coincidence that the title of the Eddorian leader is also one of the titles of the German Kaiser ("All-Highest").
    • Also Cf. Helmuth von Moltke, German commander at the start of the First World War.
  • Schematized Prop - any and all weapons, but particularly the DeLameter blaster. Almost all spaceships.
  • Science Marches On - spaceships developed on slide rule, with fantastic beam weapons that use vacuum tubes! Given that every spaceship which flew in Smith's lifetime (d.1965) was probably drafted on slide rule, he wasn't doing too badly.
    • The GURPS RPG supplement threw in the explanation that the Arisians deliberately prevented anyone in Civilization from inventing the transistor or modern computing theory, because the entire point of the Arisian breeding program was to improve the powers of the mind. Allowing the existence of surrogate minds (i.e., computers) would have interfered with that development, by removing most of the need for heightened intellectual capacity beyond the current human average. Some canonical support for this theory exists – when the Arisian breeding program finally reached its end (i.e., when the Children of the Lens were finally born), Civilization did immediately start to develop advanced computing technology, as seen in both Children of the Lens and Masters of the Vortex.
    • Well before that, they already had Mecha-Mooks to crew at least some of their war fleets, and robots (albeit more primitive ones) were around before humanity had expanded beyond the solar system. Lensman information technology is ... weird by modern standards.
    • The early version of the Nebular Hypothesis that dominated the books' ideas of stellar and planetary formation, and the pre-DNA eugenics and Evolutionary Levels concepts used in the Lensman breeding programs.
    • The inertialess drive was theoretically possible when the books were written, but advancements in relativity and quantum mechanics have both made hash of it.
    • Negamatter. It's essentially antimatter, but as originally imagined by Paul Dirac in the 1930s. As such, it has negative mass and some other weird properties most scientists today don't believe it should have.
      • The vacuum tubes might not qualify, give that transistors can only handle very small power loads and tube circuits are very much more resistant to EM Ps and hard radiation.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted; Smith appears very much aware that he's portraying a galaxy-wide civilization. Here's the Gray Lensman on leading the assault on a major Boskonian stronghold:

Kinnison: "With around a million fleets to handle we can't spend spend much time on any one."

    • The starships of the Galactic Patrol use total conversion of matter to energy for their engines. At first, the power was conducted in meters-thick, liquid-helium-cooled silver busbars, because nothing less could handle it. It's specifically noted that to utilize their extreme power sources to their fullest, they needed to go a step further than that and discover room-temperature superconductors.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have a Nuke: In First Lensman, Roderick Kinnison suggests that the Galactic Patrol simply conquer North America by right of the bigger fleet. First Lensman Samms convinces him to cool his jets and challenge the Morgan political machine through free and fair elections instead, because Virgil Samms believes in the rule of law and seizing power by force would undermine the legitimacy of the Galactic Patrol. (Instead, the Lensmen rewrite the rules so that they are legally above the law.)
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Ploor is destroyed, the remnants of the Boskonian fleet flee back to their respective planets. The Patrol, thoroughly sick of killing mooks like shooting fish in barrels, lets them go.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Smith's character descriptions tend to be "This is what you should think about this character."
  • Shown Their Work: For such a dated series, Lensman can be surprisingly hard science-fiction at times.
    • 2-D Space: Averted hard. Englobement is a standard tactic, as is the Cone of Battle.
  • Space Battle: While most of the action centered on the larger-than-life heroes as individuals, occasionally the emphasis shifted to the larger-than-life fleets of space battleships they commanded.
  • Space Is Cold: During Virgil Samms's visit to a sub-zero planet, Smith takes pains to explain that vacuum is a very poor conductor. Heat loss to the metallic ground is a much bigger danger, on the other hand.
  • Sleazy Politician: In the prequel First Lensman, Senator Morgan, who mixes shady political dealing and ties with corrupt corporations and the mob with secret subservience to the evil alien empire. His chief aide, Herkimer Herkimer III, is probably the closest thing Lensman has to an utter Complete Monster. (Well, as far as human beings are concerned, at least.)
    • Morgan can probably also be considered a mild Strawman Political against left-wing economic populism.
  • Sleep Cute - Costigan and Clio Marsden
  • So Last Season - The powers of Civilization, Boskone, and the Lensmen keep going up and up and up.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil - The Empire of Boskone.
  • Space Friction - When you're totally inertialess, running into a hydrogen atom in the almost-perfect vacuum of space actually does qualify as friction.
  • Space Pirates
  • Stalker with a Test Tube - The Arisians have been interfering with most of human history, conducting a breeding program to produce humans with mental powers rivaling exceeding their own. The Kinnisons become the end result.
  • State Sec: The Galactic Patrol in First Lensman is a heroic example. They function as Secret Police and spy on Boskone's organization, but also quickly absorb the Triplanetary Service (a regular military outfit) and other military forces of Civilization, as well as building their own military fleet. By the time of Galactic Patrol, they have completely subsumed Civilization's government.
  • Starfish Aliens - The Nevians, Palainians and Rigellians, among many others. Thoroughly inhuman and occasionally monstrous aliens who (at least insofar as the named examples are concerned) are either humanity's allies from the start or become so.
  • Stun Guns - The Nevian Paralyzer gun. Most of the other hand weapons don't have this setting as default, although it's implied that they can be tuned or modified in the field to produce it.
  • Subspace Ansible
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens - Arisians and Eddorians. Arguably the Ploorans. All three races appear to be naturally evolved Level Three telepaths.
  • Super Prototype - numerous Cool Ships, from the Brittania to the Chicago
  • Reverse Mole - one of Kinnison's usual tactics, successful to the point that he eventually ends up running the Evil Empire in time for their (at that stage in the story) climactic battle with Civilization.
  • Taking You with Me: When fighting a losing battle, Boskonian gun crews purposely overload their weapons. This burns out the gun and kills the gun crews, but the resulting high powered beam is enough to break through the shields of the Patrol's defensive cruisers. It backfires when Patrol scientists figure out a way to safely use method, creating the devastating primary beam.
  • Telepathic Spacemen - The point of the story.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Helmuth receives one when he tries to visit Arisia:

Mentor: "Inflated -- overwhelmingly by your warped and perverted ideas, by your momentary success in dominating your handful of minions, tied to you by bonds of greed, of passion, and of crime, you come here to wrest from us the secret of the Lens, from us, a race as much abler than yours as we are older -- a ratio of millions to one.
"You consider yourself cold, hard, ruthless. Compared to me, you are weak, soft, tender, as helpless as a newborn child. That you may learn and appreciate that fact is one reason why you are living at this present moment. Your lesson will now begin."

    • Later, one of the lesser Guardians does the same to a couple of trespassing Eich.
  • The So-Called Coward - Nadreck refers to himself as a Dirty Coward. He's also probably the second most effective Lensman in Civilization, prior to the Children of the Lens; the fact that he doesn't stick his neck out leads him to take no risks and defeat the enemies of Civilization with consummate skill, efficiency and guile.
    • His race regards cowardice as a virtue. At one point, he's acutely embarrassed by the fact that he personally faced and defeated three enemies in single combat, instead of manipulating them into killing each other.
    • Eventually, the human penultimate, Kimball Kinnison, reluctantly comes to the conclusion that Nadreck is right about this, and that he has to adopt the same sort of ruthless, coldly pragmatic thinking to succeed.
  • Touched by Vorlons - several characters are touched by the Arisians to varying degrees, particularly the second-stage Lensmen in the later books.
    • In fact, the Arisians were largely the inspiration for the Vorlons in Babylon 5, as the Eddorians were for that series' Big Bad, the Shadows.
  • Tractor Beam
  • Translator Microbes - the Lens of Civilization.
  • Twin Switch - First Lensman Samms does a variation on this so he can infiltrate a drug cartel while under Patrol protection.
  • Types of Naval Ships: Played with. Speeders are smallest (room for one or two people) and fastest. Covettes, frigates, and destroyers aren't used at all. Cruisers are generally designed for specialized tasks, such as prevent hostile ships from going "free", scouting, or launching negabombs. Battlecruisers are used for commerce raiding (by the Boskonians), or for fighting commerce raiders (by the Patrol). Battleships and super-dreadnoughts are front-lime combat units although we see far more of the later then former. Finally, the slow maulers and super-maulers were designed for planetary bombardment, although thanks to the strength of theater shields they proved more successful in ship to ship combat.
  • Uncanny Valley - In-Universe. Both Grey Roger's robot slaves, and Roger himself, receive comments to this effect by various characters.
  • The Unfettered - Gray Lensmen, officially called Unattached Lensmen, are free to pursue whatever avenues they desire in pursuit of their moral duty to protect Civilisation, and answer to no one in the field. Technically they are answerable to the Galactic Council and the Port Admiral of the Galactic Patrol.
  • Unobtainium - Dureum, a "super-dense" metal which allows it to be used inside of Hypertubes.
  • Unusual Euphemism - By Klono's Carballoy Claws! Also a Future Slang version of Curse of the Ancients.
    • Klono seems to have whatever alliterative attributes the person swearing by him wants him to have: iridium intestines, gadolinium guts, und so weiter.
  • Unwilling Roboticisation: What happened to Clio's guide - and possibly others - in Triplanetary.
  • Wall of Text - It seems Talking and Talking and Talking is a free action...
    • To be fair, it's mentioned that telepathic communication is vastly faster than speech.
  • We Didn't Start the Führer, or the Kaiser, or Nero, or the Tyrant of Asia...
  • We Have Reserves: When Patrol marines storm a Boskonian battlecruiser, the defending officers have no reservations about tossing armour-piercing grenades into the melee, which kill almost as many of their own forces as they do of the Patrol attackers.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks - Iron, the basis of the Nevians' technology and economy: five pounds is a king's ransom, but to humans it's so common we build our ships' hulls out of it!
    • The "super-atomic motor" in the stories works by converting the total mass of the fuel into energy. "Allotropic Iron" is an artificially produced allotrope that packs a lot of mass into a very dense liquid, and as such, makes a very efficient and easy to handle fuel for their ship's atomic motors.
  • Worthy Opponent: Kinnison and Helmuth deeply respect each other's capabilities, which is part of why they each try so hard to kill each other.
  • Xanatos Gambit - not just the Arisian billion year plan (with redundancies!), but many of Kimball Kinnison's infiltration gambits require him to completely assume a new identity, at one point going so far as to systematically (and psychically) write himself into each and every portion of an enemy soldier's past!
    • To say nothing of the identity that required him to become an alcoholic drug addict, deflecting attention from himself by getting so smashed and high simultaneously that he could barely move a muscle. His mind, on the other hand...
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Helmuth is described as having blue hair, blue eyes, and blue-tinted skin. The anime adaptation, for whatever reason, chose to turn him into a forty-foot monstrosity. Something like Leader Desslok of Gamilon, of Space Battleship Yamato fame, is probably what was intended.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle - Except for the two prequels that he is not in, all of the novels end with Kim thinking that THIS time he's finally obliterated Boskone's leadership for sure... Although in Children... he begins to think that "there IS no top."

The Lensman anime contains the following tropes:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Conspicuous CG: For several spacecraft, a holographic Helmuth communicating to his minions, an illusionary chase sequence, and the Lens. The anime was one of the first uses of CG for the mass market.
  • Doomed Hometown: Boskone destroys Anime!Kimball's peaceful farm world practically as soon as the Lens is on his hand.
  • Evil Is Visceral: Boskone ships are purple organic-looking blobs, in contrast with the silver geometric shapes of Galactic Patrol ships.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The Harmony Gold dub used part of the score for the unreleased Robotech II: The Sentinels.
  • Streamline Pictures: Released a dubbed version of the anime movie. Harmony Gold also produced a Compilation Movie of the first episodes of the series.
  • Take Up My Sword: Kim is given his lens by a dying Lensman he finds when he saves the Britannia from crashing. (Of course, Lenses just don't work that way in the original series.)
    • The anomaly is immediately lampshaded in the film.
  • Tron Lines: Spreading from the Lens on the back of Kim's hand.

Notes

  1. Helmuth is an intermediate Dragon who always begins his messages to his underlings by saying "Helmuth, speaking for Boskone!"