Triplanetary: A Tale of Cosmic Adventure by E.E. Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I've heard people rave about how Doc Smith's work was one of the early space operas and that it influenced many later science fiction masterpieces. This may be true, but I'm thinking that just because it was influential, doesn't mean I have to like it. And I don't much.
It's been pointed out by others that this book hasn't aged well, and maybe that's my problem with it. Then again, the Hardy Boys haven't aged well, and I still (guilty pleasure alert) like some of the series. But I read those as a child, so there's a bit of nostalgia that goes with my reading of the Hardy Boys. Not so with Smith's novel, Triplanetary. I wasn't a child when Doc Smith's first works came out, so I don't have that glittering/blinding cloud of nostalgia around his work, like the one that engulfs me when I read Hardy Boys.
Maybe seeing Flash Gordon reruns at about the same time that Star Wars came out back in the '70s caused a rift in my mind, a gaping gulf between "then" and "now" (or what was "now" at the time). Pan Star Wars all you want, but the original movie is both derived from the old Flash Gordon serials and a reworking of the trappings in a beautiful and brilliant "new" (again, speaking relatively of time) packaging. I loved it, and still do. Flash Gordon is laughable, and was laughable even when I was a child. And because it's laughable, I kind of enjoy the campiness of it all. But I don't take it as seriously as it takes itself.
And maybe that's my problem. Perhaps I went into this book ready to take it seriously, hence I was seriously disappointed. I can't look back on it and glory in the unintentional silliness of it all - the chauvinism, the absolutely terrible dialogue, and the deus ex machina (and here, I mean literally "machine") that jerks the plot in unlikely directions and destroys pacing. All of this makes for an agitating read full of overstimulus, like overdosing on cocaine or deciding, against all better judgement, that you should take the plunge off the 3 story tall water slide only to find that it wasn't such a good idea just as your butt clears the drop. Smith's attempts in this vein seem like a way to buy off, rather than reward the reader for patience. And I know not everyone wrote like that back in that day and age, so don't feed me the "His writing was a product of the time" line.
The one aspect of the book that I did enjoy didn't involve the human characters at all. I actually quite liked the alien race, the Nevians. But the whole mess between Triplanetary (the human alliance) and these amphibian aliens could have been avoided, had someone just stopped for a moment and talked about the abundance of iron resources available in the asteroid belt. Why didn't anyone think of that? Can't we all just get along?!?
So I finished the book. I can honestly say that. I won't be reading any more of E.E. "Doc" Smith's work, however. I've had enough. Too much, in fact. I can only be force-fed so many unlikely twists and perfect saves before declaring: "Doc Smith is to hyperbole in science fiction what Monty Hall was to giveaways."
Still, I liked the aliens. At least they made sense. In fact, rather than destroying the galaxy, the aliens are saving a bit of the galaxy by keeping my rating of this book at two stars, rather than one.
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