Skylark of Space – first published 1928
One of my fondest memories as a child was being taken to the Linenhall library by my father, he would meet up with local poets and they would thrash out new poems together while waiting for him to finish I would read books in the library. It was here that I first found the works of E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith. I read the Lensman series as well as the Skylark series and it is the latter I wish to discuss.
The Skylark series began with The Skylark of Space, the first book was actually serialized in 1928. Smith actually wrote the book over several years beginning in 1915 and finishing in 1921 while he was still working on his doctorate. The first part of this series was co-written with Lee Hawkins Garby. In many ways it was a forerunner for interstellar travel stories as well as the earliest example of space opera. The Skylark of Space wasn’t seen in book format until 1946 and E.E. Doc Smith introduced several rewrites during that period.
What struck me about this series was the naivety of the writing the characters’ live in a world of black and white morals, good and evil with no middle ground. The main villains are corrupt mafia run banks and DuQuesne from Earth and nonhuman-looking aliens. On the other hand we have the main character Seaton whose discovery of a new element allows him to travel across space and even time. In his explorations he encounters many races, the more human looking they are the better morally they appeared.
As the series continued I noticed a trend for the inhuman to be the antagonists in the story however I also saw that the general feel of the story began to change, no longer was the writing style in shades of good vs evil but slowly, over time, DuQuesne began to grow as a character and in the final novel in the series Skylark DuQuesne he became an anti hero, sacrificing his life to help Seaton save humanity from an inhuman enemy by destroying their galaxy. The last novel was written in 1963 and has been called “The great success of the stories was surely due to the skill with which Smith mixed elements of the spy thriller and the western story” Smith managed to incorporate many Greek and Imramm Seaton’s voyage across the stars mirrors the supernatural voyage of medieval Irish tales such as the Voyage of Bran.
E.E. Doc Smith passed away shortly after releasing the Skylark DuQuesne, the transformation of his literary work is fascinating to study. I felt that the essence of the story had shifted away from Seaton towards DuQuesne. I would recommend this series and then the Lensman series which in some ways reflects on the role of religion and probably indirectly influenced Star Wars and the Jedi order.
He has worked with children in working class areas to help develop new murals, he has designed book covers and provided the images for Lapwing Publications and has had some of his poetry published in the Poets Place and also in online poetry ezines. Amos edits A New Ulster.