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While granting up front such things are likely to end tears
What would a modern attempt to emulate the Lensman series, this time with better prose, look like? Assume "it would have better prose" is covered.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

The inherent incorruptibility of the Lensmen is probably the biggest problem for a modern version. Having lots of technologically advanced aliens seems a bit old-fashioned, too.

The problem of having superintelligent aliens around (who inevitably prove to not be as useful as humans) is that it's already been the plot of half the episodes of Star Trek and its various spinoffs. "It's been done" doesn't even begin to cover it.

Yeah. John Cramer had characters which automagically acquired incorruptiblility when they acquired their genetic manipulation powers which I found annoyingly convenient... (In Einstein's Bridge).

Yeah. John Cramer had characters which automagically acquired incorruptiblility when they acquired their genetic manipulation power...

Heinlein refused to duck this issue when writing "Solution Unsatisfactory," at the cost of having the nuclear-arms-race story's ending be, well, unsatisfactory. One incorruptible guy frvmrf vapbzcnenoyr qrfgehpgvir cbjre, juvyr nggrzcgvat gb ohvyq n arne-vapbeehcgvoyr vafgvghgvba (gur Cngeby) gb unaqyr vg nsgre uvf qrngu, naq juvyr xrrcvat gur qrfgehpgvir cbjre bhg bs gur unaqf bs nalobql ryfr.

Doc Smith's Lensmen and Arisians come up in a letter Robert Heinlein exchanged with John Campbell while writing and editing this story.

Heinlein, 2 Jan 1941:
"...E.E. Smith was faced with the identical problem in the Lensman series and was forced to bring in the supermen, the Arisians, to examine each lensman for integrity. But this is a story of how poor imperfect man might struggle with it---and probably fail. [...] As I see it, the problem is one of achieving 99.44% reliable police. There is the hitch---and it is a lulu. The worst of it is that this fantasy may be grim reality in a year or two---to you and to me and to all of us. Then, by damn, we will have to try, whether we like it or not."

Do you mean actually trying to duplicate the Lensman series -- that is, writing it as though the Lensman series had never been written before and you were Doc Smith of 2014 trying to write it TODAY with all the same ideas, etc. but modern prose? Or trying to adapt it to modern sensibilities, including perhaps dealing with modern perceptions of incorruptibility, etc? Or what?

Well, the Doc Smith of 2014 would no doubt have different perceptions and sensibilities than the one of 1948...

Flynn's Hounds in his far future series that starts with The January Dancer might fit the bill...

... except that that whole series, for me, somehow totally lacks a sense of wonder and reason to keep reading it. He managed to make a galaxy-spanning groups of civilizations, with Forerunner artifacts and various types of ship, and a resistance movement of some sort, modelled on the IRA-with-bards, be BORING AS HECK.

Someone else might pluck them out of his stuff and write them better, though, I'll admit to that.


Since I think Smith's wild enthusiasm is a crucial part of the books, they could be in better prose, but they shouldn't be in normal prose. What would they look like if they'd been written by Nova-era Delaney?

Other than that, I don't know. More diversity, including werewolves, vampires, and fae as well as a wider range of humans.

There would be mystery plots on the small scale as well as the question of who's behind interstellar criminality. And conventional romance plots of extended love stories between people who don't like each other and shouldn't.

The books would be much longer.

There would be graphic sex and violence.

I'm not sure how the incorruptibility question could be handled. I'm surprised no one has written a grim and gritty version of Lensmen already, or have I missed it?

It's called post-Eighties Green Lantern.

I'm tempted to try writing it to find out, but I'd have to read past Triplanetary, as I have a feeling actually having read the whole series would be a prerequisite. The only Smith novel I actually finished was Skylark of Space, which I still have fond memories of.

You can skip Triplanetary. It's some of the weaker material, and I believe it was non-Lenman stories that were retrofitted into the series.

Spectres from Mass Effect.

Not so much above-the-law as "if a Spectre does it, it's not illegal" right up until one is branded "rogue" (massacres of innocents an alliances with the genocidal race of AIs). Generally considered heroic, but the nature of heroism can be either "The Cape" (Paragon) or "The Antihero" (Renegade). The literal power of the Lens replaced with political authority in a fractured universe. Fighting against gods (near enough) and helped by the remnants of a long-dead race (the Protheans are basically if Arisia was as confused as everybody else, but got a bit further and left admittedly scant records).

Mostly summing up from other comments here: the essential elements are:

- a multigenerational epic about a war between opposing superpowers that do their work through proxies
- one side is holds personal power as the highest goal, and the other side seems to be about civilization in a law-and-order sense
- the power side builds conspiracies and criminal organizations
- the law-and-order side breeds people as tool-exemplars and gives them super-powers
- the main series is about the tool-exemplars being introduced to the war, discovering hierarchy after hierarchy of enemies, and defeating them on all scales from personal battles to gigantic fleet actions
- scale of action and technology increases over time, but with interludes of smaller missions that build plot points for later use or inflict characterization

Anything else essential?

I like how plot points are built, but characterization is inflicted. However true this might be to the spirit of the original, I'd think I'd prefer a story where characterization is something that is developed rather than inflicted.

I'm a little afraid to say this, but it might look like _The Duke of Uranium_. The sequels try to look at abuse of power, and make a complete mess of it. But the balance between "oh, of COURSE we're the good guys" and "we're playing our clueless unreliable narrator for a fool" works pretty cheerfully for one book.

Let's add an extra layer of Meta. What's the 2014 version of "Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers" look like? :)

The Arisians would have to be morally ambiguous, with a number of human characters actively doubting that humanity's on the right side of the fight.

And a number of Arisian characters actively doubting humans are on the right side of the fight.

How about "women can have Lenses."

Can't believe it took this long.

(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
Been done. The Culture novels. Superhuman minds, evil foes, gigantamundo spaceships.

I hadn't seen that comparison before, but it makes a certain amount of sense, and makes me wonder if the Minds act as match-makers...

I'm sorry, but you can't separate the prose from the novels - without the deathless rush and the scale, the whiff of pulp, you'd have a different series. It might be better written, but it wouldn't be the Lensmen.

What you seem to get is something like the Green Lantern Corps, which was hamstrung by being in the same universe as Superman, Batman and Ambush Bug.

Also hamstrung by the Arisian-equivalents being morons.

Incorruptibility would seem to be incompatible with free will.

So maybe the Lensmen are just meat puppets for the Arisians. Those lenses are the control processors.

Part of the story is the Lensmen getting to the point where they have free will, or at least unpredictability for intellects at the Arisian level.

Edited at 2014-04-21 03:30 pm (UTC)


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