The Skylark of Space by Edward Elmer “Doc” Smith
Written between 1915 and 1921.
Serialized in August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories.
Published in hardback in 1946
From Hugo Gernsback’s forward.
Perhaps it is a bit unethical and unusual for editors to voice their opinion of their own wares, but when such a story as “The Skylark of Space” comes along, we just feel as if we must shout from the housetops that this is the greatest interplanetarian and space flying story that has appeared this year. Indeed, it probably will rank as one of the great space flying stories for many years to come. The story is chock full, not only of excellent science, but woven through it there is also that very rare element, love and romance. This element in an interplanetarian story is often apt to be foolish, but it does not seem so in this particular story.
We know so little about intra-atomic forces, that this story, improbable as it will appear in spots, will read commonplace years hence, when we have atomic engines, and when we have solved the riddle of the atom.
You will follow the hair-raising explorations and strange ventures into far-away worlds with bated breath, and you will be fascinated, as we were, with the strangeness of it all.
This is one of the first science fictions books I ever read. It has everything.
Faster than Light Spaceships.
“But nothing can possibly go that fast, Mart, it’s impossible. How about Einstein’s theory?”
That is a theory, this measurement of distance is a fact, as you know from our tests.”
That’s right. Another good theory gone to pot.”
Seaton focused the great attractor upon the fugitive car and threw in the lever which released the full force of that mighty magnet.
“the power is liberated as a similar attractive force but is focused upon the first object in line with the axis of the bar. As long as the current is applied it remains focused upon that object, no matter what comes between.”
The pistol cracked, and when the bullet reached its destination the great stone was obliterated in a vast ball of flame. After a moment there was a deafening report—a crash as though the world were falling to pieces. Both men were hurled violently backward, stumbling and falling flat. Picking themselves up, they looked across the valley at the place where the boulder had stood, to see only an immense cloud of dust, which slowly blew away, revealing a huge hole in the ground. They were silent a moment, awed by the frightful power they had loosed.
Well, Mart,” Seaton broke the silence, “I’ll say those one-milligram loads are plenty big enough”.
“Good God! It’s a dead sun, and we’re nearly onto it! It looks as large as our moon!”
Iron men in iron spaceships.
He could not move his body, which was oppressed by a sickening weight. His utmost efforts to breathe forced only a little of the life-giving oxygen into his lungs, which smarted painfully at the touch of the undiluted gas, and he felt that he could not long retain consciousness under such conditions. Nevertheless, he summoned all his strength and advanced the lever one more notch.
Dastardly villains beyond redemption
Seaton stepped impulsively toward DuQuesne with his hand outstretched.
“You’ve squared your account, Blackie. Say the word and the war’s all off.”
DuQuesne ignored the hand and glanced coldly at the group of eager, friendly faces. “Don’t be sentimental,” he remarked evenly as he turned away to his room.
Weird life forms inhabiting strange and savage worlds.
The scene, so quiet a few moments before, was instantly changed. The trees, the swamp, and the air seemed filled with monsters so hideous as to stagger the imagination. Winged lizards of prodigious size hurtled through the air, plunging to death against the armored hull. Indescribable flying monsters, with feathers like birds, but with the fangs of tigers, attacked viciously. a body ten feet in length leaped at the window in front of her, its terrible sting spraying the glass with venom. As it fell to the ground, a huge spider—if an eight-legged creature with spines instead of hair, many-faceted eyes, and a bloated, globular body weighing hundreds of pounds, may be called a spider—leaped upon it and, mighty mandibles against poisonous sting, the furious battle raged. Several twelve-foot cockroaches climbed nimbly across the fallen timber of the morass and began feeding voraciously upon the body of the dead dinosaur. But the fighters were rudely interrupted, and the earthly visitors discovered that in this primitive world it was not only animal life that was dangerous. The great tree standing on the farther edge of the island suddenly bent over, lashing out like a snake and grasping both. It transfixed them with the terrible thorns, which were now seen to be armed with needlepoints and to possess barbs like fish-hooks. It ripped at them with the long branches, which were veritable spears. The broad leaves, armed with revolting sucking disks, closed about the two animals, while the long, slender twigs, each of which was now seen to have an eye at its extremity, waved about, watching each movement of the captives from a safe distance.
Disembodied Super Intelligences
“I see you’re surprised at my knowing your language. You’re a very inferior race of animals—don’t even understand telepathy, don’t understand the luminiferous ether, or the relation between time and space. Your greatest things, such as the Skylark and your object-compass, are merely toys. All of you are extremely low in the scale. Such animals have not been known in our universe for ten million years, which is as far back as I can remember. You have millions of years to go before you will amount to anything; before you will even rise above death and its attendant necessity, sex.”
Engineering over kill.
She saw a spherical shell of hardened steel armor-plate, fully forty feet in diameter; though its true shape was not readily apparent from the inside, as it was divided into several compartments by horizontal floors or decks. In the exact center of the huge shell was a spherical network of enormous steel beams. Inside this structure could be seen a similar network which, mounted upon universal bearings, was free to revolve in any direction. This inner network was filled with machinery, surrounding a shining copper cylinder. From the outer network radiated six mighty supporting columns. These, branching as they neared the hull of the vessel, supported the power-plant and steering apparatus in the center and so strengthened the shell that the whole structure was nearly as strong as a solid steel ball.
Fur covered spacesuits.
With unerring precision, the two ships were brought into place and held together by the attractor. As the doors were opened, there was a screaming hiss as the air of the vessels escaped through the narrow crack between them. The passengers saw the moisture in the air turn into snow, and saw the air itself first liquefy and then freeze into a solid coating upon the metal around the orifices at the touch of the frightful cold outside—the absolute zero of interstellar space, about four hundred sixty degrees below zero in the every-day scale of temperature. The moisture of their breath condensed upon the inside of the double glasses of their helmets, rendering sight useless.
The occasional act of genocide.
“Thanks to you, the Mardonalian forces, instead of wiping us out, are themselves destroyed, while only a handful of our vessels have been lost, since the grand fleet could not arrive until the battle was over, and since the vessels that would have thrown themselves away were saved by your orders, which I heard. Thanks to you, we are not even crippled, though our capital is destroyed and the lives of some unfortunates, who could not reach the pits in time, have probably been lost. Thanks to you,” he continued in a ringing voice, “and to the salt and the new source of power you have given us, Mardonale shall now be destroyed utterly!”
Doc Smith threw in everything including the kitchen sink. I mean that literally. He even describes the kitchen arrangements aboard the Skylark.
It was a golden age of science fiction. That golden age being when you are thirteen.
Public domain free versions of the Skylark of Space can be found here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20869
It also can be purchased from Amazon.