My latest science fiction read, Triplanetary by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1948), was given to me from the duplicates pile of the lovely choo. E. E. Smith was a chemical engineer who started writing science fiction in the 1920s and pioneered the space opera genre of sci-fi.
Triplanetary is the first book in the Lensman series, and (from what I can read on the Internets) was kind of a prequel to the rest of the books in the series that was fashioned together from earlier writings by Smith. The bulk of the book is the serialized novella "Triplanetary," printed in Amazing Stories in 1934 [and which you can read here thanks to Project Gutenberg -- and even if you don't read it all, scroll down through the text to see the Amazing Stories covers and illustrations that accompanied the serial. Nice.]
This book begins with two ultra-long lived, all-powerful alien races. One (the good guys) has the goal of encouraging Civilization and democracy and attaining peace in the universe. The other (the bad guys) want to rule all the planets in the universe with an iron fist. The good guys find out about the bad guys, but they are more powerful so they hide their own existence. The bad guys carry on with their plan, while in the background the good guys encourage the growth of democratically enlightened and technologically sophisticated societies on Earth and nearby planets. The good guys have foreseen that to save the universe, they will eventually have to mate with a highly-evolved form of human, uniting the strengths of the two races and ensuring the destruction of the bad guys.
The problem is, the bad guys keep noticing the nascent societies and infiltrating them with bad-guy-spies that end up destroying all the good guys' work. We are led through Atlantis (good guy society) and its destruction (by the bad guys); Rome (good guy society) and its fall (by the bad guys -- Nero was a spy, don't you know); World War I (instigated by bad guys) and World War II (also bad guys). Finally, about halfway through the book we end up in future (from that point on, the text is basically that of the 1934 serial by the same name). There our space opera really begins, with a valiant hero, his brave but womanly love interest, and lots of cool space ships, physics, aliens, and guns.
I won't get into all the details here, except for one: on a distant and unknown planet a highly developed aquatic race called the Nevians have managed to harness the atomic power of iron and make it do amazing things. The problem is, they have hardly any iron on their planet. So they make an insanely cool spaceship to go out into the universe and find some. Eventually they run into Earth and start sucking all the iron out of Pittsburgh with their special ray. This ray shoots into the city and immediately vaporizes and takes any iron in all the buildings, machines, earth, and people. That's right, if this ray hits you, all the iron in your blood is removed. Your blood turns white and you die instantly. Now that is a cool ray.
I really enjoyed this book -- Smith has an entertaining writing style, with nice action sequences, and fun science stuff. His weak point is romance, but there isn't too much of that to get in the way of the fun. I plan to continue on with the lovely Lensman series.
[Back cover here.]