I just finished reading First Lensman (1950) by E. E. "Doc" Smith, which was culled by the lovely Choo from her duplicates pile and lovingly placed on my pile of sci-fi to be read. First Lensman is the sequel to Triplanetary, and continues the Lensman series. Although it is the second book in the series (which, according to Wikipedia was the first group of science fiction novels conceived as a series), it was actually written last. The series originally started with the last four books, which were published in Astounding Stories. After their success, Smith reworked an earlier story into the novel Triplanetary, and then wrote First Lensman to connect Triplanetary to the other books.
So: many people don't like First Lensman as much as the rest of the series, since it is essentially an afterthought. Since I haven't read the four books that make up the original series, I'm going to have to say that I thought First Lensman was pretty good.
After saving the world from the iron-hungry Nevians in Triplantary, Costigan goes back to work with Virgil Samms and the rest of the rough-and-ready, very honorable, very manly, honest and trustworthy gang. They realize that they are going to have to create a Galactic-level force to monitor the universe, keep down the bad guys, and have everlasting peace. But how are they to do this when they can't understand half the aliens they meet? Enter in the Arisians, the ancient "good" race that has been orchestrating Civilization as we know it. They have finally found a man who is worthy of wearing their special Lens: Virgil Samms. He goes to their planet, gets this little lens thing on a wristwatch, and suddenly he is able to telepathically communicate with any other intelligent being.
As First Lensman, Samms chooses other people who are strong and good enough to wear their own lens, and sends them to Arisia for their induction. He naturally thinks that his smart, brave, intelligent, and totally foxy daughter Virgillia Samms (who mostly goes by Jill) would be a perfect Lenswoman. Jill, however, comes back from Arisia with a surprise -- she didn't get a lens. As she explains:
Women's minds and Lenses don't fit. There's a sex-based incompatibility. Lenses are masculine as whiskers -- and at that, only a very few men can ever wear them, either. Very special men... Men with tremendous force, drive, and scope. Pure killers, all of you; each in his own way, of course. No more to be stopped than a glacier and twice as hard and ten times as cold. A woman simply can't have that kind of a mind!
Ah well, at least she's got her looks. [And some totally awesome body language reading capabilities that are practically good as mind-reading. Seriously very fun.]
The bulk of the book deals with the build-up of the Lensman force and its fight against the political machine in North America that is trying to disarm the Lensman and destroy the Galactic Patrol. Plus some really rough outer-space drug trafficking.
Smith is great when he does what he does best -- action sequences, new technologies, and descriptions of other planets and aliens. The writing slips a bit when romance is in the air, and the political stuff can get a little dry, but overall there is a lot to like here. Not the least of which is the totally rocking cover on this 1970 edition of the book.
[Back cover here, if you are a cover completest like me.]