Book Review: Subspace Encounter

Smith-Subspace Encounter

Like most of E.E. Doc Smith‘s books, this is an enthusiastic space opera romp. It’s a weird genre that I’ve always felt he made his own. They have the Edgar Rice Burroughs vibe of continuous adventure and charging off to finder greater villains and greater allies in a lurid and fantastic pseudo-science fiction. This one does it less well than others, partly because it’s a posthumous re-stitching of an unfinished manuscript. That rarely goes well.

The story lurches between two groups of Psiontists (psychic scientists, how can you not love that?) in First and Second Space on either side of Subspace. One bunch are basically us, the other belong to a violent merciless culture. Needless to say they turn out to be pals regardless and gang up on the “red-skinned, hook-nosed” bad guys and remorselessly exterminate them. Oh, did I not mention that E.E. Doc Smith also has some of the most questionable near-racism and sexism laced throughout? If you’re easily offended by what feels to me like a genuine accident rather than deliberate prejudice then you might avoid some of his work… However, the relationships between male and female characters is always between the hulking super-masculine hero and the ballsy and smart chick, who is probably also a heroine. It’s confusing. And sometimes they are smart, courageous and sexy.

There is also classic dialogue, especially when the characters are in dialect:  “I’m hungrier’na bitch whanker with nine cubs, so let’s get to scoffin’ huh?” The story’s not much in this (it’s a sequel to Subspace Explorers which is more fun), but the political system and cultural differences presented in Second Space and gleefully over the top, such as all criminals being “eaglemeat”, and the fantastical engines and machines they have make this enjoyable sci-fi fun.

It’s okay, but if you’re looking for his good stuff, read Skylark.

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