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Gray Lensman Paperback – April 15, 1997
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Gray Lensman quite literally starts with the climax of the previous novel and the cleaning up, then rolls on with a literally galaxy-spanning war against drug runners and sedition, punctuated by the clash of battlefleets and super-weapons on a scale few other authors would even contemplate, its villains to a man (and woman) starkly brilliant and capable, countered only be heroes even more so - from the winged, many-limbed and stalk-eyed Worsel of Velantia to the cowardly, self-effacing and terrifying Nadrek of Palain VII whose physical form could only be described in negatives and who partly existed in a hyper-dimension so as to be able to survive at temperatures where liquid water is a hellish brew of pure destruction.
"Gray Lensman" begins where "Patrol" left off, and never flags, from the start to the finish.
Smith at this point is a massively improved writer from the author of the earlier Skylark series, and much more confident in his characters: Richard Seaton, for instance, never has the moments of self-doubt that trouble Kinnison, and would certainly never burst into tears (as the latter does when his nurse won't feed him beefsteak in hospital!).
Even more unexpected is the development of an impish sense of humour, manifested in several places, but most notably in the exploits of Wild Bill Williams of Aldebaran II, in the present volume — surely one of the most entertaining episodes in the whole of Golden Age SF.
I've never understood critics — including the normally-perspicacious Brian Aldiss* — who say that Smith couldn't write. True, he probably never gave T.S. Eliot (his exact contemporary) any sleepless nights, and better authors have certainly stood on his shoulders; but the Lensman series is F-U-N, and without it the SF world would be a much duller place.
*in Billion Year Spree, later revised as Trillion Year Spree.