I tried to read Triplantary when I was younger, and gave up on the book pretty quickly. I've recently found out that the first two books in the series, Triplanetary and First Lensman, were written as prequels.

I'd like to give E. E. Smith's writing another chance, and I'm considering starting with the third book, Galactic Patrol, as it was the first one written. Was the series intended to be read with the prequels first? Are there any spoilers to the later books in the prequels?

up vote 13 down vote accepted

You'll be fine to start with Galactic Patrol, and in fact if you start with Triplanetary (as I did, many years ago) you'll get confused when you get to Galactic Patrol and things get quite different (and somewhat inconsistent).

  • What order would you advise after Galactic Patrol? – Jonathon Oct 27 '16 at 18:59
  • @JonathonWisnoski I'd carry on in publication order: Gray Lensman, Second Stage Lensmen, Children of the Lens, Triplanetary, First Lensman, Masters of the Vortex. – Mike Scott Oct 28 '16 at 5:57

The situation is even worse than that; Dr Smith originally set Galactic Patrol in a universe explicitly different from Triplanetary. There are other differences as well; the Arisians are not omniscient and infallible in the original Lensman series, for instance. He seems to have ret-conned Triplanetary while writing Children of the Lens, but changed the Arisians for the book versions, making rather a fuss about their omniscience (implausibly, IMHO) in First Lensman. The changes to the Arisians were not thought through, however; there’s no justification for their needing four bloodlines, with three as backups, in the ret-conned version, though it makes sense in the original. Æsthetically, in my opinion, the ret-con changes are even worse, so read the original magazine versions if you can. I’m recording the differences at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Lensman_series#Differences_between_the_original_and_ret-con_versions_of_the_series

I can only address a small part of your question, about the spoilers: there are two versions of Triplanetary, one of which has an extensive introduction added on. This introduction pretty much spoils the entire Arisia-Boskone-Eddore backstory that's gradually unfolded through the main series.

  • I read a version of Triplanetary in the early eighties that seemed to go on and on about galactic history, which is why I gave up on it; it sounds like this is what you're describing. – neilfein Feb 4 '11 at 19:07
  • @neilfein: Sounds like skipping the intro or finding an edition without it is definitely called for, then. – chaos Feb 4 '11 at 19:08
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    I don't know that the non-spoiler version of Triplanetary was actually in the Lensman universe. – David Thornley Feb 6 '11 at 0:56
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    contrarian pov: i started with triplanetary, and found that knowing about the backstory in advance, rather than catching unfolding glimpses of it through the main sequence books, actually added depth and richness to my reading experience. the prequels were a bit of a slog, and i didn't start really enjoying the series till i hit 'galactic patrol', but i enjoyed the books more for knowing about the vaster conflict going on in the background – Martin DeMello Sep 6 '11 at 8:07

The actual sequence for "reading" the series should start with Triplanetary and move straight through to Masters of the Vortex.

  1. Triplanetary - (you can "skim" the history if you must, as long as you get the underlying story of Atlantis and the assorted other characters in play throughout human history opposing civilization as he describes it)

  2. First Lensman - This development of Triplanetary is important to defining the origins of the Galactic Patrol

  3. Galactic patrol - great story

  4. Gray Lensan - Same

  5. Second Stage Lensman

  6. Children of the Lens - I love this story - the four girls are truly fun characers to visualize.

  7. Masters of the Votex.

Also worth noting - There are THREE authorized post- E.E.Doc Smith books that are worthy of reading by David A. Kyle : The lnesman from Rigel, The Dragon Lensman and Z-Lensman. They just work the stories for these three non-human lensmen without distracting from the incredible work of E.E. "Doc" Smith.

I just started reading the series again a week ago and have ripped through to The Children of the Lens" already. Fun stuff.

Good luck.

  • 1
    Triplanetary is the "Phantom Menace" of the Lensman series. It is really the worst place to start, and its series numbering is really unfortunate. – Matthew Ratzloff Apr 11 '14 at 16:25
  • Also note that Smith authorized William Ellern to write stories in the Lensman universe as well, which he did through the '60s and '70s. This ultimately resulted in the novel New Lensman and the novella Triplanetary Agent. – Matthew Ratzloff Apr 11 '14 at 16:30

The lensman series started with Galactic Patrol as a serial in Astounding Science Fiction in 1937-38. It was followed by Gray Lensman in 1939-40, Second State Lensmen in 1941-42 and years later Children of the Lens in 1947-48.

I am sure the original order of publication is the right reading order today. The other books are just not up the the standard of the original four.

If you can find the original issues of the Astounding magazine in which they appeared , so much the better. For you will find yourself experiencing the Golden Age of science fiction in which Doc Smith was the most popular author.

  • Could you possibly mention the other books and why their not as good. – Edlothiad Mar 22 '17 at 1:19

Three possible orders:

The fictional order of fictional events is:

1) Triplanetary billions of years in the past to centuries in the future.

2) First Lensman soon after Triplanetary

3) Galactic Patrol Centuries after First Lensman.

4) Gray Lensman instantaneous sequel to Galactic Patrol.

5) Second Stage Lensman instantaneous sequel to Gray Lensman.

?) Masters of the Vortex Some say it happens after Children of the Lens but most say that it happens between Second Stage Lensman and Children of the Lens which is my opinion.

6) Children of the Lens About a generation after Second Stage Lensman.

However, some people might want to read them in an order that avoids spoilers. That order should be

1) Galactic Patrol centuries after First Lensman.

2) Gray Lensman instantaneous sequel to Galactic Patrol.

3) Second Stage Lensman instantaneous sequel to Gray Lensman.

4) Masters of the Vortex.

5) Triplanetary.

6) First Lensman. Think of Triplanetary and First Lensman as secret history lessons taught by the Arisians to the Children of the Lens as they grow up.

7) Children of the Lens.

Or a compromise order:

1) Triplanetary Omitting the first sections with the backstory.

2) First Lensman Soon after Triplanetary

3) Galactic Patrol Centuries after First Lensman.

4) Gray Lensman instantaneous sequel to Galactic Patrol.

5) Second Stage Lensman instantaneous sequel to Gray Lensman.

?) Masters of the Vortex Some say it happens after Children of the Lens but most say that it happens between Second Stage Lensman and Children of the Lens which is my opinion.

5a) Then read the first sections of Triplanetary with the backstory that the Arisians would tell the children of the Lens as they grew up.

6) Children of the Lens About a generation after Second Stage Lensman.

And I don't know the fictional order of:

Also worth noting - There are THREE authorized post- E.E.Doc Smith books that are worthy of reading by David A. Kyle : The lensman from Rigel, The Dragon Lensman and Z-Lensman. They just work the stories for these three non-human lensmen without distracting from the incredible work of E.E. "Doc" Smith.

But it would be really good to have them listed in their proper fictional order as well as the books by E.E. Smith.

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