Gray Lensman is the fourth in the classic series of Lensman novels. The Lensman series came in second to the Foundations Trilogy for the Hugo award for best all-time science fiction series. The Lensman series, in order, is Triplanetary, First Lensman, Galactic Patrol, Gray Lensman, Second Stage Lensmen and Children of the Lens.
Gray Lensman is space opera par excellence, featuring resolute heroes, weird aliens, evil villains and enormous battles in space.
Only a few beings can be lensmen. The lens is a semi-living thing that gives the bearer telepathy, as well as other powers. In typical sexism of the day, only males of the species can me a lensman.
Kimball Kinnison, the result of a millenniums’ long selective breeding program organized by the benevolent aliens of Arisia, so that the Lensmen could be their weapons in the war against the evil Eddore, is our hero. Kim has been promoted to Gray Lensman, so good, so skilled, he literally answers to no one. He is the ultimate free agent. In the Galactic Patrol’s fighting the endless war with Boskone, Kim sees the Second Galaxy as the possible home of the enemy. After rescuing an entire planet that can also travel at faster than light speeds from a Boskone attack. Kim, for some reason, decides that it is the drug traffic that is a bigger threat to civilization than a whole hostile galaxy. So the rest of the novel deals with Kim in his attempts to infiltrate the Boskone organization.
Smith’s writing style is prosaic at best and his ideals are far bigger than the language he uses. But it with these big ideas and sheer imagination that Smith’s writing really soars. Whole planets travel faster than light, the “negashpere”; a ball of negative energy that destroys all it touches. Huge “Command and Control” ships control millions of other starship in battles. Limb regeneration is common in Smith’s universe and so on.
Typical of the 30’s and 40’s Smith does little to overcome the sexism of his time. Clarissa MacDougal, the heroine, is supposed to be Kinnison’s equal but she is nothing like that at all. And while written before World War II the rather nasty implications of eugenics and selectively bred elites are celebrated rather than denigrated, in the whole Lensman series.
Reading Gray Lensman is a must for science fiction fans. But it may be difficult for the reader to overcome some of the rather dated themes and ideals of the novel.