Skylark (series)

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Skylark is a science fiction/space opera series by the late E. E. "Doc" Smith. The first book The Skylark of Space (first published in Amazing Stories in 1928) is revolutionary in the genre, in which a scientist discovers a space-drive, builds a starship, and flies off with three companions to encounter alien civilizations and fight a larger-than-life villain.

The Skylark of Space was the first ever of a series which continued through three subsequent books—Skylark Three and Skylark of Valeron written during the 1930s, and Skylark DuQuesne (DuQuesne is pronounced "Du Kane"), written in 1963. R. D. Mullen declared that "The great success of the stories was surely due first of all to the skill with which Smith mixed elements of the spy thriller and the western story (our hero is the fastest gun in space, our villain the second fastest) with those of the traditional cosmic voyage."[1]

Science[edit]

The science in the "Skylark" series, while not entirely accurate, is believable: Newton's laws are obeyed, planets circle suns; there is description of something like a black hole or neutron star; and matter-energy conversion propels the spacecraft. The observation that a spaceship has covered a distance apparently impossible in the time elapsed is met with the response "Einstein's theory is still a theory. That distance is an observed fact"; such effects as time dilation and mass increase are simply ignored. This claim had more potential validity in the 1920s, when the story was written, than it holds at present; much like now-known-incorrect depictions of Venus or Mars in other classic space opera.

Summary[edit]

The entire series describes the conflicts between protagonists Seaton and Crane, and antagonist DuQuesne, which often break into open warfare. It also includes depictions of progressively increasing scales of conflict (equalled by progressively-increased technology) between themselves, individually and collectively, and a series of non-humans bent on universal conquest. When forced to coöperate against an alien species which had conquered one galaxy and was expanding into others, the characters conclude that the universe is large enough to allow peace.

The Skylark of Space[edit]

Allies: The humanoid peoples of the nation of Kondal on the planet Osnome, and particular Crown Prince Dunark.
Enemies: Dr. DuQuesne; the first of the "disembodied intelligences"; the peoples of the nation of Mardonale on the planet Osnome.
Technology: The discovery of a mysterious "platinum group" element (suggested to be an ultra-heavy, stable, and non-radioactive transuranic), designated "metal X", which catalyzes the total conversion of matter to energy under the proper stimuli [specified to include an electric current with (in the revised version) simultaneous activation by the radiation field produced by an early particle accelerator]; the further discovery that such activated metal can generate a field which is capable of accelerating a ship to faster than light velocities at accelerations (relative to the external universe) on the order of c, inferred to mean 300,000,000 m/s/s or 30 million g, but with forces inside the ship of no more than 10–20 g; and that such activated metal can be directed to focus on a single specific mass (such as the Earth) for location and direction. (The power used for maximum acceleration can be estimated from the total conversion of 400 lb of copper in 48 hours using E=mc2 as 95 kilotons/second. With an estimated weight of 4,000 tons, the conventional Newtonian acceleration may be estimated as 361 g, hence the propulsive effect itself is clearly not compatible with Newtonian physics in terms of pure propulsive effects) The gift (from the Osnomians) of the process for creating the super-strong, transparent metal arenak. "Attractor" and "Repellor" beams, which may be the first literary appearance of a tractor beam. The "educator", a device for transferring memories, and other learned information (including languages and skills or specialty expertise) wholesale rather than by conventional teaching methods.
Weapons: Radiation-free nuclear explosives, resembling handgun bullets based on "metal X". Various beam and plasma weapons developed from Osnomian technology.

Skylark Three[edit]

Allies: The amphibious humanoid species of Dasor, and the advanced but pacifist humanoid scientists of the planet Norlamin, all part of the same multisolar system as Osnome, called "The Green System". It is suggested that the entire Green System is a stable set of orbital pathways for multiple planets passing near multiple close stars in a complex but clearly stable orbital process, the mechanics of which are not clearly defined.
Enemies: Dr. DuQuesne, who is seeking to duplicate the capabilities of the Skylark and gain control of Earth; the Fenachrone, a semi-humanoid, highly xenophobic species bent on the conquest of the galaxy and the destruction of all other advanced life forms.
Technology and Weapons: An enhancement of the "educator", allowing the forcible removal of memories and skills. The "zone of force," a total stasis field in the ether, defined as "fourth order", akin to modern quarks in the subatomic system; advanced propulsion and weapons technology stolen from the Fenachrone; the refinement of these technologies using the total conversion capabilities of "metal X", as well as the science of Norlamin, into a comprehensive, massively integrated set of "fifth order" weapons, power, and a communication projector operating at the "first order below the ether" and capable of faster-than-light but still limited propagation speed. At the end of the novel, the spaceship Skylark Three has 20 times the acceleration potential of the original Skylark, via the Fenachrone drive which operates on the entire ship at once, rendering the interior of the ship effectively weightless.

Skylark of Valeron[edit]

Allies: The human peoples of Valeron, a planet of a highly distant galaxy.
Enemies: Dr. DuQuesne, who has succeeded in duplicating the capabilities of Skylark Three; the surviving Fenachrone; the full colony of "disembodied intelligences"; the inhabitants of a "fourth dimension" that Seaton and crew pass to escape the intelligences; the chlorine-breathing, amorphous, xenophobic 'Chlorans' attempting to conquer Valeron.
Technology and Weapons: Armed with the combined knowledge of the chief physicist and the chief psychologist of Norlamin, Seaton deduces that intelligent thought is a manifestation of "sixth order" forces, faster and potentially more powerful than the fifth-order forces powering the Skylark Three. By the end of the novel, he has refined this into the artificial "Brain" at the center of the spaceship Skylark of Valeron; capable of simultaneous thought, computation, and control of all forces from electromagnetism through gravity to thought and the other explored bands of the sixth order, and of the manufacture of the Skylark of Valeron to specification, by conversion of ambient energy into matter, within six hours. Valeron includes artificial gravity; the ability to travel intergalactic distances within months using accelerations of more than 5 times that of Skylark Three (the only benchmark value cited, the intergalactic travel capability noted requires systems with acceleration capability another 500 - 1000 x greater than that; however, this was the acceleration relatively near the end of the Valeron's journey and that the ship may have run significantly faster in unstated distances); a complete map of the entire universe in viewable three-dimensional form; and the necessary controls to direct communications and flight on multi-billion-light-year scales. Finally, the technology allows Seaton to capture and imprison the intelligences.

Note: In order to map the galaxies accurately enough to allow the Seaton-Crane party to return home, the Skylark of Valeron needed to aim beams of sixth-order force across intergalactic distances with great precision; which necessitated the use of setting circles of one thousand kilometers' diameter, with rulings every hundredth of a millimeter (modelled after the setting circles used to manually aim a telescope at a desired object in the sky.). As a result, the ship exceeds a thousand kilometers' diameter. For comparison, the largest asteroid, Ceres, has a diameter of 950 kilometers.

Skylark DuQuesne[edit]

Allies: The humanoid species of the Llurd empire and those of the Chloran galaxy. DuQuesne and the remaining Fenachrone, who are also threatened by the Chlorans.
Enemies: DuQuesne, who still attempts to murder Seaton and company prior to their alliance; the logic-driven, monstrous Llurd; the Chlorans (who, it is suggested, exist in multiple places similar to the manner in which various humanoid species exist throughout the galaxies, and occupy similar planets).
Technology and Weapons: DuQuesne builds a ship modelled after the Skylark of Valeron but larger and more heavily armed. After the Valeron is attacked by the Chlorans of galaxy DW-427-LU and reduced to a diameter of 100 km, Seaton rebuilds it with heavier armament. The scientist Tammon, one of the Jelmi (humanoid subjects of the Llurd Empire), develops a technology making possible instantaneous matter translation over large but unspecified distances, akin to a space-folding teleportation technique. Seaton later works with Tammon, greatly extending his theory of four-dimensional physics, and develops a defense against the transference device as well. Both involve fourth-dimensional shortcuts. The transference device is escalated to battle the Chlorans at the end of the novel, resulting in the destruction of the entire galaxy DW-427-LU, annexed by the Chlorans. The Llurd situation is settled peacefully by applying logic to appeal to the Llurdan leader.

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