The Skylark of Space
||This article reads like a review rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (January 2010)|
|The Skylark of Space|
Dust-jacket from the first edition
|Author(s)||Edward E. Smith, Ph.D.|
|Illustrator||Charles Schneeman (frontispiece)|
|Cover artist||Allan Halladay|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||The Buffalo Book Company|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Followed by||Skylark Three|
The Skylark of Space by Edward E. "Doc" Smith was written between 1915 and 1921 while Smith was working on his doctorate. Though the original idea for the novel was Smith's, he co-wrote the first part of the novel with Lee Hawkins Garby, the wife of his college classmate and later neighbor Carl Garby. The Skylark of Space is considered to be one of the earliest novels of interstellar travel and the first example of space opera, complete with protagonists perfect in mind, body, and spirit who fight against villains of absolute evil. Originally serialized in 1928 in the magazine Amazing Stories, it was first published in book form in 1946 by The Buffalo Book Co.
Plot synopsis 
Note: This synopsis is consistent with the novel in its later forms (1946 and subsequent editions) but differs in detail from the original 1928 text as transcribed at Project Gutenberg. There were significant changes between the 1928 magazine publication and the 1946 hardcover, and between the early hardcovers and the late 1950s and later paperback editions.
The Skylark of Space is the first book in the Skylark series and pits the hero, Dick Seaton, against Marc "Blackie" DuQuesne. The story features "whiz-bang" technology.[clarification needed] Seaton is intelligent, good-looking, young, and capable. So is DuQuesne, but he is totally unprincipled and has a lot of money. Seaton is an idealistic scientist making his discoveries for the good of mankind. DuQuesne is pragmatic, out only to gain personal power and enrich himself, and will go far beyond accepted standards of behavior to win.
Seaton accidentally discovers a workable space drive—when a newly discovered element “X” (suggested to be a stable transactinide element in the Platinum group) in solution spills on a copper steam-bath and a live electric wire on his workbench an unexpected event happens. The steam-bath shoots across the workbench, out an open window, and heads for the horizon apparently by liberating pure energy with no heat or radiation. Attempts to reproduce the event fail with others present. Seaton realizes that the missing "ingredient" is a field generated by DuQuesne's "whatsittron" (slang for a new type of particle accelerator) in his laboratory next door. Seaton gains legal ownership of the small jar of “X” solution in a rather ethically questionable way, quits work, and sets up a business with his friend, Martin Crane (who is a millionaire and an aviation mechanical engineer) to develop and build a spaceship. Martin supplies the money and helps design the ship and Seaton supplies the “X” and the knowledge of how to use it.
DuQuesne, observing Seaton's odd behavior and Martin Crane's interest, suspects Seaton has made a potentially significant discovery. He conspires to sabotage Seaton's spaceship and build his own from Seaton's plans. DuQuesne can only get part of the "X" batch so he builds his ship and uses it to kidnap Seaton's fiancee, Dorothy Vaneman, planning to use her as hostage to get the rest of the “X”. She resists, and in the fight DuQuesne's ship is accidentally set to full acceleration on an uncontrolled trajectory, knocking everyone on board the ship unconscious (which includes Dorothy, DuQuesne, a henchman, and another woman DuQuesne agreed to help his corporate "sponsor" dispose of). When the copper power bar is exhausted, the acceleration reduces to zero, and everyone regains consciousness, they realize they are completely lost and traveling many times the speed of light. (This is explained by saying “Einstein's theory is just a theory, and theory must be adjusted to fit the observed facts”, still a mildly reasonable assertion in the era the story was written)
Luckily, during Seaton's experiments a few interesting additional applications were found including an "Object Compass" that once locked on any object, always points toward that object. Seaton had previously locked an Object Compass to DuQuesne because of his suspicious behavior. Now Seaton and Crane use it to trace him and rescue Dorothy and the other girl, Margaret "Peg" Spencer.
Seaton and Crane give chase in a new ship, the Skylark, secretly built when they discovered their original ship had been sabotaged. Traveling at top acceleration the Skylark discovers DuQuesne's ship derelict in orbit around a massive dead star (though the term and concept had not been developed, the description is very close to a fairly cold neutron star). Seaton maneuvers his ship close enough to rescue the passengers, but getting back out of the gravity well of the dead star is a problem. Seaton figures out a way to escape, but it can't be done without assistance. Seaton extracts a promise from DuQuesne that he will "act as one of the party until they get back to Earth”. Working together, the two enemies manage to get the ship away from the star, but escaping has used up nearly all of the copper fuel. They must find more copper to get home. They head for a reasonably close star cluster.
They land on a likely planet. They find no copper, but they do find a large metal outcropping that turns out to be almost pure “X”. They take a few small, loose nuggets, enough to run all Earth's power plants for a thousand years, lock an Object Compass on the outcropping, and leave, still looking for copper. After a harrowing encounter with a Disembodied Intelligence (a being that is much like Star Trek's 'Q'), they enter a cluster of stars they call “The Green System” and locate a planet that has copper sulfate oceans, providing all the copper they could possibly want, and easy to get. On the next planet they befriend the warlike green-skinned rulers of Mardonale, one of the two factions of the planet Osnome. When the Mardonalian ruler attempts to betray Seaton and his friends, they find allies in Prince Dunark and Princess Sitar, the Kondalian crown prince and princess, captured by the Mardonalians. The Skylarkers then help the Kondalians win their war with Mardonale. In gratitude the Kondalians make new copper power bars and rebuild the Skylark into the Skylark Two using a super-metal called arenak, equipping it with new weapons known to Kondalian science. A Kondalian reference to a “First Cause” suggests a similarity to Earth's Christian religion. This gives them valid moral authority with Seaton, so he asks them to marry him and Dorothy, and Martin and Peg decide to be married also, as they have become close friends. The marriages take place, and then the Osnomians, recognizing his power and brilliance, make him their "Overlord", the supreme authority on their planet. Seaton accepts the honor, though he does not intend to do much regarding it.
Before the Skylark departs to return to Earth loaded with plenty of "X" the Osnomians reward DuQuesne for his help with a small bag containing several pounds of above-average diamonds, rubies, emeralds, a collection of jewels unknown on Earth and a small lead tube with a few million dollars worth of Radium in it.
As they near Earth, DuQuesne decides his promise of good behavior has been fulfilled, so he furtively leaves the Skylark by parachute. The story ends with the Skylark landing once again on Crane Field.
Frederik Pohl says of the book, "With the exception of the works of H. G. Wells, possibly those of Jules Verne — and almost no other writer — it has inspired more imitators and done more to change the nature of all the science fiction written after it than almost any other single work." Mike Ashley called it "the seminal space opera." Despite its influence, its critical reputation is, at best, mixed; Groff Conklin's review of the 1950 edition noted that "This tale is the sort of thing that only insatiable fans will enjoy, being . . . uncommonly amateur and awkward." Damon Knight, however, praised the novel for its "fast, lean plot, an air of excitement, . . . four characters who are comfortingly bigger than life [and] the feeling that adventures are waiting everywhere," concluding that "In The Skylark, everything is big and simple."
Publication history 
- 1928, USA, Amazing Stories, Pub date August 1928, serialized magazine publication in 3 parts
- 1946, USA, The Buffalo Book Company, Pub date 1946, Hardback, 500 copies
- 1947, USA, The Hadley Publishing Co., Pub date 1947, Hardback, 1,000 copies
- 1950, USA, FFF Publications, Pub date 1950, Hardback, 1,000 copies
- 1954, France, Le Rayon Fantastique, Pub date 1954, Hardback, as La curee des astres
- 1958, USA, Pyramid Books, Pub date 1958, Paperback, revised
- 1958, Germany, Der Weltraumfahrer, Pub Date 1958, Hardback, as Geheimformel QX 47 R
- 1959, UK, Digit, Pub date 1959, Paperback
- 1961, Spain, Cenit, Pub date 1961, Paperback, as La estrella apagada
- 1984, USA, Berkley Books ISBN 0-425-06561-8, Pub date March 1984, Paperback
- 1992, USA, Easton Press, Pub date January 1992, Hardback
- 2001, USA, Bison Books ISBN 0-8032-9286-4, Pub date March 2001, Paperback
- 2007, USA, Wildside Press LLC, ISBN 1-4344-0053-0, Paperback
See also 
- Skylark DuQuesne.(1966) Hugo Award nominee.
- The Skylark of Space at Project Gutenberg (Transcribed from Amazing Stories 1928 publication.)
- Skylark Three at Project Gutenberg (Transcribed from Amazing Stories, 1930.)
- Skylark of Space - Audiobook Version
- See historical data at Edward Elmer Smith#Skylark series.
- Frederik Pohl, introduction to The Skylark of Space, Easton Press, 1991.
- The Time Machines, Mike Ashley, Liverpool University Press, 2000, p.60
- "Galaxy's Five Star Shelf," Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1951, p.54.
- "In the Balance". If. December 1958, pp.110-11
- Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd. pp. 125, 258, 343.
- Brown, Charles N.; William G. Contento. "The Locus Index to Science Fiction (1984-1998)". Retrieved 2008-03-13.
- Brown, Charles N.; William G. Contento. "The Locus Index to Science Fiction (2001)". Retrieved 2008-03-13.
- Tuck, Donald H. (1978). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 398. ISBN 0-911682-22-8.