I’ve been slowly working my way through Doc Smith’s Lensman series. I’ll go through a stretch of chapters loving it a whole lot, then hit a patch and spend a few weeks getting through to the next good stretch. When things are climactic and exciting it’s all very good, but when he’s doing his character building and exposition I get twitchy. Right up until just now when the twitchiness from the slow parts crashes into the big climactic bit at the end of the third book.

Kimball Kinisson, the prototypical Luke Skywalker/Captain Sheridan of the series, is in the process of infiltrating a pirate base and ultimately bringing down the whole organization when, *shock* *surprise* that feisty red-headed nurse he spent a whole boring stretch yelling at turns up as a prisoner from a hospital ship with a pack of other nurses. So he does the manly thing and jump-starts his plan to save the woman the galactic space-brains are setting him up to breed with from the horrible ravishings of a pirate captain (or the suicide that’ll prevent it). It’s after part I of this plan that I get all twitchy and run to livejournal to whine.

Pg 199 of Galactic Patrol: “And again, womanlike, she knew with a calm certainty that as long as that Gray Lensman were alive and conscious, he would be completely the master of any situation in which he might find himself. Therefore she passed along her illogical but cheering thought, and the nurses, being also women, accepted it without question as the actual and accomplished fact.”

Except that it wasn’t illogical because the only alternative explanation was to accept an impossible coincidence wherein a random pirate control officer calls her all the same names as Lukeball Sherisson. The only thing in the whole situation where her being female mattered was the part where she wasn’t dead because the pirates were planning a big gang rape.

I’d be willing to shrug this all off as what happens when you read ancient pulpy sci fi, except that Heinlein was barely behind Smith when he got started, and his red-headed nurses were always very female, but never written off like this because of it. You see, they were nurses, which meant educated, smart, rational, no-nonesense, all that stuff you figure out when you’ve had TB twice and spent lots of time in a hospital. Heinlein couldn’t tolerate the kind of woman that Smith seems to be expecting as a matter of course. It’s why I adore Heinlein’s chicks.

I actually really like the Lensman books when there aren’t any female characters present. But I know enough of where the series is going to go that I’m not sure I’ll manage to finish it. I really want to, lots of writers I adore spent lots of time waxing fondly about it, but this is really rubbing me the wrong way.

(The part in The First Lensman where Virgilia can’t get a lens because woman just aren’t tough enough to handle it bothered me less, because Virgilia wasn’t tough enough to handle it – she threw a tennis game to keep her friend from feeling like a loser – and Smith made it clear that one super-powered female Lensman was due around book four or five. I really liked Hazel and was hoping to get more of her, but she’s all rotted and old by this point in the chronology, and therefore not up to Smith’s standards for a female character. *sigh*)

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