As anyone who’s read this site for any length of time should know, I’m a huge fan of classic science fiction. I grew up inhaling Jules Verne, obsessing over Heinlein, and being swept away by Ray Bradbury. My dad’s classic, paperback science fiction collection was my first window into worlds of amazing imagination, and when other kids spent their summer vacations outside riding bikes I’d plop down next to his bedroom bookshelf and start pulling off careworn paperbacks. Most of them were entirely age-inappropriate (Heinlein has always been kind of a lech), so my adventures would end every day when he got home from work. I actually think he knew I was reading them, and we sort of hand this silent understanding between us that as long as I didn't get caught, we'd never tell my mom. As an adult nothing has really changed, I’m still that big of a nerd.
I’m such a nerd, that I’ve even read almost everything ever written by E.E. “Doc” Smith. Doc Smith was one of the real pioneers of the science fiction genre, author of two massive, epic series of books. His first, the “Skylark” series, was written in 1920. His second success, the “Lensman” series, was started in the late 30s. I’ve always preferred “Skylark”, but Smith always maintained that “Lensman” was his best work (he regarded it as his only real work of science fiction since he used a lot of advanced, headache-inducing, actual science concepts), and apparently Ron Howard and Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski agree.
Late last week Sci Fi Wire got the ball rolling when they reported that Universal and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment are negotiating with Smith’s estate for the film rights to the “Lensman” series. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re serious about making it into a movie, it really only means they’re thinking about it.
What does make this whole thing a little more realistic is that on his official site Straczynski has started hinting that he might be the guy adapting E.E. Doc Smith’s work into a script. When asked by a poster on his message board if Howard’s Lensman project might be related to something JMS is working on, Straczynski responded coyly, “Who can say...?” That’s sounds a lot closer to a yes than a no to me.
So two big names may be involved in this thing, one of them the most respected people in modern science fiction. You’re probably wondering what the heck this Lensman thing is all about. It’s weird. I’ve read them, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan. For my father, who was born in the 40s and grew up in the 50s, E.E. Doc’s Smith’s work was huge; but for me, even when I first read it back in the 80s it was dated. Not because the stories use out of date ideology, more because so much of what Smith did has since been copied, done, and redone by everyone who’s come after him. The parts which haven’t been copied can probably be best described as pretty weird.
The books follow a universe spanning story in which two rival groups of trans-dimensional super-beings wage a battle for supremancy. The bad guys are out to rule, the good guys attempt to help lesser races like men grow and combat them. They do that by helping create the Galactic Patrol, and giving its members something called the “Lens”. The Lens is like The Force meets Green Latern’s ring, with all kinds of crazy, surreal, inter-dimensional powers. Like I said, it gets confusing. But if JMS can distill the whole thing down to the story of a group of humans gifted with a super-powerful device and tasked with protecting the universe, well then maybe they might have something. If JMS is really the guy Howard has tapped to write this, then he’ll have his work cut out for him. They may be short little paperbacks, but the "Lensman" books are almost frighteningly complex.