The Best Of E. E. Smith† by E. E. Smith
This is a collection of eight stories by E. E. "Doc" Smith.† While I've seen Smith's name around and have heard of some of his titles, I can't recall ever having read anything by him.† Opinions on his work seem to be mixed.† Finding myself in a position to get some of his books for free, I thought I should find out whether he wrote the kind of stories I would appreciate.† It turned out this collection was readily available - so I decided it might be a good way to find out what I thought of Smith.
1) To the Far Reaches of Space
An FTL spaceship fueled by copper accidentally goes far out among the stars.† Trying to return to Earth, they get sent off course (and nearly swallowed) by a "dead star".† This uses up most of their copper, requiring them to investigate some planets in search of more.† One character is a coldly-logical bad guy, but not an always-bad villain.† This makes a somewhat unusual portrait - more like s Sherlock Holmes that has taken amorality to a lawless extreme.†† Meanwhile, there's romance with two couples.† The writing style is limited and the feel is dated.
2) Robot Nemesis
Robots plot to wipe out the human race.† First, they take over one of the space navy's ships during a training operation - planning to destroy the fleet.† But a super scientist is on their trail and manages to intervene.† Some interesting space opera elements, but the writing leaves something to be desired and some of the tech seems on the silly side.
3) Pirates of Space
"Pirates" seize a spaceship and take it to a secret, nearly undetectable asteroid.† The "pirates" are actually led by one of the bad super alien races from the Lensmen stories.† But one of the captured good guys is a member of the secret service of the Triplanetary League.† Another captive is his romantic interest.† The writing and ambience is old-style.
4) The Vortex Blaster
Some kind of nuclear power has the side-effect of sometimes creating a "vortex".† This is something like a meltdown, but creates an on-going process that takes in nearby material and sends out poisoned air and radiation.† An explosion or such can break up a vortex into more than one and spread them.† (This seems to present a major enough continuing danger that one might ask why they use this kind of energy.)† After a scientist's family is killed by a vortex, he gets an idea how to destroy a vortex.† The solution depends on the fact he is able to calculate equations in his head faster than a computer and involves throwing bombs at the vortex.† I didn't think this was one of the more plausible stories.
Communication with the past to give a blacksmith/fighter the secret of hardened alloy steel.† It is hoped this will change the course of history in a positive way.† This is a story of an ancient time with priests of ancient gods.† The dominant religion uses human sacrifice.† The smith is working to make a stronger metal that will allow him to overthrow that religion and end sacrifices.† Once he's given the secret, we have swords and armor action, battles and a romantic ending.† The attempt to alter the past is an SF element, but the story is mostly fantasy content.† Itís decent as a fantasy story.
6) Lord Tedric
This starts exactly where "Tedric" left off.† Tedric's new religion gets off to a good start.† The central concept is the king in Tedric's country decides it's time to invade and annex a neighboring country.† The king plans it, and we find Tedric isn't much of a strategist.† But he does help lead his army in the war.
7) Subspace Survivors
Starships traveling via hyperspace sometimes vanish and are never heard from again.† Our male heroes and their love interests are on a ship that suffers some disaster, but thanks to our hero's psi powers, the good guys and a few bad guys make it to the lifeboats.† After a while, they are able to go back into the starship, but it will only travel at slow-than-light speeds.† The bad guys plot to take over the ship, kill the good guys and keep the good gals.† And the starship has to find some safe way to dissipate some peculiar energy of an unfamiliar type that is infusing the ship.
8) The Imperial Stars
Acrobats as super-spies.† An attempted meeting with a contact results in an ambush by bad guys, in such a way it seems the bad guys must have inside information.† Our hero spies serve a monarchy - regardless of how the current monarch came to power by murdering the previous monarch.† Their case has to do with a conflict between contenders to the throne related to a previous palace coup.
On the whole, I'd say the stories reminded me of old time radio shows in some ways.† They reflect the sensibilities of people in the 1920's to 1950's.† There's something about the way characters spoke in old radio shows - more representational of a "part" in the drama or as a stereotype of an emotional tone.† Perhaps, what I'm trying to say is it can feel "staged".† I guess there's also a feeling of writing to a "formula" - there has to be a good guy and a bad guy, there has to be a romantic interest, and so on.† But that's not to say that one story seems like the others with a few changes.
These stories are more oriented to adventure with an emphasis on man vs. man.† Although "The Imperial Stars" has an element of solving a mystery, it isn't unraveled in the way that makes it satisfying as a mystery.† Some of what I read does have a man vs. man theme, but (generally) I'd rather have man vs. universe or exploring the universe or "what if" or new perspectives or puzzle solving (both engineering solutions and mysteries).† This collection doesn't suggest Smith will offer me my preferred story types, and he doesn't seem to offer artistry to compensate for that.
Some readers like Smithís traditional clean-cut good guy, with no ambiguity to the goodness of the good guy or the badness of the bad guy, and that the theme is good guys beat bad guys.† If that is more down your alley, you might find Smith more to your taste.