E. E. "Doc" Smith wrote space opera, clunky but fun. The novels in his Lensman series were galaxy-spanning epics of intellectual combat, each book unveiling a new layer of wheels within wheels: conspiracy, menace, and power on ever-increasing cosmological scales.
But if the Lensman stories were Capitalized Good versus Ultimate Evil, "Doc" Smith's Skylark books were pure romps. The nice guy protagonists were much too goody-twoshoesish for anybody with a speck of self-awareness to identify with. That left the ne'er-do-wells to capture center stage, a gang of perps led by Dr. Marc C. "Blackie" duQuesne --- selfish, amoral, arch-nemesis-rival of the ostensible heroes. In fact, by the final story in the series duQuesne was solidly on top, to such a degree that the book was titled Skylark Duquesne. Ignore the fact that at the close of the previous episode he had been demateralized, his mind locked in a time-vault stasis-capsule for 100,000,000,000 years ... he'll be back.
And so he is, saving the universe before heading off for another galaxy to set up his own empire, designed on principles something like Plato's Republic with garnishes of megalomania and eugenics. As the novel careens to a conclusion duQuesne is about to pop the question to Dr. Stephanie de Marigne, aka "Hunkie", genius feminist nuclear physicist. She asks him whether or not he loves her and he replies, memorably and characteristically:
"The word 'love' has so many and such tricky meanings that it is actually meaningless. Thus, I don't know whether I love you or not, in your interpretation of the term. If it means to you that I will jump off of a cliff or blow my brains out if you refuse, I don't. Or that I'll pine away and not marry a second best, I don't. If, however, it means a lot of other things, I do. Whatever it means, will you marry me?"
So of course she says yes!
(see also LensManic (16 Jul 2001), ... )