E. E. "Doc" Smith was an industrial chemist, but he also wrote science fiction stories back in the "Golden Age" of SF, beginning in the 1930's. Doc Smith wasn't much for character development or literary frills. But his plots were action-packed and spanned the galaxies ... even allowing for the fact that, when he began his Skylark series of novels, the actual size and nature of the cosmos was far from understood by astronomers. No matter! Smith's protagonists --- clean-cut all-American-style scientists and engineers and soldiers --- invented new rays, discovered new laws of Nature, and built new spacecraft ad lib. Whatever it took to beat the bad guys and save the world(s).

Many years ago during times of stress I found great comfort in Doc Smith's quaint yarns, especially the parts where modest self-effacing characters triumphed over impossible odds. Those were folks to identify with! A better-than-average sample of Smith's prose follows; I remember enjoying it one night before a Caltech physics department comprehensive graduate written exam. (Those were tests of one's problem-solving abilities in classical and quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, nuclear physics, etc.; see ^zhurnal 2 February 2000.) Our Hero, Kimball Kinnison, is working with a reference librarian to pick out a team of ~50 super-geniuses, the "... most eminent scientists and thinkers of all the planets of Galactic Civilization ...", for a special project to create some new black-hole-like artifact. The librarian has been asked to identify candidate mega-brainiacs:

"Such a group can be selected, I think." The girl stood for a moment, lower lip held lightly between white teeth. "That is not a standard index, but each scientist has a rating. I can set the acceptor . . . no, the rejector would be better --- to throw out all the cards above any given rating. If we take out all ratings over seven hundred we will have only the highest of the geniuses."

"How many, do you suppose?"

"I have only a vague idea --- a couple of hundred, perhaps. If too many, we can run them again at a higher level, say seven ten. But there won't be very many, since there are only two galactic ratings higher than seven fifty. There will be duplications too --- such people as Sir Austin Cardynge will have two or three cards in the final rejects."

"QX --- we'll want to hand-pick the fifty, anyway. Let's go!"

Then for hours bale after bale of cards went through the machine; thousands of records per minute. Occasionally one card would flip out into a rack, rejected. Finally:

"That's all, I think. Mathematicians, physicists," the librarian ticked off upon pink fingers. "Astronomers, philosophers, and this new classification, which hasn't been named yet."

"The H.T.T.'s." Kinnison glanced at the label, lightly lettered in pencil, fronting the slim packet of cards. "Aren't you going to run them through, too?"

"No. These are the two I mentioned a minute ago --- the only ones higher than seven hundred fifty."

"A choice pair, eh? Sort of a creme de la creme? Let's look 'em over," and he extended his hand. "What do the initials stand for?"

"I'm awfully sorry, sir, really," the girl flushed in embarrassment as she relinquished the cards in high reluctance. "If I'd had any idea we wouldn't have dared --- we call you, among ourselves, the 'High-Tension Thinkers'."

"Us!" It was the Lensman's turn to flush. Nevertheless, he took the packet and read sketchily the facer: "Class XIX --- Unclassifiable at present ... lack of adequate methods ... minds of range and scope far beyond any available indices ... Ratings above high genius (750) ... yet no instability ... power beyond any heretofore known ... assigned ratings tentative and definitely minimum."

He then read the cards.

"Worsel, Velantia, eight hundred."


"Kimball Kinnison, Tellus, eight hundred seventy-five."

--- from Gray Lensman, Chapter 8.

(see ClassyPeople)

Monday, July 16, 2001 at 04:02:20 (EDT) = 2001-07-16

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicLiterature - TopicScience

(correlates: CodeOfTheWoosters, Underappreciated Ideas, SonnetForMyDaughterInLaw, ...)