Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist
21 April 2009
Filed under:Arts Reviews,Old media,Personal at11:09 am

I still remember finding E.E. “Doc” Smith‘s space opera, The Skylark of Space when on holiday with my parents when I was probably no more than 10 – I immediately read it cover to cover and sought out the others in the series. I had forgotten about it for years then noticed it had gone into the public domain so I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg into my iPod Touch and began to read. I was immediately struck by a certain amount of casual racism (not uncommon in 1928) and of course its attitudes toward women were also pretty retrograde. Moreover, with their powerful weapons the heroes seem quite happy to kill off hordes of alien ‘bad guys’ even when they can’t shoot back. The racist and eugenicist undertones became stronger and stronger near the end however. The ‘bad aliens’ are darker skinned than the ‘good’ ones, and I just got to the point where the hero describes the religious system of the good aliens, seemingly without dismay:

they are magnificently developed for their surroundings. They have attained this condition by centuries of weeding out the unfit. They have no hospitals for the feeble-minded or feeble-bodied–abnormal persons are not allowed to live. The same reasoning accounts for their perfect cleanliness, moral and physical. Vice is practically unknown. They believe that clean living and clean thinking are rewarded by the production of a better physical and mental type

Ugh… I didn’t remember that part!


  1. Yeah, I remember the eugenics too – the aliens describe their system of trial marriage. The hero says that humans have tried that but it degenerates into free love. The aliens reply that “oh, no, that’s not a problem – anyone who shows signs of moral turpitude is shot.”

    Pre-WWII, eugenics didn’t have quite the bad rap it does these days.

    I also remember another favourite book of mine, “A Town Like Alice” – toward the end, the heroine is held up as an example of tolerance because she’ll actually serve Aborigines at her ice cream shop(?). Of course, they’ll have to have a separate counter… you know, there *are* limits.

    O tempora, o mores!

    Comment by wjr — 1 May 2009 @ 4:40 am

  2. I found this post when searching for E.E. Doc Smith and was rapt to find your mention of The Skylark Series. I wasn’t aware of this one, but I remember the Lensman series from many years ago and this is the one I was chasing down. Now I have a new path to travel as well.

    Many thanks..

    Comment by Ric Raftis — 6 May 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  3. In 1928 nobody realized just where racist and eugenicist attitudes lead to. It was not until the early 1940s that the Nazis showed us all just what that really means. Much to everybody’s horror and dismay.

    Comment by Free Textbooks — 10 May 2009 @ 4:01 am

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