Edward Elmer Smith
May 2, 1890 — August 31, 1965
E.E. Smith, also called Doc Smith, was an American science-fiction author who is credited with creating in the Skylark series (1928–65) and the Lensman series (1934–50) the subgenre of “space opera,” action-adventure set on a vast intergalactic scale involving faster-than-light spaceships, powerful weapons, and fantastic technology.
Smith received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Idaho, Moscow, in 1914 and became a chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. During 1915 Smith began writing what would become the novel The Skylark of Space with his neighbour, Lee Hawkins Garby, who wrote the romantic parts of the story that Smith felt he could not write. Smith continued to write while completing (1919) a doctoral degree in chemistry from George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
In The Skylark of Space science fiction escaped the solar system and was unleashed on the rest of the universe. The book relates how chemist Richard Seaton finds that a new metal, X, liberates the “intra-atomic energy of copper” and thus serves as fuel for the Skylark, a spaceship that can travel faster than light. His rival, chemist Marc DuQuesne, kidnaps Seaton’s fiancée in his own X-powered ship to get exclusive control of X. Seaton chases DuQuesne across the galaxy, and they encounter exotic alien races, terrifying monsters, and many other dangers. Response to The Skylark of Space was extremely positive, and Smith immediately began work on a sequel, Skylark Three (1930). When it too was published in Amazing Stories, Smith was credited as Edward E. Smith, Ph.D., earning him the nickname among science-fiction fans of “Doc” Smith. The conflict between Seaton and DuQuesne continued in Skylark of Valeron (1934–35), but they united to fight an alien threat in Skylark DuQuesne (1965).
Smith’s works were criticized for having many of the faults of pulp writing, such as wooden dialogue and clichéd characters. However, his groundbreaking adventures, with their breathless action and cosmic scale, were an enormous influence on the science fiction that followed.