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Smith, George O

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1911-1981) US electronics engineer and author, most active and prominent in the 1940s in Astounding Science-Fiction, in which his first story, "QRM – Interplanetary", appeared in October 1942: the tale both began his sf career and initiated his most famous endeavour, the Venus Equilateral Series of stories (all in Astounding except for one late addition) about a Communications-centred Space Station in the forward Trojan position (60° ahead of the planet) of the orbit of Venus (see Lagrange Point), and the various crises that must be solved by its onboard team. These stories were assembled as Venus Equilateral (stories October 1942-November 1945 Astounding; coll of linked stories 1947; with 3 stories added, exp 1975 2vols; UK version vt The Complete Venus Equilateral 1976 1vol). They exhibit Smith's main strength, a fascination with technical problems and their didactic explanation, after the fashion of Hugo Gernsback and the early Amazing, as well as his main weakness, an almost complete lack of interest in character or plot plausibility. However, though the technical presuppositions on which he based his communications station dated very swiftly, the sequence – featuring as it does a passel of cheerful wisecracking engineer/troubleshooters – vividly evokes a characteristic 1940s sf point of view about the future as an arena whose problems were solvable by humans. He was one of the very purest writers of engineer's sf.

Smith also wrote several Space Operas which – perhaps because he was too numerate to be comfortable with Scientific Errors like Faster Than Light travel, however necessary as plot devices – now seem provincial. The Rocket gimmickry, the sense of space, and the kind of protagonists featured in his stories were – for instance – strongly reminiscent of but markedly less entrancing than the more expansive galactic venues of E E "Doc" Smith's Lensman series, the later volumes of which were being serialized in Astounding at about the same time as George O Smith began to produce his. The best of his space operas, originally published under his occasional pseudonym Wesley Long, is Nomad (December 1944-January 1945 Astounding; 1950 as Smith). Like most of his space epics, the story concerns an alien Invasion of the solar system, in this case by means of a wandering planet. Other similar novels are Pattern for Conquest: An Interplanetary Adventure (March-May 1946 Astounding; 1949) and the inferior Hellflower (May 1952 Startling; rev 1953), whose undercover aliens are corrupting Earth society with the female-aphrodisiac "love lotus" of the title (see Drugs); here Smith's dis-ease when forced to depict women vitiates a storyline that makes no sense if its protagonists do not.

Though Smith wrote several more novels before becoming relatively inactive around 1960, he published only two further books of real interest. Highways in Hiding (March-June 1955 Imagination; 1956; cut vt The Space Plague 1957) is a late example of the type of tale involving gradable Psi Powers under the original influence of J B Rhine – the Rhine Institute dominates the Near Future America in which the tale is wholly set – and John W Campbell Jr (see Psionics). Two opposing cadres of "Espers" (see ESP), both organizations being divided into Telepaths and perceptives or perceivers (see Perception), vie to master the implications of Mekstrom's Disease, whose victims if properly treated become almost invincible Supermen. One cadre hopes to become Secret Masters with a program of enforced Eugenics, one of its apparatchiks being an ill-disguised L Sprague de Camp (see Tuckerisms); the other cadre is libertarian (see Libertarian SF). The vt is entirely misleading. Although The Fourth "R" (1959; vt The Brain Machine 1968) – about a young child who becomes a prodigy thanks to the Invention of the "Electromechanical Educator" (see Education in SF) and must fight to remain independent until adulthood – reflects earlier novels, such as Theodore Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels (1950; vt The Synthetic Man 1957), Smith's narrative so vividly enters into its protagonist's young mind, and so intriguingly details his strategy for survival against a particularly unpleasant Villain, that it has become a model for tales of this kind (see also Intelligence). Another novel that combines both invasion and Superman themes is Highways in Hiding (March-June 1955 Imagination; 1956; cut vt The Space Plague 1957).

Never strongly original, Smith was nonetheless an effective expounder of ideas and an enjoyable sf novelist of the second rank. The autobiographical notes in The Worlds of George O. (coll 1982) warmly and modestly evoke his life in the 1940s as a colleague and friend of John W Campbell Jr, Robert A Heinlein and others; the collection assembles the best of his non-series short work. [JC]

see also: Economics; Elements; Heroes; Illustration; Matter Transmission; Money; Power Sources; Scientists; Sex; Sun.

George Oliver Smith

born Chicago, Illinois: 9 April 1911

died Rumson, New Jersey: 27 May 1981



Venus Equilateral

  • Venus Equilateral (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Prime Press, 1947) [stories first appeared between October 1942 and June 1945 Astounding, plus new story "Mad Holiday": introduction by John W Campbell Jr: Venus Equilateral: illus/Sol Levin: hb/George O Smith (replacement cover by L Robert Tschirky)]
    • Venus Equilateral: Volume One (London: Futura, 1975) [coll: first half of the above with added story "Lost Art" (December 1943 Astounding): Venus Equilateral: pb/Chris Foss]
    • Venus Equilateral: Volume Two (London: Futura, 1975) [coll: second half of the above with added stories "The External Triangle" (vt of "Interlude" in Astounding, anth 1973, ed Harry Harrison) and "Identity" (November 1945 Astounding): published in two volumes: Venus Equilateral: pb/Chris Foss]

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