Leave all feminist thought at the door. For that matter, leave all modern thought at the door. This is not a book for that. This is a book from a simpler time. A time when good was good, bad was bad, men were men, and women were emotional and threw themselves at the men, exclaiming, “Oh, Ted!” or whatever the current hero's name is. I conducted an informal poll and so far no woman I talked to has ever thrown herself on a man exclaiming, “Oh, Whatsyerface!”. No man has had this done to him. And no one has ever seen it. But by the number of women who do so in this novel, it apparently happened to Doc Smith on many occasions. It was a time when saying, “What a gang!” was a good thing.
Triplanetary is the first of Smith's Lensmen series and is one of the beginnings of the space opera subgenre that would eventually be the precursor to Star Wars—lots of different planets and peoples fighting an intergalactic war for the betterment of all. The series was written between 1928 and 1954 and was immensely popular in its day. Smith was a pulp writer and it shows. The writing style is simultaneous too ornate and too simplistic to modern ears. The characters don't even hit a second dimention. They are a line. The story is clearly set with good versus evil and of course Earth is good. And it is also clearly sexist and racist. The first female character to show up, on page 30, doesn't immediately faint. But she almost immediately faints. By page 36 she is dead, leaving the man to save the world.
And for all that, it is still a good read, and not only for the historical perspective. (At one point, having gotten the signal that nuclear bombs are headed towards America—which is on the good side, of course—he explains why America hadn't struck its enemy first even when they knew the enemy would eventually strike. “Because America, being a democracy, could not strike first, but had to wait—wait in instant readiness—until she was actually attacked.”)
Triplanetary is a good read for the sense of wonder and fun that it invokes. Smith was having a great time writing this book and he isn't concerned about bringing depth or subtlety to it. He is out to give the reader a rip roaring good time with lots of explosions, escapes, and even a little romance (yes, first she faints, but she was poisoned, then she waits while he kills the poisoner, and then she throws her arms about him, exclaiming, “Oh, Conrad!”). And after a slow beginning (slower, that is. It still has explosions and fights and such) that sets up the premise of the entire Lensmen series, it does get down to just that. A good tale. Action and adventure from the 1930's. An escape to a simpler time, when men were men and women were women and we knew who all the bad guys were and all their reasons for doing things were bad so it was okay to kill them all and get the girl who will throw her arms about you crying "Oh, Whatsyerface!".