Author Case Study – 3w2: E.E. “Doc” Smith, David R. Palmer
(The following is somewhat of a general 3w2 analysis dealing with two separate authors).
E.E. “Doc” Smith
E.E. “Doc” Smith is an SF author probably best known for his “Lensmen” series of SF novels. A look at his wikipedia entry shows, in keeping with 3, that he was very busy with work, sport, etc. Anecdotally, he apparently met Heinlein and managed to impress him as some sort of ‘superman’, with a (…I feel, probably scientifically dubious) plan to test a new car Heinlein had purchased for chassis flaws by driving it at illegally high speeds with ear pressed to the roof columns to listening for squeaks from the chassis.
Some of Smith’s last works may actually have been written or ghostwritten by someone else (e.g. Lord Tedric – George Eklund). Reportedly, he felt uncomfortable writing romance scenes in the Lensmen books, only deciding to write them after a female friend offered to do that [we can probably guess a “T” preference on MBTI- I would predict Se/Ti i.e. “ESTP” for 3w2 – however, P/J may score inaccurately due to 3s being fairly dynamic, whereas the S/N axis seems to be poorly measured generally]. In spite of being probably a “T”, he tends to follow the convention of depicting bad guys as heartless or callous, instead of having them be particularly emotionally unstable. The major ‘bad guy’ in the Skylark series, Marc C. DuQuesne, could be argued to represent the secondary function (Ti) rather than being an inferior as is normally the case for villains – he could really be described better as a rival, with a lot of time going into describing specifically how he’s thinking or planning, and with him teaming up once or twice with the main character (Seaton), though he inevitably betrays him when the opportunity presents.
Smith’s work is perhaps most notable for its scale – e.g. in both Lensmen and his Skylark series, there’s huge inflation in capabilities where space fleets become larger and larger, ships become larger and larger, new technologies of higher orders get discovered in a jiffy, and eventually planets (or galaxies) start being zapped. This sort of theme is somewhat characteristic of Three, reflecting “Vanity” as it were, although Ones can sometimes come off somewhat similar (cf. Philip E. High case study).
His characters are also omni-competent supermen, again a Three thing. 3w4s are perhaps more likely to produce characters that are flawed in some way, (cf. Michael Ende, Herbert D. Kastle). Harry Harrison (8w9), deliberately lampooned Smith’s writing style (or that of the era, perhaps) in his Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers…perhaps reflecting that 8s can find pretension annoying.
Other themes in Smith’s work include competition/rivalry, and speed/travel.
*e.g. one of the Lensmen books starts off with a tennis game, where a man threatens to tan the hide of a girl for not playing better – showing 3 competitive drive.
[conversely, L. Ron Hubbard, another very probable 3, has a weird scene in one of his books, where the hero Jethro is shown to be a tremendously good guy by his deliberately throwing a game, so as not to embarrass another player in front of his girlfriend. The same character also shows the same sort of interest in vehicles/piloting seen in Smith].
Physique comparisons come up a fair bit e.g. a particular point coming to mind would be in a later Skylark book where humans are abducted by nudist aliens -“That Sennloy, what a shape”. Smith also takes a sort of attitude that clothes are weird that might possibly be a Two thing – Piers Anthony [2w1] has maybe similar themes in his Phaze series.
A particular interest in vehicles or driving (fast) show up in Smith, that seems to be fairly common in Threes [Se preference?]. His characters show a sort of “Type A” tendency to workaholism, e.g. running everything after taking up positions of power.
Deceit: Smith’s characters seem somewhat willing to lie when not entirely particularly necessary. For example, one of the Lensmen books has a lottery being set up to determine pairings of sailors for each lifeboat, which the guys in charge then rig so that they can pair off and have a fighting chance of getting through an enemy dragnet to impart vital information (I think justified on the basis the men might revolt if they don’t have a chance of pairing up with the best other man, though its also peculiar this isn’t challenged given the unlikelihood of that pair coming up). Spying appears in a theme e.g. where characters have to infiltrate an enemy organization appearing to be genuine pirates [“Kinnison had to become a loyal Boskonian in every gesture, deed – and thought.”]
Bad guy Marc. C. Duquesne in Skylark lies with little or no provocation, for instance claiming to be “Seeker Vance” and constructing an elaborate fake culture when meeting another race, rather than admitting he’s from Earth. He volunteers for a breeding program with the aliens, which actually turns into a particularly nasty bit of one-upmanship in the book, when the woman he’s slept with decides to terminate the pregnancy so she can instead get pregnant by his rival, the main character, whose wife gives him permission to do this).
In his Lensmen books characters are generally pretty well ‘good guys’ though occasionally something is eyebrow raising. “In an emergency, killing a few dozen civilians is of course permissible…” (First Lensman). They typically present some sort of appearance of modesty, with occasional slip-ups e.g. where someone gets someone’s title wrong (e.g. – “First Lensman”, Kinnison corrected brusquely”). Vanity appears indirectly via the characters being designed as innately superior and/or received as superior.
Ethics is a theme in Lensmen selection; very few humans can be recruited because the job demands a lack of ‘corruptability’, whereas another alien race involved almost always is ethical, but only very rarely possess another requirement, of ‘drive’.
A peculiar theme that’s not particularly explained by type, that I can see, is that of total knowledge, where e.g. the Arisians have developed an ability to foresee the future by calculating every chance factor (in the universe) in advance to extrapolate what will happen. [basically, “in six months time on this particular day you will cut yourself shaving”]. (Unless this is “Hope” related).
He also has immaterial energy beings appear at a couple of points (=more often a Five thing, generally).
In Smith, feeling is fairly ‘conventional’ [Extraverted], though less developed than in an actual Two. /w4 is more noticeable in a three (depth of feeling, sense of being flawed, sadness, etc. ) so absence of 4 traits is something of a signifier of /w2 by default.
David R. Palmer
David R. Palmer – who has only a few books but one of which, Threshold, is a favourite of mine from my teenage years. I am still waiting for the sequel to “Threshold” after 20 years – the rumour being that this was not published as a result of being fairly bad, with ‘wish fulfillment’ elements more grandiose than in the first book. (3s having a tendency to “can” projects if they perceive them as likely to fail, since a failure hurts self-esteem).
“Threshold” is interesting in that it showcases some of the same grandiose tendencies as in Smith’s work, with the bad guy being a galaxy-sized monster that wants to eat the galaxy and the hero being a super-competent billionaire businessman. He creates a ‘super’ protagonist with the same background justification as in Smith’s space opera (as a result of an alien breeding program), and the weird future-prediction theme shows up somewhat in his aliens having ‘compudictors’ who use a ‘data field’ to generate predictions about the future, though not with the creepy predestination of Smith’s Arisians.
‘Threshold’ is sort of viewable as a ‘tribute’ – Palmer would certainly have read Smith’s work and so the book is partly tongue-in-cheek, or perhaps, pretending to be tongue-in-cheek while using that as an excuse to do what the author actually wants to do, without it being labelled passe. i.e., I would hold to the view the author is a 3 despite some of the work here being imitative, with the choice of imitations itself showing themes that have a sort of ‘resonance’ to the author. As such I take it as 3ish rather than a 7 imitating a 3.
(Emergence, one of his other books, also has a ‘superman’ theme but tones it down with a much younger protagonist, reportedly).
The hero as successful businessman is fairly 3ish (comparatively, Zelazny for example has a billionaire demigod in some of his books e.g. ‘Isle of the Dead’).
Overall tone in Palmer’s work is cheery and humorous, enough that I’d initially considered him possibly a 7 – perhaps reflecting 2-wing (another ‘positive outlook’ group type). One other peculiarity was the authors CV, noting a significant array of different jobs – initially suggesting a ‘generalist’ – however, the complex work history really resolved down to about four or five separate skills – driving [which 3s like], sales [again, another 3, and particularly 3w2, stereotypical area of competency], and accounting/clerical, as well as stenography – representing also a Three-ish desire to come across well or present the ‘about the author’ like a CV:
David R. Palmer was born in the Chicago area in 1941 and grew up there. He has worked at an amazing variety of jobs over the years (mail clerk, bookkeeper, junior accountant, VW mechanic, assistant service manager, car salesman, appliance, furniture and insurance salesman, school bus driver, pet-store owner and manager, gravel-truck driver, intra- and inter-city bus driver, typesetter, legal secretary, court-reporting transcriber – to mention only a few. His pastimes have been equally varied, and have included (apart from lots of reading) flying, motorcycling, sailing, skin-diving, photography – and racing (he was a Formula Vee champion in the sixties, in a car designed and built in collaboration with a friend).
As well as the general success/image focus (=3), the main character appears slightly un-Seven-ish in that after earning billions, he keeps working for the challenge. He also has the typical 3 interest in racing/speed/vehicles (compare author bio).
Like in The Neverending Story [cf. Ende case study, 3w4), the protagonist spends a fair amount of time riding around on a dragon (i.e. the usual Three love of fast – and impressive-looking – ‘vehicles’). Palmer’s characters again a probable function equivalence – Peter Corey Se [practical, fun loving], Meg possibly Ti (while she’s actually portrayed as a fair mix e.g. as a seductress, she gets the job of “guy who explains the plot to you” fairly often – and can be fairly undiplomatic, annoying the main character by pointing out e.g. how little he knows about some things), her sarcastic animal companion Memphus – Fe. The book ends in a twist, an Ni characteristic.
Two-wing appears in a degree of genuine warmth (and perhaps the author’s Facebook posting habits which show a lot of political activism, similar to a couple of 3w2s I know IRL, or a love of animals); however, this also mixes with a degree of pragmatism or even ruthlessness (“the isolated setting allowed for dealing summarily and without witnesses with the few exceptions”).
There’s a particularly nasty streak that comes out when betrayed (though this is by no means unique to Threes) – with the hero reacting very badly to a lover betraying them (i.e. planning some sort of immediate murder). This is vaguely reminiscent of Zelazny’s Isle of the Dead again, when a man is told to ‘pass on’ by a former girlfriend, later taunting her when she’s trapped in a cave (“how does it feel now, bitch?”)- though he does rescue her – the reaction being maybe worse, given lower provocation, as a result of Z. being, I think, /w4 and so more heavily a ‘feeling type’).
Introverted-thinking (Ti) is somewhat evident in that generally the science is fairly good – e.g. it has a particularly interesting discussion on how quicksand works and some interesting observations on horizons on large planets (appearing inverted due to atmospheric distortion) and energy outputs of blue supergiants – ‘so distant was Ra that its apparent diameter was an incredibly tiny spark no bigger than Venus in Earth’s night sky, yet its output was perceptibly warmer at this latitude than Sol’s.’ [he does overlook that supergiants burn out in only 10 million years or so). However, overall grasp of astrophysics, biology, etc. is very good. He also does tend to ignore science when convenient to inflating things – e.g. a planet in Threshold is Jupiter+ sized but with Earth-normal gravity with the flimsiest of excuses (it is claimed to be from a previous cycle of the universe; “…or maybe Whoever made Isis hadn’t gotten around to thinking about Newton yet.”).
One evident ‘plot hole’ is that a chunk of the book deals with the necessity of inventing intersteller travel, but with the character Memphus being admitted to be from Earth originally (a plot hole which e.g. a Six would note, perhaps – ‘hidden intentions’ i.e. Ni-use).
Other Three traits showing in Threshold, include a fear of intimacy (the main character has to be talked into a telepathic bond with another character- which he dislikes, talking for awhile about his dark side and not wanting anyone to see it), status (alien society has social ranks from “First Order” to “Tenth Order”), jokes about image (the main character forgets what he looks like after spending months in the wilderness as a monster), deceit (the main character teaches his dragon how to lie). Like Smith, sexuality seems fairly uninhibited (“the girl was stark naked and patently unconcerned about it. Indeed, she almost seemed to flaunt it”; Related to that, the version of the book I have also comes with a particularly racy cover).
Characters particularly don’t like being talked down to [image defensiveness]. The author gives particular admiration to competency – his dedication at the start being (as well as the expected wifely one) to someone else for their ‘acumen and technical knowledge’, while the main character also notes how or where they respect other characters’ competence or not, e.g. their security advisor is ‘talked up’ (discussing even things like how many children they have), with this I suppose reflecting that as an employee their quality reflects on the bosses’ image.
Another point of interest is when the main character discusses his problem-solving approach:
“Generally, in solving problems, I used what was known as the ‘top-down’ approach. First define the objective; second, identify foreseeable obstacles; third, inventory available resources; fourth, create the solution itself, and test it; and finally, put it into operation, initially watching it like a hawk, alert for bugs which might not have surfaced during testing.
(this leads on to a lengthier SF segment, where he plots out how to use his shape-shifting to become a dragon-like monster).
Wing determination: Two/Three, in terms of the ‘harmonic’ groups combines ‘competency’ [1-3-5] with ‘positive outlook’ [2-9-7], whereas 3/4 is competency + a ‘reactive’ type . So /w2 is probably more cheerful or upbeat, which is generally evident here (and may be another reason why there’s some similarity to 7. Optimism is a sort of core theme in Threshold as pressure mounts on the main character, as is trust (…for once I won’t spoil the ending there, however).
Comparison with 2w3:
With Palmer/Smith, theres’ generally limited similarity to say, Louise Cooper [2w3] due to different genre and author gender, among other things. 2w3 vs 3w2 also shows, like 5w6/6w5, a dramatic shift where one types’ inferior function has to be the secondary of the other – what I’ve called ‘forced secondary development’ (a pattern shared with 5w6/6w5). In a sense this may underlie a similarity between Marc DuQuesne (Ti rival ‘bad guy’, but only secondary function) and Nemesis (Ti bad guy, inferior function).
The “Princess” motif in say Nemesis is also perhaps similar to the ‘businessman’ motif in Palmer’s work (i.e. reflective of desire for social status); Smith similarly has inherited nobility in one of his series (Family d’Alembert), although this is written with co-author Stephen Goldin making exact influences indeterminate. Smith generally has an idea of some family bloodlines being superior, that represents perhaps the same sort of idea that underlies inherited “caste”.