Given my recent musings about science fiction, I thought it worthwhile to speak briefly about one of the most famous and influential science fiction series of all time, the "Lensmen" series by Edward Elmer "Doc" Smith. Though Galactic Patrol, which was serialized in Astounding Stories in 1937 and 1938 and collected together in 1950, was not the first "Lensmen" story, either in terms of publication or internal chronology, it's perhaps the most famous of the series. Galactic Patrol introduces the character of Kimball Kinnison, who goes on to be the main character in most of Smith's other "Lensmen" tales. It's also where the most influential aspects of Smith's science fiction universe appear in their most straightforward forms.
Galactic Patrol posits the existence of an interstellar law enforcement organization of the same name. The Patrol is tasked with protecting civilization against threats from within and without. The most impressive of the Patrol's operatives were the Lensmen, so-called because they make use of a psychic device known as a Lens. Lenses enable the Lensmen to communicate telepathically, thus increasing their effectiveness as agents of civilization throughout the galaxy. A Lens will operate only for the specific Lensman to whom it is bonded and, because they are psychically active, no Lens ever bonds with someone who does not exhibit the highest qualities the Patrol promotes. Consequently, Lensmen are paragons of the human race and live only to preserve galactic civilization, regardless of the cost to themselves.
Kimball Kinison, the protagonist of Galactic Patrol, is a newly minted Lensman, fresh from the Academy, where he graduated at the top of his class. A new menace to civilization, the pirates of Boskone, have appeared and they possess remarkable technology that makes their ships faster than anything the Patrol can muster. The Patrol determines that the Boskonians must be stopped, but, to do that, someone must capture one of their ships and bring it back for study. This dangerous mission is entrusted to Kinnison, who, while inexperienced, nevertheless possesses raw talents more impressive than any other Lensman. Kinnison succeeds and finds himself quickly promoted, a promotion that frees him from any sort of oversight from the Patrol, enabling him to wander about the galaxy as he sees fit. He then uses his new-found independence to seek out the pirates of Boskone to deal them an even more serious blow. Unfortunately, though the Lens will not bond with anyone who is venal or vicious, there is nothing to prevent it from bonding with someone who is foolhardy and Kinnison, acting on his own, finds himself in a situation beyond even his remarkable powers. Galactic Patrol tells that story and the consequences of Kinnison's actions for both himself and the larger galaxy.
Reading this story, you can see the seeds of much later science fiction. The Lensmen are quite clearly the inspiration of groups like the Jedi from the Star Wars films, as well as the Green Lantern Corps. Likewise, Smith's larger-than-life setting, where entire worlds are almost casually destroyed, and vast fleets of millions of starships square off against one another, pretty much define what would later become known as "space opera." Furthermore, the origins of the Lenses, created by an advanced but benevolent alien race hoping to guide humanity's evolution so that they could eventually take their place as protectors of civilization, is now a commonplace in many works of SF, but it began with Smith and his "Lensmen" series.
Indeed, if there's one "problem" with reading a book like Galactic Patrol nowadays it's that, as the wellspring of so much that came after, it appears trite and unoriginal when, in point of historical fact, everything else that followed it is what's trite and unoriginal. The "Lensmen" series is big and bold and, while I'd never argue that it's scientific speculations hold much water (though, to be fair, many of its ideas were based on the science of its day), it's nevertheless a fun read. There can be no doubt why it exerted such a profound influence on the imaginations of later authors in the genre. E.E. "Doc" Smith more or less invented space opera and anyone with an interest in that sub-genre of science fiction would do well to read his works, if only to journey back to where it all began.