Among the many books my parents have been keeping for me (lo these ten years past) I rediscovered a Panther Science Fiction box set of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s 1930s/40s/50s space opera, the Lensman series.
These are very firmly in the “so bad it’s good” corner:1 the men carry ray guns, the women are seven-sector callouts with pure hearts and flaming red hair, the baddies are pure evil from another universe, and lots and lots of events are “indescribable” or even “inconceivable”. They also feature alien races with silly names, oodles of space battles, telepathy, and huge and hilarious amounts of technobabble.
And, getting to the topic of this post, they feature space-axes.
The space-axe—a combination and sublimation of battle-axe, mace, bludgeon, and lumberman’s picaroon, a massively needle-pointed implement of potentialities limited only by the physical strength and bodily agility of its wielder. (Galactic Patrol)
This tickled me so much, I wondered what else Doc had “spaced up”. So I found plaintext copies of the books (one on Project Gutenberg and the rest in Roy Glashan’s Library) and went looking. (I’ll say a bit about the process of looking below, and the scripts I used are online.)
There are 72 more-or-less distinct “space-” compounds in those texts.2 Here they are, with a count of how often they appear across the whole series (scroll to see the whole list):
space-alloy 1 space-approach 1 space-armor 7 space-armored 1 space-axe 19 space-bag 1 space-battle 3 space-black 7 space-boat 2 space-bucket 1 space-chart 2 space-combat 1 space-cradle 1 space-cruiser 1 space-dive 1 space-dock 3 space-drift 1 space-drive 6 space-field 10 space-fighter 1 space-fighting 1 space-flea 4 space-fleet 1 space-flight 1 space-flyer 2 space-god 1 space-hardened 7 space-hellion 3 space-hound 3 space-insanity 1 space-laboratory 1 space-leg 1 space-line 6 space-liner 2 space-louse 7 space-man 1 space-men 2 space-model 1 space-nurse 1 space-opera 4 space-pervading 1 space-pilotry 1 space-plane 2 space-port 26 space-rat 2 space-rover 2 space-scout 1 space-ship 104 space-sickness 5 space-speed 3 space-speedster 2 space-suit 25 space-suited 1 space-tan 1 space-tanned 2 space-tempered 4 space-time 12 space-torturing 1 space-toughened 1 space-trained 1 space-tramp 1 space-travel 2 space-traversing 1 space-tube 2 space-tug 2 space-war 2 space-warp 1 space-way 1 space-weary 1 space-worthy 1 space-wracking 2 space-wreck 1
From this list, and checking references as we go, I can confirm that the space-axes are space-toughened. They are wielded by space-men in space-suits of space-armor made of space-tempered space-alloy. (When out of the space-armor, their uniforms are space-black.) Such a space-man keeps his belongings in his space-bag, and travels (of course) in a space-ship —or if he is lucky, in a space-speedster—, navigating by space-chart. He may become space-weary, but he will not suffer from space-sickness because he is thoroughly space-trained; if he is struck down by space-insanity, a space-nurse will cure him. He has a space-tan.
He is space-tanned.
Sadly, a space-bucket is not as hilarious as it sounds: it’s an affectionate term for the space-man’s space-ship, rather than an actual bucket. Likewise, space-flea, space-louse, space-rat, and space-hound refer to people not animals. A space-god, on the other hand, is exactly what it sounds like: he’s what the space-hounds swear by, and his name is Klono. “By Klono’s tungsten teeth”, his brazen hoofs and golden gills, his carballoy claws, his gadolinium guts and his prehensile tail… with a space-war bringing all that space-combat, space-fighting, and space-pilotry, a space-hellion has plenty to swear about. And that’s to say nothing of the space-torturing space-drive that powers his space-boat through a space-traversing space-warp from one space-port to another; or of the possibility of a space-wreck. It’s no wonder whenever he makes space-dock he heads straight for the nearest space-dive.
By my count I’ve used 40 from the list: more than half, but there are plenty more I didn’t manage to work in. Can you space-fleas do better? Clear ether!
Even an analysis as simple as this one involves quite a bit of fiddling about with the data. You can find the tool I wrote, and the processed data, in a mercurial repository on bitbucket. I haven’t included the original textfiles in the repo, because I’m not sure of the copyright status of most of them; you can find them all at Roy Glashan’s Library.3
I first used
grep -n space-[^-] to find all instances of “space” followed by a hyphen (but not a double hyphen, as in “
He was no longer in space--at least,”) in the texts. Since
grep only outputs a single line, I had to do something about the 24 lines that ended with “space-”: I added the second word of each compound by hand, using the file and line references that
grep gave me. (This was annoying enough that I might try to automate the process if I do any more similar analyses.) Then I wrote a wee python script to extract the words themselves and organise them into a convenient json structure; this program removes internal spaces (coping with dirty input like “space- man”) and drops everything to lowercase. It’s nice to count “space-axes” together with “space-axe”, so I removed trailing “s”.4
- Despite which it nearly won a Hugo in 1966. [↪]
- I’ve folded together the easy plurals (“axe” and “axes”) but done no other stemming, so “space-man” and “space-men” show up separately, as do “space-armor” and “space-armored”. [↪]
- I used the edition of Triplanetary from Project Gutenberg, because I happened to find that first. [↪]
- Always check the data when you do something overly simplistic like this: I had to add an exception for “space-sickness”! Doing this properly is known as “stemming”, and you really don’t need to roll your own: the Natural Language Toolkit for Python includes several stemmers. [↪]