I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
In the not too distance future, while fleets of commercial space ships travel between the planets of numerous solar systems, a traveler named Virgil Samms visits the planet Arisia. There he becomes the first wearer of the Lens, the almost-living symbol of the forces of law and order. As the first Lensman, Samms helps to form the Galactic Patrol, a battalion of Lensmen who are larger than life heroes. These solders are the best of the best, with incredible skills, stealth, and drive. They are dedicated and incorruptible fighters who are willing to die to protect the universe from the most horrific threat it has ever known.
By far the best of the Lensman series that I have read so far--the most intricate plot and the most characters, though they are still pretty stereotyped. One has to consider that this was published in 1940, when military men were heroes and equated with all that was good, against the forces of evil--pretty much the planet of Arisia vs. Eddore.
Once again, I am struck by the forward looking role of women in this novel. When selecting people to go to Arisia to become Lensmen, the men unanimously choose their coworker, Jill, who accompanies them on the voyage. She doesn't end up with a Lens, as it appears that the Arisians are less accepting than human men. She comes back, reporting, "Women's minds and Lenses don't fit...Lenses are as masculine as whiskers...There is going to be a woman Lensman some day--just one--but not for years and years." But Jill goes on to play a pivotal role in the plot and in the end, hooks up with one of the official Lensmen, Mason Northrup. I guess Smith let the aliens be the chauvinistic ones!
I also enjoyed how politicians and elections get thoroughly run down as corrupt and unfair--much the same way that many people feel today. In that regard, the book has a very modern sensibility, although I'm sure we would be suspicious of a military body of any kind over seeing an election to maintain its integrity.
Its fascinating to see the beginnings of the science fiction genre and too see where some of the enduring stereotypes come from--I wouldn't recommend the Lensman series to just anyone, but it you are interested in the history of the sci-fi genre, this series is required reading.