This is the first E.E. Smith book I've read and I must say that for the type of book that it is, The Skylark of Space isn't too bad. Think old school comic books. It has high adventure, a smart/strong/handsome protagonist, a loyal sidekick, gee whiz technology, an extremely evil bad guy, and pretty girls. For a large part of the book, the story is fairly interesting. Smith moves the action along quickly and provides a respectable amount of tension to the drama. Even though I knew everything would turn out fine in the end, I still wanted to know how Smith would accomplish it. At a short 159 pages, it was a quick and fun diversion.
The Skylark of Space is not, however, without issues. Many of them are given: flat, completely unreal characters, rigid gender roles, featherweight science, wildly campy. I won't fault the book for these sorts of things. It's a product of its time that targeted a specific audience.
What I do want to point out is that Smith treats war very lightly. Although this book was completed in 1920, Smith revised it in 1958. It's surprising to me that even though Smith had seen the effects of two world wars, mass destruction of life is a very casual act in his book.
For those of you who aren't already huge Doc Smith fans, you'll probably enjoy this book if you know what you're getting into. Understand that it doesn't hold up very well under careful (or even casual) scrutiny. But, for what it is, Smith wrote a great book.
But what I love about Doc's books is not rooted in irony: the incredible creativity in visualizing advanced technology, fast-forward and entertaining action plots, and the sheer scale of the "build up" within each book and from one book to another.
Technology: Although very quaint by modern standards (especially in "Skylark of Space"), put in context the creativity Doc displays in envisioning future technology is second to none. Not in terms of "accuracy", but in terms of their self-consistency and imaginativeness. Skylark was written pre-television, pre-laser, pre-NASA, and pre-nuke. What Doc built from that base is incredible, entertaining, and fun, viewed from the perspective that even relativity was a comparatively new theory when it was written (Doc obviously knew about it, and chose to ignore it). In "Skylark of Space", the result is spacesuits made out of leather, descriptions of how the spaceship's hull is fashioned from heavy steel, faster-than-light travel by simple accelertaion, and "energy beams" of different frequencies with different effects. I think Skylark of Space actually remains too tied to the technology of the day, but those shackles are unleashed in Skylark Three (the sequel) and Doc's vision really shines.
"Action": I understand that this book is the origin of spaceships shooting at each other. Doc's battle and action sequences need make no apologies for their age or context. This is why you put up with all the sexist attitudes, the bad speeches and the cheesy exclamation. Unless they are encountering the brief setbacks necessary to create some semblance of dramatic tension, Doc's heros kick so much alien bad guy butt it's amazing.
"Scale": Doc obviously is a big believer in the "orders of magnitude" theory of plot development. The formula is this: at the beginning of the book, the main characters are on top of the world, and their power seems nearly limitless. Then they nearly get their butts kicked by bad-guy aliens who are so much more powerful that the good guys look like gnats. Then the good guys bulk up (in technology, knowledge, etc...) to the point that the bad guys are completely and easily decimated. Repeat as often as necessary. What is amazing and enjoyable is how long Doc can keep this up: by the end of the series, literally whole galaxies are being destroyed. Yes, it's completely implausible, but dammit! It's fun!
Anyway, if you only are going to read one "Skylark" book, I'd actually recommend the sequel: Skylark Three. It's not very hard to get into the plot, and enough trappings of 30's earth technology have fallen away at that point to let Doc's real creativity shine.
In summary: Smith is a must-read for sci-fi buffs. Stick with it, and you will be rewarded. But don't expect any of your friends or family to enjoy it.