If you're silly enough to allow any deeper meaning for this space opera, then bear with me. It's clearly a product of its mid-60s, mid-cold-war era. The bad guys (as in Atlas Shrugged) are the leeches sucking the life out of industrial creativity, both union organizers and tax-wielding agents of the corrupt government. The other bad guys include The Nameless One, a mysterious and insane eastern potentate eager to rain nuclear he11 down on anyone who interferes with his fantasies - now that Kim Il Jong has demonstrated his nuclear flatus, it's a prescient image. The other-other bad guys are the robber-barons of industry, who've gone so far as to hide their new planetary slave camp, well into its seventh generation of social strangulation and serfdom. The other-cubed bad guys, this being the Cold War at its searing coldest, are the Soviets of New Russia, and that says all that matters.
Of course, in the midst of all these baddies, we have the good guys, a mere ninety planets or so against these schemers against all that's good, free, democratic, and based on hard currency. (I did mention Rand, didn't I?) Among other things, their super-psychics have the knack of finding planetary masses of uranium or any other useful ingredient for their super-scientists - who, being so very intelligent, must necessarily be good guys since being bad guys would be dumb, right? (Rand again.)
Having lasted well into the 1960s, Smith was forced to deal with women as powerful, capable people - kicking and screaming, maybe, but he did it. In an early scene, the two babes each take out a would-be assassin, who the menfolk promptly shred with bullets to save the little ladies from the upsetting thought that they'd have to take credit for their own kills (bare-handed, by the way). And, although some of the weaker sex are almost the equal of the square-jawed men in many respects, that highest level of super-psi-something or other is a mens club, ladies not admitted. The females have their own figures of merit, though, and not just the classic three measurements that summarize everything a fratboy wants to know. No, because they are such potent beings, these women seem to consider the "cat in heat" as the highest exemplar of their womanly values. Although a bit vague about details, frequent pregnancies figure heavily (pardon the pun) into how womanly they really are.
But, c'mon. Those great Bogart movies are scarcely more enlightened in their views of women, but good stories anyway. These stories (or at least their author) come from the same era, and Smith is to be applauded for the little bit that he was able to change with his times. He is to be applauded more loudly for dragging the Flash Gordon sense of heroism from the 1930s to the 60s without looking wholly antiquated doing it.
This is among his latest books, the last in his true spirit (and I deliberately omit the D'Alemberts from that list). I can't use the word "great" on any one these pot-boilers, but his ouvre as a whole reeks of squeaky clean, saturday afternoon, nickel-cinema greatness. A generation that can't sit back and wallow in these stories is a generation that has lost something happy and precious.