Born and raised in rural Canada, A.E. Van Vogt (1912-2000) would grow up to become one of science fiction’s most complex and talked about authors. Always a fan of the fantastic, Van Vogt got his start writing regular old pulp fiction. He sold his first science fiction story in 1939. Like many golden age science fiction writers, most of his early works were short stories for the magazine industry. As the industry later changed to short novels and chapbooks, Van Vogt attempted to weave together short stories that took place in the same universe into a longer coherent story. Known as “fix-ups”, some of the them were very successful, others, not so much.
He moved to California in the 1940s, and watched as World War II unfolded. Obsessed with humanities reaction to totalitarian police states, the concept of governments that had complete control would be a theme that showed up in many of his works, along with the concept of superbeings that took control, or had to be kept from taking control.
His most well known works are Slan and The World of Null-A. Written in the 40s, both novels deal, to some extent or another, with superbeing humans, who are what we “really” are, and how to deal with a world that fears and hates those who are different. Mission to the Stars, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow, also deals with the issue of humanity standing together to hate, hunt, and exterminate humans who are different from them. Pretty heavy stuff for pulp stories, if you think about it. The World of Null-A was eventually followed by two more Null -A books and inspired John C. Wright’s 2008 novel Null-A Continuum. For those of you suddenly craving a sample, the opening chapters of both Slan and The World of Null-A can be found on The Weird Worlds of A. E. Van Vogt.
Known for highly complex yet episodic stories, many critics weren’t quite sure what to do with Van Vogt. Damon Knight couldn’t stand him, and Philip K Dick thought he was brilliant. If you like strange and surreal, Van Vogt is for you. If you want a neat and tidy explanation at the end of the story, maybe this is an author you should skip. Regardless of what the critics said, Van Vogt was most certainly ahead of his time.
In 1996, A. E. Van Vogt was award the Damon Knight memorial Grand Master Award by the SFWA (ironic!) and he has received special awards for lifetime achievement. Near the end of his life, he suffered from Alzheimer’s. After his death in 2000, his widow Lydia Van Vogt worked with Kevin J Anderson to write Slan Hunter, based on notes Van Vogt had left. It was published in 2007.
Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing Mission to the Stars (also published as The Mixed Men). I also own The Man with A Thousand Names, but I haven’t read it yet. Have you read any Van Vogt? If yes, what did you think of him? If no, does he sound like someone you’d be interested in?
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Btw, this post, and in fact, most of the author bios you have read this month wouldn’t be possible without Wikipedia. Yes, I know Wikipedia isn’t the best source in the world, but it’s been a great starting point for me to find information and additional links. Wikipedia will be going dark on Jan 18th to bring attention to SOPA. I urge you to read up on SOPA and what this is all about. Knowledge is power, peeps.