the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘A.E. Van Vogt’ Category

voyage-of-the-space-beagleVoyage of the Space Beagle, by A.E. Van Vogt

published in 1950

where I got it: purchased used

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A sci-fantasy, the title of this fix-up novel is a direct reference to Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, an exploratory voyage that lasted longer than expected and that hoped to discover and research new and different species and learn more about our natural world. I call it a sci-fantasy, because while there is plenty of science in this story, and the solutions to all their challenges are science derived, there is also a lot of “hand-wavium” that functions as overly simplified technobabble.

 

The scientist who becomes the main character as the story progresses is Elliott Grosvenor, who is a nexialist scholar. Nexialism is akin to interdisciplinary applied sciences – Grosvenor doesn’t study only chemistry or engineering or physics, he studies all of them, often under hypnosis to learn faster. The use of hypnosis has added an element of the studies of how the human mind works, allowing Grosvenor to both induce and rebel hypnosis and psychic attacks. Nexialism is a new science, and the other scientists aren’t sure what to do with the young Grosvenor. Some of them ignore him, others are outright antagonistic and aim to sabotage his work.  It’s neat how the scientific departments on the Space Beagle have the feel of a university, complete with different labs, work areas, and politics.

 

What makes this fix-up novel so famous is that one of the novellas, “The  Black Destroyer” is considered an official inspiration for the movie Alien (the screenwriters of the movie never admitted to plagarism, but were happy to quickly settle out of court for a chunk of change), but it’s a little more complicated than that.  “The  Black Destroyer” was first published in 1939 and is considered the beginning of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The premise of this novella is that The Space Beagle touches down on an abandoned planet, and among the ruins finds a cat-like creature called Coeurl. Assuming Coeurl to be harmless, they allow it access to the ship, where it slowly tries to kill the crew with the intention of taking over the ship and traveling to where more of its food can be found.   Horrible things happen, people die, and the scientists have to come up with some method of tricking the beast which includes a life boat and an airlock.

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Vintage SF badgeNull AWorld of Null-A by A.E. van Vogt

serialized in Astounding Science Fiction in 1945, first published as a novel in 1948.

where I got it: purchased used, the 1970 printing.

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“The map is not the territory, the word is not the thing itself”

Gilbert Gosseyn has arrived in the great city of The Games to prove his Null-A training.  His wife Patricia Hardie recently passed away, but he knows this is what she would have wanted, for him to succeed at the The Games and win passage to Venus.  He’ll win for both of them.

During a meeting with other visitors, Gilbert is accused of not being who he says he is. But he passes a lie detector test with flying colors.  The year is 2560, lie detector computers are ubiquitous, and why in the hell would anyone lie about having been married to President Hardie’s daughter Patricia (who is very much alive, and very much unmarried)?

In the World of Null-A, the world of non-Aristotelian logic, there is never any reason to lie about one’s identity, never any reason to panic.  Among other things, Null-A mental training allows one to instantly adapt to changes in their environment, and Gilbert has been training his whole life for this.  But he was never prepared to not have any idea who he is.

He can trust only his memory, but what if your memory is wrong? Does our memory make us who we are? Does our brain and our memories tell us exactly how something happened, or only how we perceived that it happened? How do we get rid of the filter of our own perception?

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Mission to the Stars (also published as The Mixed Men), by A. E. Van Vogt

published as a novel in 1952, based on short stories written in the 1940’s

where I got it: purchased used

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With an incredibly immersive and involved story, Van Vogt manages to use very few words to imply so much about characters, the environment, and complex political situations. I was happily surprised at how few pages it took me to feel like I was “in” the story.  And another happy surprise, a female main character, who is also in a position of power, along with a handful of other female officers! How wonderfully unexpected!

Grand Captain Lady Laurr Gloria Cecily commands the Earth ship Star Cluster on their ten year mapping mission of the Megallanic Cloud. As their mission comes to a close and they are readying for the interstellar trip home, they come across a lonesome weather station, manned by a suicidal meteorologist named Watcher. What is a weather station doing out in the middle of no where, where humanity has barely been, and why in the world did he kill himself after he had been given medical care on board the Star Cluster?  Against the strong suggestions of the rest of the captains on the ship, Grand Captain Gloria Cecily decides to dive back into the Magellanic Cloud to search for possible colonists.

The government of Earth is a singular government, and does not tolerate any independent human colonies.  Revolts are either put down, or the populations involved are killed. If there are human colonists living in the Magellanic Cloud, they will be absorbed into the government of Earth.  But these people do not want to be found!

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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.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.