Welcome to the world of A.E. van Vogt, the madcap storyteller who goes through plots faster than an otolaryngologist uses up tongue depressers. His books are. This chapter draws attention to the way that in his novel Slan A. E. van Vogt develops the human/non-human opposition by creating two kinds of alien: first- order. Best-selling science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson felt like a giddy fan while completing the unfinished last novel of A. E. van Vogt, the.
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Reviewed by Ted Gioia Here’s a synopsis of the first eight pages of A. We learn that an ostracized race, known as Slans, lives in hiding from the police in a totalitarian society. Slans have telepathic powers, which allow them to detect enemies at a distance. Despite this skill, a Slan female cannot escape her pursuers when she is identified during a visit to the capital city. Before she is killed, she tells her nine- year-old son Jommy, that ae.van must go into seclusion, complete his dead father’s unfinished project, and then assassinate Kier Gray, dictator of the planet.
The police capture and kill Jommy’s mother. He grieves for the duration of one sentence. Chased by police, the boy evades them by jumping on to the back of a passing car. But this automobile carries John Petty, sinister chief of police for the dictatorship.
Passersby spot the youngster precariously balanced on the rear bumper of the car, and phone in reports to the authorities, who send out an all points bulletin to apprehend him. Meanwhile Petty and his chauffeur also detect Jommy, and chase him on foot through a rundown residential area. Jommy is injured by a stray bullet, and seeks for a hiding skan amidst a stack of old crates. Here he find—a heaven-sent miracle! A ten thousand dollar reward is offered for the capture of the youngster.
The military is called in to assist in the manhunt. And we are only halfway through chapter one. No, the pace does not slow down. Over the course of the next twenty pages, you will encounter a kidnapping, an attempted murder, a failed government takeover, a secret midnight council of leaders, a rapidly assembled firing squad…and on and on and on. Welcome to the world of A.
If writing fiction were simply a matter of setting up conflicts and resolutions, which lead to more conflicts and resolutions…well, van Vogt would have won the Nobel Prize in literature. As it stands, his books are more slapdash than sublime, yet captivating in their sheer manic energy. If I had to sum up van Vogt’s oeuvre in a single phrase, I would opt for: No author had less faith in his readers’ attention span than A. He refuses to give them a chance to get bored, inserting some death-defying stunt or crazy galactic escapade every few paragraphs.
Sometimes he a.f.van abandon other lesser on van Vogt’s scale, if not yours virtues— coherence, character development, plausible motivations, stylish prose—in the process.
But he never, ever lets his story lag. At the time van Vogt came of age as a writer, the serial film was at the height of its popularity. These were adventure movies, broken into around a dozen slsn so individual episodes.
Each week, one of the installments would be shown at movie theaters around the US as an interlude between the feature films. This chapter in an on-going story would last roughly fifteen minutes, and invariably end with a cliffhanger—some unresolved plot twist that would entice the audience to return the following week to see the next episode.
Of all the science fiction authors of the Golden Age, van Vogt came closest to transferring the roller-coaster pacing of the movie serial on to the printed page. His story has taken us underwater, underground, inside mountains, and off to outer space.
Various love interests arrive on the scene, but rarely last for more than few paragraphs. Just as a marathon runner can’t afford to linger and enjoy the scenery, van Vogt refuses to slacken his pace.
Onward the story rushes, in a breathless race to the finish line. What is the most outlandish plot twist here? I must admit a fondness for the moment when Jommy arrives at a top security space launch site just twelve minutes before takeoff, with no specific plan of attack, but with confidence that he will find a way of hijacking the spaceship.
Of course, he succeeds. But even better is when Jommy shows up at the highly fortified presidential palace stark naked and ready to take on 10, opposing troops.
Slan by A.E. van Vogt
Yes, he wins that encounter too. And if you like fight scenes, you must savor the moment Jommy matches up single-handedly against a fleet of spaceships equipped with nuclear weapons, including a ten- million ton behemoth of a mothership a half-mile in diameter and chuck full of the latest assault technology.
I would like to give van Vogt credit for the socio- historical resonance of his work. Published in magazine form during the interlude between the start of World War II in Europe and the attack on Pearl Harbor, Slan can be read as a cautionary tale about the racialist demonizing that made the Holocaust possible.
But I fear I may be giving our author too much credit, and if anything the mutant Slans who are the heroes of his book have more in common with the Arayan self-proclaimed master race than the Jewish diaspora.
Here, as elsewhere in van Vogt’s oeuvre, he shows an unhealthy fascination with forceful political leaders who trample on democratic institutions. Yet if one peers deeply enough into this novel, a theme of tolerance and non-violence can be dimly detected—often hidden behind scenes filled with intolerance and gratuitous violence.
Let’s hope that a few of the many teenagers who have read this book over the decades paused at least long enough to notice. Click on image to purchase. Back to the home page. The Chaotic SF of A. Check out our sister sites: Follow Ted Gioia on A.e.van at www.
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