"I took the family alarm clock and went into the spare bedroom that night, and set it for an hour and a half. And thereafter when I was working on a story I would waken myself every hour and a half through the night - force myself to wake up, think of the story, try to solve it, and even as I was thinking about it I would fall back asleep. And in the morning there would be a solution for that particular story problem. Now, that's penetrating the sub-conscious in my opinion. It's penetrating it in a way that I don't think they'll be able to do any better, thirty centuries from now." - A. E. van Vogt, in DREAM MAKERS (May 1979)
He is one of the pioneers of science fiction despite the fact that his novels aren't exactly among the favorites of the sf literati. Action-packed and rich in lurid detail, his early works introduced wild ideas like implanted false memories to later writers, from Barrington Bayley to Philip K. Dick.
He is not by any means considered a great writer, but he is a memorable and influential one. He incorporates complex time paradoxes and messianic supermen into these tales about galactic empires; he soaks his vision in that primal essence of science fiction, sense of wonder. He is one of those authors who give science fiction its bad name, yet somehow his stories find their audience and hold their fascination.. he is:
A. E. VAN VOGT : ONE AGAINST ETERNITY
by Marc-André Brie
"Van Vogt was the ideal practitioner of "Doc" Smith's billion year spree. He was not hard and cold and unemotional, in the manner of Clement, Asimov and Heinlein. He could balance his cubic light years and the paraphanelia of super science with moments of tenderness and pure loony joy. Intimations of humanity surfaced now and again among all his frenetic mental powers and titanic alien effects." - Brian W. Aldiss
"...van Vogt had...nothing less than the ability to deliver (a) total alienness within (b) a hugely panoramic background that (c) seemingly lacked reason and yet came together to (d) end by making total if terrifying sense". - Barry N. Malzberg
"...a compelling presence, an intensity, a slightly mad gleam in his eye, and when he writes he comes up with eerie powerful journeys into symbolic depths of the psyche. When you open one of his novel you open the subcnscious. He writes dreams." - Charles Platt
"...Van Vogt's THE WORLD OF NULL-A, there was something about that which absolutely fascinated me. It had a mysterious quality, it alluded to things unseen, there were puzzles presented which were never adequately explained. I found in it a numinous quality..." - Philip K. Dick
"Each paragraph-sometimes each sentence-of my brand of science fiction has a gap in it, an unreality condition. In order to make it real, the reader must add the missing parts. He cannot do this out of his past associations. There are no past associations. So he must fill in the gaps from the creative part of his brain." - A.E. van Vogt
Alfred Etan van Vogt was born in Canada in 1912. Almost without any formal education, he began a writing career in his late twenties, moving to the United States after the second World War. A.E. van Vogt is arguably the greatest of all pulp SF writers. His first published SF story ("Black Destroyer"), is considered by many to have launched the so-called Golden Age of american magazine science fiction. For ten years, his was the defining voice of magazine science fiction:
"...his nearly invincible alien monsters, the long timespans of his tales, the time paradoxes that fill them, the quasimessianic supermen who come into their own as the stories progress, the galactic empires they tend to rule and the states of lonely transcendental ominipotence they tend to achieve-all are presented in a prose that uses crude dark colours but whose striking sense of wonder is conveyed with a dream-like conviction...."
The best of van Vogt dates from these extraordinary years. They were followed by almost twenty years of absence, which he largely consecrated to "working on his brain" with Hubbard's dianetics in Hollywood. When he finally returned to writing novels during the seventies, he never attained the same intensity which marked his early years as a writer. His attempt to adapt his prose to a more colloquial and contemporary style led to a loss of evocatory power. Concurrently, his ideational content, much of it consecrated to advanced mental states, had moved to the fore: the unconscious rapture of the early van Vogt had been replaced by the rather labored expositions of the late van Vogt. Indeed these late novels have probably blurred his early achievement. For it is the early van Vogt who interests us. He transcends gloriously his pulp material.
Though Van Vogt remains one of the most popular SF writers worldwide, he has suffered an eclipse in the U.S. Certainly the drive towards middle class acceptance which has animated the SF establishment for the last generation (with considerable success!), has no room for the inspired madness of a van Vogt. Indeed, he has been a great embarassment to a genre which has otherwise embraced with equanimity the stolid liberal platitudes of an Asimov or a Sturgeon, and the right-wing panaceas of Heinlein and his coevals. Save for the notable exceptions of Philip K. Dick or Barry Malzberg, van Vogt has almost no american defenders of consequence. It is in the U.K., France, Brazil and Sweden that he has found his most ardent advocates. For van Vogt does not write "speculative fiction", social novels of the future, or scientific extrapolation. He possesses none of the literary, political or scientific graces which might endear his writing to the powers that be. Largely innocent of science (for the "sciences" he deals with are general semantics, "totipotency", Batesystem vision restoration, "similarization", dianetics, spenglerian cyclical history, "nexialism" and other slightly deranged systems of his own confection), van Vogt has been the ablest and greatest practitioner of what John Clute has called the "hard SF dream". The hallucinatory vividness of these hard SF dreams, the frenetic exercice of what a french critic has termed his "rationalized dementia" ensure that he will never be embraced by Middle America. It is impossible to discern any "relevance" to his fiction, and often difficult to even say "what it is about". There is no pandering to "realism" with van Vogt. As he says himself, van Vogt practises "unreality writing". The elemental forces which he describes and unleashes which such disregard for plausibility or verisimilitude (and sometimes grammar!), cannot be pigeon-holed within the ritual dance of genre SF. Furthermore, they are parallelled by the flamboyant and spectacular nature of his writing (really quite sophisticated when compared to that of the rest of Campbell's "Astounding" stable). Most science fiction is laborious and dull reading, even that of the "great" names. Not van Vogt. His writing may often be atrocious, violent and crude but the "high neanderthal" pulp style of his great years was never dull, and he occasionally attained blessed moments of surreal grandeur. That sheer demonic power which his writing sometimes attains, is enough to set him apart from the the rather pedestrian pages of the rest of the "Astounding" crew.
All of this ensures that he cannot be identified with any recognizable group or school, or easily imitated as a writer. (Though Dick, Harness and even Blish more than once attempted to do so, the first two with some success.) Van Vogt is an original who will never achieve the middle-class respectability to which contemporary SF aspires, as he systematically subverts and frustrates not only the genre conventions but even the very aspirations of his readers. Thus van Vogt has been a controversial figure in american science fiction almost from the start. Described as a "cosmic jerry-builder" by a young Damon Knight, considered with olympian disdain by the acerbic William Atheling Jr. (Blish), he has been cruelly neglected by the merchants who run the contemporary SF scene, who prefer to play it safe with more presentable figures: the platitudinous Asimovs, the boorish Heinleins. But when all the pulps are finally turned to dust and the hype is forgotten and long gone, some true perspective will restore van Vogt to his rightful place as the cosmic overlord of genre science fiction.
"This much we have learned. Here is the race that shall rule the sevagram." -A.E. van Vogt
"...others write about the future...van Vogt writes from the future..." -unknown, mid-twentieth century
maintained by JT Lindroos