A. E. van Vogt

A. E. van Vogt, 1912-2000

A web page by Alan Nicoll.

New: Want to authenticate a van Vogt signature? See this autograph I obtained from him personally at a science fiction convention, probably around 1970-1975.

Man Beyond Man: The Early Stories of A. E. van Vogt, great biographical essay by Alexei Panshin.
Van Vogt Group at SmartGroups.com.
Newest link: my 9/1/04 response to an email from a Mr. St Clair in London, my recent thoughts about van Vogt's strengths and weaknesses as a writer, discussion of some rarities, and so on.
Wikipedia article on van Vogt, a good source of links and information.
Weird Worlds of A. E. Van Vogt web site.
Interview with van Vogt that was published in Science Fiction Review #23, in 1977.
Another interview with van Vogt by the same Jeffrey Elliot.

A. E. van Vogt

Alfred Elton van Vogt was one of my favorite authors when I was a teenager, and has remained a favorite while most others (Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, Mickey Spillane, Ian Fleming) have been forgotten. This web page presents a meager selection of my reviews and thoughts about van Vogt.

Van Vogt was born in Canada in 1912 and died 1/26/2000. The first science fiction novel I ever bought, and maybe ever read, was The Weapon Shops of Isher, the old Ace paperback. It cost 35 cents. This was around 1960. About twenty years later I was at a science fiction convention in Pasadena (probably) and had van Vogt autograph it for me. My impression of him was that he looked a bit weird, being rather tall and angular-looking, though somewhat plump. It seemed to me that he walked oddly, with his knees almost bending backwards, so that his legs were braced against collapse by the ligaments of his knee joints rather than by muscular action. I think his hair was grey but his eyebrows very dark and stood out starkly against the background of his face. He one of three of the old greats of SF giving a presentation. I no longer remember who the other two were, nor anything that was said at the meeting. When the meeting was over, I went up to the stage along with some other fans to get autographs. Van Vogt was extremely friendly and pleasant and he inscribed the book, "To Alan, all the best wishes of the author, A. E. van Vogt."

I've read all his novels and most of his short stories numerous times, though my reading of all fiction has dropped off dramatically in the last ten or fifteen years. I no longer look for his books at bookstores, but just last night (9/12/01) I started reading The World of Null-A to my son, who is six years old. It's my favorite of all of van Vogt's books.

Van Vogt's influence on me was significant as I was growing up. My father died when I was ten, and although my mother remarried, I never much liked her choice. So I was in need of male role models, and my reading mostly filled that need. Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan, John Carter, and other heroes were important, but van Vogt's supermen were more intellectual than physical, and so I think were more important to me. His supermen were super generally because of what they knew and not because they were physically strong or skillful. The World of Null-A in particular was important to me because of the bits of General Semantics it presented. I went on, probably in my thirties, to read most of Science and Sanity and all of Language in Thought and Action, plus a bit more about G.S. But all of van Vogt's books helped increase my desire for knowledge, competence, even mastery, as well as being great stuff to read.

My particular favorites are: The World of Null-A, The Players of Null-A, The War Against the Rull, Voyage of the Space Beagle, The Weapon Shops of Isher, and The Weapon Makers. Planets for Sale, written with E. Mayne Hull (his wife at the time) is also excellent. A couple of short stories or novelettes stand out in my memory as well: Vault of the Beast and Resurrection. I don't have a list in front of me, so I've doubtless left out some I'll want to add later. The following are some notes I wrote a few years ago towards an analysis of van Vogt's fiction.

General Semantics

Van Vogt used concepts from General Semantics in his Null-A novels. Here's a short note about what I know off the top of my head about G.S.: link. For better information, start with the Wikipedia article on G.S.

The van Vogt Superman

Many of van Vogt's novels have as protagonist a man of unusual powers---a superman. Typically the superman is superior because of what he has learned---Nexialism, General Semantics, Finite Logic, and so on---but he may also have unusual or unique physical attributes as well (Slan, The World of Null-A, The Silkie). It often happens that the superman learns as the novel progresses, gaining greater powers. This learning may be a basic plot element, as in The World of Null-A. The superman will often be a member of a secret society because of his superior learning or his physical attributes; his fellows can be drawn upon for aid as required, even if they are not personal friends or acquaintances (The World of Null-A, The Silkie). The secret society may not be an organization as such, but just a loose group of men with similar capabilities, training, or attributes. Society members can often recognize each other without words being spoken.

Van Vogt on the Sexes

Van Vogt's stories frequently contain observations of how men and women typically interact. The following excerpt from Cosmic Encounter is the most fully developed treatment I'm aware of:

So he stood now without any serious criminal impulses. In fact, he had been law-abiding all his life. Women, of course, were different, and did not come under certain laws. What you had to do to get a woman was something that men shook their heads over sometimes (but not often). It was the way women were that made it necessary---on that level Abdul had no compunctions.

It did not surprise Abdul---and actually it had not surprised Fletcher---that the Lady Patricia was attracted to the pirate captain who had murdered her. Women were like that---incredibly, they did things like that. Everybody (men) had noticed such contradictory qualities in the feminine make-up: an abysmal capacity for forgiveness . . . . Probably a carryover from the countless evolutionary millennia when merciless males ruthlessly dominated all of the women they could hold away from other males of their type. And the women, thus possessed, felt secure in those numerous wild, violent environments of long ago . . . .

To him, the way that women psychologically differed from men made them "less." It had apparently never occurred to him that women, after an early period of trust (nearly always betrayed), observed how "less" men were. Whereupon, after a time of disturbance, each in turn finally made her peace with the grim reality that this "pig" or "dog" or "fox" or "hyena" or "bear" of a man is all there is. (Cosmic Encounter, first edition, 1980, p. 140-142)

You can buy Van Vogt's Reflections, his autobiography and one of the rarest of van Vogt titles, at Amazon (I am currently selling a copy there):

My email address is: alan_nicoll@yahoo.com