A. E. van Vogt

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Alfred Elton van Vogt (1912 - 2000)

Canadian-born science fiction author. After starting his writing career by writing for "true confessions" style pulp magazines, he decided to switch to writing something that he enjoyed: science fiction. His first published science fiction story, Black Destroyer (Astounding Science Fiction, 1939), depicting a fierce, carnivorous alien stalking the crew of an exploration ship was extremely popular and set the style for a number of science fiction films over the years.

He wrote a large number of short stories, many of which were retrospectively patched together into novels, or "fixups" as he called them. Sometimes this was successful (The War against the Rull); other times the disparate stories thrown together made for an incoherent plot (Quest for the Future).

He had always been interested in the idea of all-encompassing systems of knowledge--the characters in his very first story used a system called "Nexialism" to analyse the aliens's behaviour--and he became interested in the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski, and wrote two novels on this theme, The World of Null-A and The Pawns of Null-A. In the 1950s, he became involved in L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics and his writing more or less stopped for some years. He resumed writing again in the 1960s.

He had systematised his writing method, using scenes of 800 words or so where a new complication was added or something resolved. He claimed to get many of his ideas from dreams, and indeed his stories at their worst had the coherence of a dream, but at their best, as in the fantasy novel The Book of Ptath, his works had the power of a dream, as well. Philip K. Dick has said that van Vogt stories got him interested in science fiction, with their strange sense of the unexplained, that there was more going on than the protagonists realized.

Notable books:

  • The Voyage of the Space Beagle
  • The World of Null-A
  • The Pawns of Null-A
  • Slan
  • The Weapon Shops of Isher
  • The War against the Rull
  • The Book of Ptath
  • The Silkie