Saturday, November 03, 2007


By A. E. Van Vogt.

Exciting adventure, but something is definitely missing in the way the characters behave. Foreshadowing (even false foreshadowing) seems distinctly absent. The science fiction tropes are also dated (hypnotism plays a big role again, as in Cordwainer Smith and Isaac Asimov's fiction of the same period and in Van Vogt's World of Null-A), and the ending is a little weak, possibly reflecting initial publication as a serial novel: perhaps Van Vogt wasn't sure he was finished with the story.

The problem with the characters is that the main ones seem too credulous for superhumans who are both (a) supposedly several times more intelligent than an adult human and (b) aware that humans lie. They seem to swallow every successive thing that someone else tells them, despite supposedly having a fantastic grasp of human psychology due to their ability to read minds. (The superintelligent superhumans as main characters idea is also reminiscent of the only other Van Vogt book I've read (mostly), The World of Null-A.) Also, we see less of the other characters than we'd like; even Kathleen Layton appears mostly in the beginning and then fades away as Jommy Cross takes center stage as a mostly solitary actor, with a shadowy "organization" in the background chasing him but little interaction with other people.

Despite this weakness in the characters and the dated nature of the science fiction (hypnotism, mind-reading and antigravity in the same world with super-strong steel, newspapers, and "radiotelephones"), this is still a pretty good story for its length. (Short, if you're in doubt.) Brevity is a virtue, supposedly. There is also no mention of God or religion, if I remember correctly; the majority of people are treated as a mob without individual thoughts or perrsonalities, easily manipulated by the ruling powers through their irrational fear of slans. What is a slan? Read it and find out—if you trust the author that much...

There is a sequel (at least partly) by another author.

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