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The World of Null-A
A.E. Van Vogt
Tor Orb, 272 pages

Mark Rodgers
The World of Null-A
A.E. van Vogt
A.E. van Vogt was born in 1912 on a farm was in Manitoba, south of Winnipeg, Canada. When he was 10, they moved to Morden, Manitoba, and then to Winnipeg, where his father became manager of the Holland-America steamship line. A.E. van Vogt worked as a truck driver, farmhand and statistical clerk. Between jobs he began to write. While in Ottawa, he took a course in writing. He wrote his first story and entered a contest in True Story magazine. His first SF story was inspired by John W. Campbell's Who Goes There? and his second story, "Black Destroyer," made the cover of the July 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and won first place in the reader voting.

Turned down by the local draft board, he was able to get a job working for the Department of National Defense in Ottawa. In the evenings, he wrote Slan, published as a four-part serial in Astounding Science Fiction. Quitting in 1941 and moving to Farm Point, Quebec, he wrote several short stories and then The Weapon Shop.

He and his wife, Edna Mayne Hull, moved to Los Angeles in 1944, a hub of all kinds of religions, cults and sciences. He met L. Ron Hubbard in 1945. Dianetics was to influence both him and his wife for many years. A.E. van Vogt died in January 2000.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Empire of Isher
SF Site Review: The War Against the Rull
A.E. van Vogt Tribute Site
A.E. van Vogt Tribute Site
A.E. van Vogt Tribute Site
A.E. van Vogt Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

By the year 2650, the people of earth have moved away from Aristotelian logic, training themselves through years of study and discipline to become Null-A. Everyone knows the people who manage to work their way through the levels of the yearly Game will get a better job, a better life. They may even go off-planet to the utopia-like Venus if they are lucky and pass all the tests. Gilbert Gosseyn is one of these who gather to take the test to see what life he will lead. Until he finds out that the life he's been living is not his own. Soon he finds himself not only on a quest to discover who he really is, but to foil the plans of an alien race bent on intergalactic conquest.

The dangers of reading a book from the 40s is that people tend to lump it in with the movies of that time, picturing paper and tin foil decorated B-movies with poor effects that have not stood up well compared to the technology available today. This is a disservice, as the imagination of the mind can paint much better sets. What must be remembered is that A.E. Van Vogt was writing this book at where we roughly draw the beginning line of what Science Fiction is today. Writers were just starting to imagine this genre, and every writer after that, filled with new rules set by his or her contemporary technology, culture and what previous writers have done, have built upon it, pushed it further. Van Vogt's world is still filled with the power and wonder of human possibility. True, his machines have tubes, and their main weapon is the now too-well-relied-upon blaster, but there are robot-driven planes, and other more sophisticated things that we, as a race, are just getting to building.

Which, of course, is one of the charms of The World of Null-A. Nowadays, we all know that Venus, scientifically, is probably not a place where you can have earth-type life, yet in Van Vogt's imagination, the trees soar to incredible heights, the roots so thick and deep that you can use them as tunnels, the leaves so huge that they catch all the water from the rain storms, and, when over-burdened by their load, dip and splash into each other, creating incredible waterfalls. It is a place of some very beautiful imagery... and a world that we could never create now. We are still in a place where we can comfortably write SF about 2650 -- it's still a far piece, and I'd be surprised if any of us lived to see it -- but to read what Van Vogt wrote about those times, and consider what a new SF writer just getting published would write about those times, and the changes, the gap in technology would be incredible. In some ways, it is a measure of how far we've come as a scientific community, as well as a culture. It makes for interesting reading, not just as a writer who wants to see the roots of his or her field, but as a casual reader of the field. This book has a lot of science fiction conventions... and it's odd to read it, knowing that these things were new, not clichés.

Gosseyn is a fairly strong character, except for the fact that he seems to get caught all the time. We'd just get going again with the action, and then the man -- sometimes by intention, sometimes by accident -- is captured and imprisoned again. Otherwise, the action is quite good, and it's interesting to watch Gosseyn attempt to figure out the often complicated goings on.

A lot of people have been saying that The World of Null-A is good, but you have to be a big SF fan to really like it. I'm not so sure of this. I think it has a broader appeal -- the philosophical battle between the Null-A faction and those who don't believe in it has an almost Brave New World quality, and some of the subtext of what he says about such a culture makes some interesting sociological points -- and the adventure itself is very involving, and isn't that, in the end, what we're really looking for?

Copyright © 2003 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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