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Slan / Slan Hunter
A.E. Van Vogt and Kevin J. Anderson
Science Fiction Book Club, 373 pages

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 World of Null-A
SF Site Review: The Empire of Isher
SF Site Review: The War Against the Rull

Kevin J. Anderson
Kevin J. Anderson was born in 1962 and was raised in Oregon, Wisconsin. At 10, he had saved up enough money from mowing lawns and doing odd jobs that he could either buy a bicycle or a typewriter -- he chose the typewriter and has been writing ever since. He sold his first novel, Resurrection, Inc., by the time he turned 25. Anderson worked in California for 12 years as a technical writer and editor at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he met his wife Rebecca Moesta and his frequent co-author, Doug Beason.

Kevin J. Anderson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Landscapes
SF Site Interview: Kevin J. Anderson
SF Site Interview: Kevin J. Anderson
SF Site Review: Horizon Storms
SF Site Review: A Forest of Stars
SF Site Review: Dogged Persistence
SF Site Review: Resurrection, Inc.
SF Site Review: Dune: House Atreides
SF Site Review: Lethal Exposure

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

The Extra Jommy Cross has returned!

Maybe you didn't realize he'd been missing. A.E. Van Vogt wrote one of the quintessential Golden Age novels in Slan, originally published in 1940. Jommy Cross is the son of the legendary Slan, Peter Cross -- a great man of science and technology. Slans are the next stage of human evolution: telepathy achieved through a pair of golden tendrils.

However, when both of Jommy's parents die, Jommy is still young and left to find his way. He meets up with an elderly woman who calls herself Granny, and who shares nothing in common that beloved name implies to most human beings -- she's greedy and selfish. Jommy is her ticket to easy money, She won't turn him in if he does exactly as she says. Jommy complies -- what choice has he? No one likes Slans as they are clearly superior to normal homo sapiens who will become extinct if Slans are allowed to survive.

Jommy bides his time in hiding until he can find Slans like himself, and until he can go to the palace as the memory his father implanted in his mind tells him to do. Jommy learns that an entire secret society of tendril-less Slans also exist, but they too are hostile the normal Slans. The odds are stacked heavily against his survival.

This is one the early prototypes for the coming-of-age stories -- SF style. You can savor the taste of this in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, Frank Herbert's Dune, and Algis Budrys' Falling Torch. We find Jommy coming into his own as well, growing into full strength, intelligence, and telepathy.

Stearting to reread this classic of SF, I entered with trepidation. But Kier Gray has inspired scenes with his counsel reminiscent of the political scenes in Dune. The dialogue has a different tinge, a new layer, when you know more about who the characters are. Also, I hadn't noticed Jommy's growth until this reading, decades later.

When it was released, fans apparently identified with the characters and called themselves, Slans. Perhaps the SF fan-boys were unfairly persecuted in their day, but perhaps a better corollary would be the Jews in Europe (surely, no SF fan-boy died for reading SF).

Another coinciding event -- this one technological -- that appeared on the scene around the time the novel first appeared was television. Could it be that Van Vogt leapt from the antenna of TV -- pulling mysterious waves out of the ether and playing them into audio/visual scenes -- to humans who could read minds if they only had the proper pair of tendrils/antennae to pick up these signals? Surely, humans constantly emit their thoughts in the form of energy that could be read if you only had the right receiver. Backing up this hypothesis is the idea that Slans without antenna cannot read minds.

Slan ends on something of a cliffhangar. Someone dead turns out to be alive; anti-Slan humans have to be dealt with, and tendril-less Slans are planning an attack. In fact, it seems strange that A.E. Van Vogt never capitalized on writing a sequel to his most popular novel.

Kevin J. Anderson has corrected that. Using an outline and a draft that Van Vogt started, Anderson opens with a pregnancy of two humans who produce a Slan. Anthea, the mother, survives an attack by police and other civilians through the aid of her child, who turns out to be an even more advanced Slan. Meanwhile, Petty has arrested Jommy, Kathleen and President Kier Gray as Slans -- just as Lorry has the tendril-less Slans attack the humans on Earth. Lorry, it turns out, has acted without the approval of the tendril-less counsel.

The negative reviewers focus on the Anderson's departures from the continuity that Van Vogt started in Slan. But how many of these changes were Van Vogt's reconsidering the choices he made in his first novel? Also, artists want to put a stamp on their work to make it theirs. Fans always complain about translating books into film, but directors have to make choices -- due to money, time or artistic constraints -- that may not coincide with the original work.

Jommy doesn't quite use telepathy in the same manner, gaining some abilities, discarding others. Although still crotchety, Granny's no longer the greedy old lady (nor the docile woman that Jommy had hypnotized her into becoming). I had envisioned Petty as secretly part of the tendril-less Slans (he is able to mask his mind in the original), but it's Lorry who takes that position. Kier Gray had some powers of not only shielding his mind, but putting superficial thoughts on top of the shield (which I was hoping would get explained or expanded upon).

What few have pointed out is Anderson's strengths in creating a likeable character in Anthea illustrating how one can be forced to change one's perspective, explaining what had been left unexplained in the original, coming up with dramatic surprises -- some of them truly inspired and enviable.

One can't walk into Slan Hunter expecting a smooth return into the same narrative stream. One will appreciate the novel best by approaching with an open mind, noting changes dispassionately and even asking why or to what advantages these changes might make.

In fact, it might prove interesting if die-hard fans put together a Wiki where they used the same outline to rewrite Slan Hunter to their liking. Would it have faired better? Something tells me, no. But then the fans could always alter it to their taste.

Copyright © 2010 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; edits poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (just to give people something to talk about) culminating in editing an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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