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Van Vogt must have had a deadline to meet....
on September 30, 2001
With its very sloppy plot execution and stumbling, verbose, soap opera like dialog, this has too be one of the most poorly written science fantasy novels that I've ever read. So, you are probably asking why I gave the book two stars? Well, notice that I said "poorly written", but not "poorly conceived". And herein the tragedy lyes, for this really could have been a bonified sci-fi classic worthy of the title had old A.E. taken the time to iron out some of the kinks and do his awesome working concept justice.
Because the average reader (anybody not related to van Vogt by blood or marriage) will have no idea what is really going on in the book until the last twenty pages, here's the scoop...at a point somewhere in the very far future, a person creates a device that will later be called the "God Chair". This cube shaped machine gives the recipients of its energies some rather divine powers: the ability to possess the minds of others; the ability to send one's consciousness into the past (and take over the minds of people there as well); the ability to eventually become a totally non-corporeal energy force ("god"); the ability to make any totally possessed host creature nearly impervious to physical harm; and, last but not least, the ability to make others "poles of God power" (who are kept powerful by other devices called "prayer sticks" that are metallic rods fed by the psychic energies of people in this far future totalitarian society who are under the impression that those with "god power" are literally deities). Now, here's where the conflict arises...the creator of the God Chair (a more or less benevolent chap named Ptath)takes two concubines (Ineznia and L'onee) and makes them poles of god power. Ineznia is a power hungry vixen, and she somehow (we never learn EXACTLY how) banishes Ptath from their own time and he goes into the remote past to "merge with the race" (he ends up absorbing the personality of a dying American tank commander during WW2 named Peter Holroyd). Ineznia is under the impression that there are seven conditions (called "spells") that will make Ptath impotent in the event that he returns to the world of two hundred million A.D. (and most of the crummy plot revolves around Ineznia trying to kill off the reborn Ptath--who has returned in the body of her lover Prince Ineznio, but he's brought along the soul of born freedom fighter Peter Holroyd--while L'onee's physical body lingers in Ineznia's dungeon and her projected soul possesses persons who aid Holroyd-Ptath). All the while, Ineznia is cooking up plots and intrigues to overthrow the nation of Nushirvan (where the God Chair is located) and to prevent Ptath from once again sitting in the chair (an action that will make him undefeatable...supposedly).
The novel works as a piece of socio-political commentary...the take on the nature of hero and dictator worship is rather poignant (celebrities and big wigs are only as powerful as their "subjects" allow them to be, all religion is based on fear and loathing, etc.), and the visions of armies millions strong fighting for their respective super-powers (Gonwonlane, Nushirvan, and Accadistran)--all the while employing flesh-eating bird-like monsters called Screers to mutilate the civilian proletariate by the hundreds of thousands--is sort of awe inspiring.
Besides the awkward pacing, dialog, stumbling "make it up as you go" plotting, and numerous spelling errors, there are other laughable things about this story I should mention! 1) The Earth of 200,000,000 AD will be able to support 85 BILLION persons (any ecologist can tell you that that's impossible); 2) By the time this novel takes place, the plant life has evolved into unrecognizable forms...the animal life has evolved into unrecognizable forms...the very landmasses (continents) themselves have changed form...BUT, van Vogt expects us to believe that human beings have REMAINED TOTALLY UNCHANGED (a very unlikely prospect); and 3) everybody on the planet (judging from A.E.'s descriptions) is apparently caucasian!!! (NOTE: if you plan to read this, here's a geography lesson to help you avoid confusion...Gonwonlane is a supercontinent comprised of the remnants of Africa, Australia, South America, and Antarctica; Accadistran (the home of the fascist "Zard" whom Ineznia possesses to sick screers on her own rebellious, Ptath loving subjects in Gonwonlane) consists of the joined continents of North America, Europe, and Asia; and Nushirvan is a mountainous, volcanic isthmus that will rise from the waves in the far future and connect Accadistran with Gonwonlane.
Yes, this was very heavy stuff for 1943 and the concept itself is still rather impressive, but van Vogt obviously knocked this one off in a hurry and really mucked things up. What you have here is a rough draft for a sci-fi classic that unfortunately falls short of the mark.