- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Orb Books (October 25, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765300974
- ISBN-13: 978-0765300973
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 64 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The World of Null-A Paperback – October 25, 2002
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“A. E. Van Vogt's early stories broke like claps of thunder through the science fiction field. Such novels as Slan, The Weapon Shops of Isher, and The World of Null-A, all were written with invention, dramatic impact, and a sense of breathless wonder that won him instant popularity” ―Jack Williamson
“After more than half a century I can still recall the impact of his early stories.” ―Arthur C. Clarke
“Interplanetary skullduggery in the year 2650. Gilbert Gosseyn has a pretty startling time of it before he gets to the root of things. Fine for addicts of science-fiction” ―The New Yorker
“One of those once-in-a-decade classics” ―John W. Campbell
“A. E. van Vogt was one of the first genre writers ever to publish an actual science fiction book, at a time when science fiction as a commercial publishing category did not yet exist, and almost all SF writers--even later giants such as Robert A. Heinlein--were able to publish novels only as serials in science fiction magazines. It's indicative of the prestige and popularity that van Vogt could claim at the time that he was one of the first authors to whom publishers would turn when taking the first tentative steps toward establishing science fiction as a viable publishing category. . . . Nobody, possibly with the exception of the Bester of The Stars My Destination, ever claim close to matching van Vogt for headlong, breakneck pacing, or for the electric, crackling paranoid tension with which he was capable of suffusing his work.” ―Gardner Dozois
About the Author
A. E. Van Vogt was a SFWA Grand Master. He was born in Canada and moved to the U.S. in 1944, by which time he was well-established as one of John W. Campbell's stable of writers for Astounding Science-Fiction. He lived in Los Angeles, California and died in 2000.
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Knight was absolutely right that the novel is a failure if judged by conventional literary standards. The plot is convoluted, the characterizations facile, the prose often weak, and the handling of technological progress (the work is set in the year 2560) is inconsistent. But the book somehow works despite all of those flaws; all of its failures of logic only serve to create a sort of accidental surrealism, presaging the works of 1960s science fiction writers such as Philip K. Dick. (Dick did that on purpose, and it is not clear if van Vogt was as conscious of what he was doing, but van Vogt's influence on Dick is still obvious.)
The plot involves repeated reversals-- a character is revealed as a villain, then as a hero in disguise, then as a villain masquerading as a hero masquerading as a villain, and on and on, wheels within wheels. This may have all been planned out, but, given the numerous loose plot threads van Vogt never ties up, I suspect he was making it up as he went along. Ultimately, it doesn't matter; you keep turning the pages whether you can follow the plot or not. As the protagonist reflects at one point, "this was life itself he was experiencing. Life in which nothing was ever finally explained."
New plot elements are introduced haphazardly, whenever the story needs them, without any advance warning. At the beginning of the book, the only planets we hear about are Earth and an earth colony on Venus. Midway through the book, we suddenly hear about a threat from the "Galactic Empire." The reader goes, "WHAT Galactic Empire?", but van Vogt just sails on. The philosophy of "Null-A" (non-Aristotelian thinking) is never adequately explained, but it can always be counted on to get the hero out of a fix (except when the plot needs to get the hero into a fix, in which case it doesn't work).
In much of the book, the characters use 1945-era technology (cars, airplanes, radios), except when the plot demands a method of interstellar travel or the like. At one point, the hero picks up an "atomic flashlight" (!) to see in the dark; the device is never mentioned again. This kind of thing drove Damon Knight crazy, and with good reason, but it also adds to the dreamlike atmosphere.
Ultimately, this book cannot be judged by the standards of conventional literature. You read it as if in a fever dream, action rushing past heedless of logic. Judged on its own terms, the book is a legitimate classic of science fiction.
The core of the story is set in the year 2650, and is told from the point of view of Gilbert Gosseyn, who discovers very early on that all his memories are not real. He is being used as a pawn in a struggle for power.
The story of Gosseyn is interesting and the reader does want to find out what happens to him, but there are problems with the story as well. Key to the plot is the philosophy of Null-A (non-Aristotelianism), which is never clearly defined and thus can easily leave the reader confused. This is the first of three books in this series, so perhaps this problem will be resolved in the other books.
For my tastes, "Slan" was a better example of van Vogt's work. In addition, his Isher series is easier to follow as well. The other two books in the Null-A series are: "The Players of Null-A" and "Null-A Three".
Okay, so I stole my title from another critic's comment. But that's what all the Null-A books are about, and I will be grateful all my life that I read the Null-A books when I was young enough to grok them, not just understand them. The word is not the thing. The map is not the world. If anybody can remember these two things, the thalamic pause, which I never did understand, isn't necessary to hold onto sanity with both hands as the world collapses around one. The sooner Kindle gets all the Null-A books and all the Weapon Makers books, the happier I will be. Van Vogt is a seriously underrated writer now, and too many people know nothing of the age in which he was writing except for Heinlein's deservedly remembered books. But this book is great, although its being published by Kindle before the earlier books handicaps the reader, who should be able to read this series in order--a problem hard to solve, as Van Vogt repeatedly rewrote the same material and republished it. He was very fond of revision. But his work is worth the extra work on the part of both the writer and the reader.