Van Vogt in 1963. According to some accounts, this is the only publicity photo he ever approved.
You have to remember that I was a bright but simple fellow from Canada who seldom, if ever, met another writer, and then only a so-called literary type that occasionally sold a story and meanwhile worked in an office for a living.
Though only one among many hardworking Golden Age Science Fiction
writers, Alfred Elton van Vogt (pronounced "von vote") was definitely one of the most prolific. Often overshadowed by the "Big Three" (Arthur C. Clarke
, Robert A. Heinlein
and Isaac Asimov
), van Vogt still managed to pen some long-lived classics, including Slan
, The Book of Ptath
, The Voyage of the Space Beagle
, The Weapon Shops of Isher,
and the Null-A
series (which incidentally kicked off the genre of rational fiction
). He cranked out dozens of short stories, many of which have been anthologized over and over again. Like several of his contemporaries, he also forayed into the realms of mainstream fiction and nonfiction.The Other Wiki
states that van Vogt was born in Edenburg, a Russian Mennonite community near Gretna, Manitoba.
He spoke German until he was four years old. He got his start by writing for pulp magazines, but decided to switch to something he liked a lot better.Critics are sharply divided
over the quality and merit of van Vogt's work. While it's true that he won few awards during his lifetime, his name is often mentioned along with the Big Three. It's worth pointing out that Clarke, Asimov, and John W. Campbell, Jr. all spoke highly of him. Damon Knight
, however, called him "a pygmy who has learned to operate an overgrown typewriter." Despite his critics, van Vogt did manage to inspire several prominent sci-fi writers, such as Harlan Ellison
and Philip K Dick
. Ellison in particular was so outraged that van Vogt had received so little recognition that he went on a one-man media rampage
until the SFWA finally presented the aging van Vogt with a Grand Master Award
Van Vogt claimed that many of his ideas came from dreams
, and often arranged to be awoken every 90 minutes so he could jot down his nocturnal imaginings. He had a habit of throwing together short stories he'd written previously
into composite tales, novels, or novel series, which he called "fixups." He often favored the use of temporal conundra in his stories, and was interested in totalitarian states, power struggles and inductive reasoning, all of which show up frequently in his works.
His Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
article suggests not only that the negative criticism of his work is misplaced, but that many of its unique qualities derive from van Vogt's Canadian-ness. (Although it's probably worth noting that the article is written by John Clute - who is also Canadian.)
Works by this author with their own trope pages include:
This author's other works contain examples of:
- After the End: The context of the Mutant Mage series. It isn't quite what it seems like at first, though.
- Alien Autopsy
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Kibmadine from The Silkie are telepathic, shapeshifting Ted Bundies and Jeffrey Dahmers, whose chief delight is changing their victims' terror into a yearning to be eaten alive.
- Amnesiac God: Who was killed in a tank battle in a previous life, no less.
- Atomic Hate: The Riss (from The Wizard of Linn) have a nasty habit of bombing human cities into smoking craters. Our hero Clane gets hold of something even more powerful, though, and defeats the Riss with it.
- Badass Bookworm: A lot of van Vogt's protagonists are scientists and other academic types who wind up playing the hero.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Giant cats with tentacles, anacondas with antlers, and blue-furred, six-legged, three-eyed monsters, for example.
- Bold Explorer: In Voyage of the Space Beagle, most of the crew of the Space Beagle, especially Director Morton, the head of the expedition. (The protagonist, Elliot Grosvenor, is along as more of a trouble-shooter.
- Brains and Brawn: Clane and Czinczar from The Wizard of Linn, though Czinczar is by no means unintelligent.
- Enemy Mine: Professor Jamieson and the ezwal are forced to work together to survive the hostile surface of Eristan II in Co-Operate—or Else!
- Imported Alien Phlebotinum
- Intelligent Gerbil: Van Vogt seemed to have a fondness for these, and usually equipped them with Telepathy.
- Lost Technology
- Low Culture, High Tech
- Milkman Conspiracy: The weapon shops of Isher.
- Nearly Normal Animal
- Not Quite Human: The Mixed Men from Mission to the Stars.
- Plant Aliens
- Rational Fic: Null-A is a classic example of this genre
- Recycled IN SPACE!: The Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn, which were amalgamated into the Mutant Mage series, were inspired in part by the Roman Empire, particularly the reign of Claudius. The resemblance is almost painful at times. The series is basically I, Claudius IN SPACE!
- Science Hero
- Standard Sci-Fi Fleet
- Starfish Aliens