Literature / The Voyage of the Space Beagle

The Voyage of the Space Beagle is a Science Fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt. To be more precise, it is actually the compilation of several short stories that van Vogt had written for a magazine years before (including the first two he ever wrote). All the stories had in common the involvement of the Space Beagle, an Earth starship sent to explore new areas of space, encountering ever more fantastic -and dangerous- alien lifeforms along the way.

Although obscure today, the stories were enormously influential; to the point that some of the creatures Vogt invented have been openly imitated, most notably the telepathic, cat-like Coeurl (which became a recurring monster in the Final Fantasy series) and even the xenomorphs from Alien might have been based on Vogt's work (he certainly believed so.)

A recurrent theme of the stories was that one of the ship's science officers gave a warning of danger, but was ignored and always ended up having to save the crew by himself.

Tropes in the stories:

  • And I Must Scream: Ixtl's human victims are paralyzed with its eggs inside them, waiting for the hatchlings to eat their way out. The doctor extracts the eggs in time and the paralysis wears off.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good - for some background, everyone on the ship was a scientist, all from different schools of thought. Grosvenor, the main POV character, studies "nexialism," which is a vague generalist overview of all the sciences (as opposed to specializing in one). His view is presented as the superior, and only, way to study science (i.e. specialists are always wrong and narrow-minded, generalist views are best). Nobody listens to his warnings of danger, and nobody signs on to Nexialism, so eventually he hypnotizes the entire crew through the ship's PA system to force them to turn to Nexialism. It works, and by the end of the book all the ship's scientists become Nexialists and learn from him.
    • A House Divided: In fairness the issues were a bit more serious than people not being Nexialists. The Space Beagle's crew were splitting up into competing factions, endangering the long-term safety of the ship, and in the last story an Eldritch Abomination is threatening all life in the galaxy.
  • Cat Folk: The Coeurl.
  • Chromosome Casting: The crew is entirely male, with the sexual urge repressed by drugs.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Ixtl and Anabis.
  • First Contact Team: The crew of the Beagle.
  • Ignored Expert: The lone nexialist (a scientist whose specialty is nonspecialization) in the crew.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The Coeurl
  • Locked Room Mystery: The Coeurl kills several members of the crew and returns to its locked cage, which it can easily unlock with its control of electric fields.
  • Meaningful Name: The title is an obvious reference to the HMS Beagle, the ship whose voyage of exploration included Charles Darwin (and the story has a similar discovery-of-new-species theme.)
  • Patchwork Story
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality - When people do not listen to, agree with, or vote in favor of the nexialist scientist, he brainwashes and hypnotizes or imprisons them to get what he wants. This is viewed as a good thing because he is "right."
  • Terraform: Anabis, a galaxy-spanning consciousness that has terraformed all planets in its own galaxy by ripping a piece of its planets surface off and sending to to the target planet through hyperspace (called junglescaping).
  • Time Abyss: The crew theorize that Ixtl is a creature from a previous incarnation of the universe, and had been drifting in space since before the Big Bang until it encountered the Beagle.
  • Trapped with Monster Plot: The encounter with Ixtl was one of the prototypes for this kind of plot in science-fiction media.
  • Villain Protagonist: The encounter with Coeurl is told from its POV.