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Creator / A.E. van Vogt

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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.
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Though only one among many hardworking Golden Age Science Fiction writers, Alfred Elton van Vogt (pronounced "von vote") (April 26, 1912 – January 26, 2000) 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 was an influence on 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.

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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.

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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.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Kibmadine from The Silkie are telepathic, shapeshifting, literal sexual predators whose chief delight is changing their victims' terror into a yearning to be eaten alive.
  • Amnesiac God: In The Book of Ptah. One 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. However, our hero Clane gets hold of something even more powerful 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.
  • Born Lucky: Cayle Clark from The Weapon Shops of Isher is a "callidetic giant", which makes him crazy lucky to the point that being forced into sex slavery comes out to his advantage.
  • Brains and Brawn: Clane and Czinczar from The Wizard of Linn, though Czinczar is by no means unintelligent.
  • The Caligula: Empire of the Atom and The Wizard of Linn has the most prominent characters as analogues of Roman history, starting with Clane/Claudius. "Calaj" is the obvious Caligula stand-in, the grandson of Lydia/Livia and related to Clane and Tews/Tiberius.
  • Caused the Big Bang: A possible case in The Weapon Shops of Isher, in which a man travels through time, accumulating energy the further he is away from his time. In the end, he is at a time before the planets formed, and is tired of it, so he releases the energy (although it is not stated that outright it is actually the Big Bang that was created that way).
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: In The Book of Ptath, gods and goddesses are ordinary humans who have immortality and supernatural powers by the virtue of being worshiped by great numbers of the opposite sex.
  • Cloning Blues: Gilbert Gosseyn (pronounced 'go sane' — get it?) of The World of Null-A and The Players of Null-A. Whenever he's killed, he 'wakes up' in a new cloned body with all his old memories right up to his death... and he has a superpower, too.
  • Deadly Upgrade: In The Weapon Shops of Isher, the vibratory technology which enables the Weapon Shops can also be used by humans to grow into a several-hundred-foot-tall giant that's practically invincible... but it will also cause you to age at an exponentially increased rate. This is, of course, no impediment whatsoever to the secretly immortal, benevolent puppeteer of humanity Robert Hedrock.
  • Death World: In the first section of War Against the Rulls, the protagonist is stranded on the planet Eristan II with an ezwal (a clawed, fanged, six-limbed, three-eyed, three-ton apex predator with a genius-level intellect and telepathy) after the starship carrying them is shot down. The ezwal sneers at the offer of aid made by the protagonist, who knows something about the planet, and goes off on its own. Less than an hour later it comes running back and practically begs for help.
  • 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!
    • In The Wizard of Linn, Clane and the captured barbarian leader Czinczar team up to defeat the Riss, despite Czinczar's repeated attempts to gain the upper hand. It's a good thing that Clane invests heavily in Betrayal Insurance.
    • There's also Maltby and Grand Captain Laurr from Mission to the Stars. They actually exaggerate the trope and get hitched.
  • Fake Memories: The World of Null-A may be the first example of this trope in literature. Gilbert Gosseyn has a false memory of marriage to Patricia Hardie, who turns out to be the daughter of the leader of a conspiracy that has secretly seized control of the world government. The memory was implanted by The Chessmaster to bring him to the attention of the conspiracy, so that he could be killed and resurrected, since His Death was Just the Beginning.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Averted in the short story "Vault of the Beast". Parelli has just received a radiogram advising him that his wife had a baby boy — then a monster attacks, but Parelli survives.
  • Gainax Ending: The Weapon Shops of Isher, which is mostly about the eponymous weapon shops, the Isher Empire that opposes them, and an immortal man trying to keep them in balance, ends with an alien concluding that humanity is "the race that shall rule the sevagram". This is the first time anyone in the story has mentioned a sevagram, and we never learn what it actually is.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: In The Book of Ptath, gods are powered by "prayer sticks", which are actual machines (albeit Sufficiently Advanced ones) that are physically manipulated by their worshipers to send power to the god.
  • Immortal Life Is Cheap: Gilbert Gosseyn in The World of Null-A can be killed, but then he just wakes up in a new Gilbert body with all his memories.
  • Improbably High I.Q.: Van Vogt appears to retain the term "IQ" but throws away any relationship it has with IQ today and more to be some sort of measure of "mental strength". In The Proxy Intelligence, on an IQ curve that would include humans, Kluggs, Lennels and Dreeghs, the respective averages would be 100, 220, 380, and 450. A few paragraphs later come mentions of I Qs of 3,000 and 10,000. The problem is the idea that the intelligence or mental abilities of different species could naturally be ordered along a single dimension/expressed by a single number (it's hard enough trying to do that just for humans).
  • Intelligent Gerbil: Van Vogt seemed to have a fondness for these, usually equipped with Telepathy.
  • Lightspeed Leapfrog: "Far Centaurus" is about a group of people who are trying to be the first to reach Alpha Centauri, but along the way somebody up and goes and discovers FTL travel.
  • Mind Rape: The Kibmadine from The Silkie don't just take a form that turns their victims on and then eat them alive post-coitus. They take over their minds to make them want to be eaten alive.
  • Planetary Romance: In The Book of Ptath, the god Ptath is flung into the far future by a deadly rival and given the mind of a 20th-century man. Stranded in this alien world, he must fight to regain his powers before the rival goddess sends the world spinning into chaos and darkness.
  • Recycled with a Gimmick: 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!
  • Selkies and Wereseals: The Silkie features genetically modified people who can transform into aquatic, seal-like creatures or into living spaceships.
  • Smart Gun: The guns sold in The Weapon Shops of Isher are smart weapons than can only be used for self-defense, suicide, or legitimate hunting (as defined by the Weapon Shops). However, a few special agents have "unlimited special" guns that don't have the "self-defense only" limit built in.
  • Teenage Wasteland: In Children of Tomorrow, so many men have gone to war that there aren't enough left on Earth to enforce the law, and the children are organized into "outfits" with police powers.

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