Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Children of Tomorrow

A.E. van Vogt Children of Tomorrow (1970)

I promised my brain I'd lay off the van Vogt for a while, at least give it time to heal before tackling The World of Null-A which has been sat upon my shelf exuding quiet psychological menace for the last few months, that being the one in which he really pulled out the stops, so it is said; but faced with Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, I realised I should probably line my stomach beforehand, figuratively speaking, scoff an industrial strength metaphorical haggis before subjecting myself to all that moaning goth flavoured fizzy pop.

For those yet unfamiliar with the mind of van Vogt, he was the author who specialised in dream imagery, peculiarly Expressionist sentence structure, random elements shoehorned into the plot roughly every eight-hundred words, unrelated short stories welded together and forced into coherence with much frowning and pipe smoking and so on: Flash Gordon directed by Max Ernst, irredeemably weird and astonishingly good when struck with the right balance.

Unfortunately Children of Tomorrow turns out to fall some way short of his better novels. If ever the reader experiences problems with van Vogt, it's usually because the narrative is too fucking weird for its own good and makes no sense. This one is initially promising but just doesn't go anywhere. The story tells of pilots returning to Earth from many years spent in deep space to find their children have grown into teenagers and are all confirmed gang members. The gangs in question are run along curiously puritanical lines, civic-minded youths who frown upon kissing and the neglect of one's homework. This clearly represents some sort of commentary upon the generation gap - Blackboard Jungle turned upside down and filtered through van Vogt's peculiar theories of psychology and social interaction - but it's not well communicated. Alfred Elton's oddly mannered people work better when running through the convoluted maze of his random approach to plotting, and are less engaging as subjects in their own right. The one brief glimpse of characteristic genius occurs when teenager Bud Jaeger briefly resumes his many tentacled alien form for reasons which are never quite made clear, which sadly only serves as a reminder of how good this novel should have been.

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