Monday, 14 April 2014

The House That Stood Still

A.E. van Vogt The House That Stood Still (1950)

Even if you don't know exactly what you'll get with each new van Vogt title, you usually have a reasonable idea of the direction in which it will be headed. Nineteen of these things seemed like enough, and yet here I am reading my twentieth because I can't resist the guy, even knowing with some certainty that every single van Vogt review from here on will open with a variation on this same paragraph. The bottom line is that whilst there may be an element of repetition involved, in apparent contrast to stories which are often surprisingly difficult to follow or even incoherent, when there's the chance of something at least as magnificent as a despotic caveman leading a group of Nazis who live on the moon, only an idiot would leave it sat forlornly upon the shelf of the store.

There are no lunar national socialists here unfortunately, just the internal power struggles of a group of immortals resident in a house built by an alien robot in California around the year 300AD.

So what's new? one might wonder.

In this case it seems to be that van Vogt has been trying his hand at a conventional thriller, or at least conventional by his standards. The House That Stood Still is an actual single coherent novel, as opposed to the usual group of unrelated short stories bolted together and forced at gunpoint to make sense. Of course van Vogt's characteristic rhythm of weird twists and interjections every eight-hundred words still seems to be in place, but the element of the unexpected is kept under control, limited for the most part to the relatively plausible, so there's no sudden appearance of winged dinosaurs or any of the usual rampant surrealism. Our hero is a man called Allison who investigates the aforementioned ancient house for reasons I can't quite remember, and spends a lot of time shagging by the sort of terms you would expect from a novel written in 1950, if perhaps a little more enlightened than might be anticipated. There's also a whole load of Mesoamericana thrown into the mix, but I get the impression Alfred Elton's research was probably limited to what he could remember from some show he watched whilst drunk one evening. This would get on my tits somewhat were this any other author, but fuck it - only a fool would argue with this man.

It's not the greatest van Vogt, and although it's unusually restrained in comparison to some, it still has that rhythm, the constant motion of the characters and the quality of a dream, so it does its job.

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