Monday, 2 March 2015


A.E. van Vogt Pendulum (1978)
I think this is the third or possibly fourth collection of short stories by A.E. van Vogt I've read. Deriving from much later on in his career than Away and Beyond and the others, this collection lacks anything in quite the same league as Black Destroyer or The Great Engine, but nevertheless has merit. Both Pendulum - the title track, so to speak - and The Male Condition are at least as insane as any of his more bewilderingly surreal efforts from the 1950s, and other tales of that era are nicely invoked in The First Rull.

I found Living With Jane and The Non-Aristotelian Detective almost completely incomprehensible, but then there's always a couple with this guy. Well - strictly speaking it's the point of The Non-Aristotelian Detective which seems incomprehensible rather than the actual narrative, it being something to do with Korzybski's general semantics, of which van Vogt was quite the fan; and when he writes about it I can never quite tell if the point really is as basic as it initially seems or is else way over my head. Here our detective solves his case by the supposedly non-Aristotelian means of deciding which suspect seems most likely to have done it, so as I say I can't tell whether or not I've missed something here.

Further triangulation of whatever lurked within the mind of Alfred Elton is afforded by the inclusion of variant works - a highly readable collaboration with Harlan Ellison and a rare example of journalism in the form of van Vogt's report from watching the launch of Apollo XVII. The collaboration with Ellison seems to revise a typical van Vogt narrative into more traditionally readable English grammar, which is all very nice, and also makes it perhaps a little clearer as to just why Philip K. Dick cited the man as a major influence. The report from the rocket launch, mostly derived from van Vogt wandering around conducting oddly Pinteresque interviews with bystanders, is initially revealing only in regard to the unorthodox psychology of its author, but comes together to make a point worth making at the conclusion.

There are certain aspects which jar somewhat throughout the book, mostly through the author belonging to a particular generation with particular views on sex and race; but although the means of expression is odd in places, notably during the interview with a Black - as the gent in question is termed and capitalised in the piece on Apollo XVII - the sentiments conveyed are generally noble if a little stilted, at least providing reassurance that if van Vogt was a man of his time, his views tended towards the progressive rather than conservative.

Considering he's almost certainly amongst the top ten strangest authors to ever be pulled over drunk in charge of a typewriter, isn't it about time someone wrote the definitive A.E. van Vogt biography? We already have about seven different versions of the life of Philip K. Dick, and I suspect this one could potentially be at least as peculiar and fascinating.

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