Tuesday, 8 May 2018


A.E. van Vogt Renaissance (1979)
In reference to his later novels, John Clute apparently described van Vogt as a man who awoke from a dream but could not remember the glories of the night - which Mark Ricard drew to my attention as I don't actually have a copy of Clute's book. Anyway, it's certainly true of this one.

As I've noticed in a few of his seventies novels, Alfred Elton seemingly became preoccupied with the inequality of the sexes, although it should be noted that his model of inequality was massively subjective and somewhat screwy. On the surface of it, it looked a lot like an old dude resenting that he hadn't been getting much action of late, and rationalising this as a power imbalance with all the cards being in the hands of those accursed sexy women with their big ol' titties having it off as much and as often as they like, the fuckin' bitches. I say on the surface because that's how it looks from the viewpoint of someone reading in 2018, and when I say someone I mean me, obviously; and I also say on the surface because such a judgement probably isn't entirely fair on van Vogt and any resemblance of Renaissance to The Worm that Turned - as serialised on The Two Ronnies way back whenever - shouldn't be taken too seriously.

Anyway, this is one of those future worlds invaded by an alien species, in this case called the Utt, and the Utt have come because they saw something wrong with human society and thought they should put it right; and because the wrongness stems from male human sexuality, the Utt have changed everything so that women are the dominant sex and men must wear chemically treated glasses. Either the precise point of these glasses isn't mentioned in detail, or else I missed that paragraph, but I'm guessing it's so that men don't go on a rampage, having been driven to distraction by women's tits wobbling around like big sexy jellies on plates. For such a mannered society, there seems to be quite a lot which A.E. prefers to imply rather than state - which is probably a mercy - although the world of Renaissance seems so riddled with half baked contradictions that I suspect it may simply be that he hadn't fully worked it out himself, or that he had but wasn't entirely comfortable with his own conclusions.

The woman of Renaissance are polarised as Mila, the unhappy punishing wife, or on the other hand, your stereotypical young, unavailable lovelies, and we're never quite sure whether this latter group should be considered angels or whores, and if whores, whether that's a bad thing. I'd say Freud would have had a field day, but it probably wouldn't have taken much more than a couple of minutes.

The Utt and the new laws they impose upon their human subjects therefore read a little like political correctness gone mad, although that probably wasn't quite the author's intention, at least not exactly. My apologist take on this is that his views seem so personal - and not a little messed up - that there's not much point in mistaking any of it for a manifesto.

It occurred to him for the first time in their long business life together that she had a most excellent figure.

As the door closed, he jumped a little. And realised that he had had a forbidden male-type feeling; and that he should be experiencing a strong guilt reaction.

But what he actually felt was a fear of being found out.

As is fairly common with later van Vogt novels, our man chances upon a rebel group, in this case, men who dress as women so as to go undetected, and the general tone made it difficult for me to read on without visualising scenes from the Dick Emery Show or the aforementioned Worm That Turned.

The great shame is that if one is able to get past van Vogt failing to get to grips with his own forbidden male-type feelings, Renaissance isn't actually a bad book; or if it is, then it's at least bad in an interesting way. The narrative is unusually coherent and clearly-defined, despite all of the sexual elephants in rooms we're not going to talk about in 1979; and when our man encounters the extraterrestrial Orsolite at the very end, everything suddenly comes into focus and we remember what made van Vogt so great in the first place. It's probably best not to remember him this way, but even for all the faults of Renaissance, A.E. still looks marginally less of a pillock than Pat Mills after Sex Warrior.

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