Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Gryb

A.E. van Vogt The Gryb (1976)
Well, I was warned that I might find this collection a little underwhelming, but the timing seemed good, so ahead I forged. It's an odd bunch of tales, apparently a slight reshuffle of The Proxy Intelligence and Other Mind-Benders from 1971. I bought this copy from a second hand book store in Rockport, since destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, so it felt important that I should get something from it for reasons I can't quite define; and I tried, but…

The Gryb - here referring to the collection as a whole rather than to the short story of the same name - feels like a novella with a bunch of shorts plopped on the side of the plate as some kind of concession to value for money. The novella would be Humans, Go Home which was written in 1969, and quite conspicuously reads like late period van Vogt, contrasting with the rest - all earlier, shorter, and probably not to be counted among his better efforts. It isn't that anything here is actively poor, or even without enjoyable aspects, but not much of this actually reads like van Vogt. The prose is unusually prosaic for the most part, functional, and lacking Alfred Elton's typically startling images, abrupt swerves, or harsh grammatical angles; and the stories seem to lack his customary ambition, at least in places - The Problem Professor for example, which borders on being one of those Asimov tales wherein eggheads have a conversation about rockets and we get to listen in for twenty or thirty not conspicuously gripping pages. At first I wondered if these might be really early works written before he'd developed his characteristic techniques, but no - I checked, and Black Destroyer predates everything in this collection. The Invisibility Gambit and Rebirth: Earth were supposedly co-written with his wife, E. Mayne Hull, which might account for the stylistic variance except that there isn't anything much to differentiate them from the stories for which she isn't credited - which would additionally seem to support the theory that most of that which has been published under her name was actually written by himself.

The Gryb, more commonly known as Repetition, was recycled to better effect as part of The War Against the Rull; and both Rebirth: Earth and The Star-Saint are fun, and enough so to justify reading the thing; and many of his usual themes are present, unfortunately including his slightly peculiar attitude to women which is given full expression in Humans, Go Home; but otherwise this just doesn't feel like our guy. Maybe he was ill, or maybe he was reigning it in a bit just to see how it felt. The Gryb is an interesting collection in terms of this writer and his career, principally because it seems so out of character; but with another name on the cover, it's unlikely that anyone would have noticed.

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