Ted sez, "The recent Charles Dickens bicentenary was widely celebrated, and the 100th anniversaries of the births of John Cage and Woody Guthrie promise to be major events in 2012. But last week, pioneering science fiction author A.E. van Vogt would have turned 100, and hardly anyone took notice. Yet van Vogt was a major figure in sci-fi's 'Golden Age' and his works anticipated many later hits, from Alien to Star Trek. Ted Gioia celebrates the van Vogt centenary with a series of essays on his career and major works."
Here's a synopsis of the first eight pages of A. E. van Vogt's novel Slan:
We learn that an ostracized race, known as Slans, lives in hiding from the police in a totalitarian society. Slans have telepathic powers, which allow them to detect enemies at a distance. Despite this skill, a Slan female cannot escape her pursuers when she is identified during a visit to the capital city. Before she is killed, she tells her nine- year-old son Jommy, that he must go into seclusion, complete his dead father's unfinished project, and then assassinate Kier Gray, dictator of the planet.
The police capture and kill Jommy's mother. He grieves for the duration of one sentence. Chased by police, the boy evades them by jumping on to the back of a passing car. But this automobile carries John Petty, sinister chief of police for the dictatorship. Passersby spot the youngster precariously balanced on the rear bumper of the car, and phone in reports to the authorities, who send out an all points bulletin to apprehend him.
Meanwhile Petty and his chauffeur also detect Jommy, and chase him on foot through a rundown residential area. Jommy is injured by a stray bullet, and seeks for a hiding place amidst a stack of old crates. Here he find—a heaven-sent miracle!—a hole in the wall, where he can escape from the police and citizens who are chasing him.
A ten thousand dollar reward is offered for the capture of the youngster. The military is called in to assist in the manhunt.
And we are only halfway through chapter one.
Van Vogt was an odd duck, even by sf standards. Secret Canadian, early Dianetics true believer... Living legend Fred Pohl recently wrote up some his vV recollections on his blog:
Indeed Van Vogt was not entirely unwilling to use actual science — that is, what he considered science — in his stories. He was deeply attached to many of the principles set forth by Alfred Korzybski, and even more so to the “scientific” work described as “the Bates eye cure,” a putatively revolutionary system for improving vision problems by — if I understood it aright — taking in as much light as possible by gazing at the sun. And there is no doubt that Van bought into L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics from the beginning, not only following its precepts for himself but setting up as a sort of mentor for converts who wished to attain the status of “clear.”
He would not, however, have anything to do with the changeover to the religion, Scientology, that Hubbard developed when Dianetics began to have problems with the government. He wouldn’t say why, either, though I asked him more than once.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.