The World of Null-A
by A.E. van Vogt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This novel, written in 1945, shows its age. This goes beyond imagining Venus as a damp forest of huge trees, or that people in the year 2650 will still be placing personal ads in paper newspapers. The world itself is smaller, pretty much all white men, in a conformist society. The science itself, such as what can be done with atomic power or plastics, gets stretched beyond all possibility.
Still, A.E. van Vogt is famous for ideas, and he has one that powers this novel: What if a highly rational non-Aristotelian philosophy guided the behavior of the best men and women of their time? Unfortunately, van Vogt doesn’t explain this philosophy in great depth. It seems to compel the protagonist to act without a lot of forethought or with long-term goals.
Van Voght has more ideas: a computer game that decides the participants’ futures, a “legal holiday” during which no laws are enforced, a minor kind of immortality, a huge galactic war that aims to conquer Venus and Earth....
The plot involves a man trying to find out who he is. Eventually he finds out. In the process a lot of people die.
This book is considered a classic, possibly one of van Vogt’s best, and it’s worth reading if only to watch ideas whiz past like scenery on a highway. There’s nice countryside out there, but the man at the wheel of the car isn’t about to slow down. He also won’t ask for directions, so the trip gets a bit lost toward the end. This is how we used to travel in science fiction. Serious fans will find the trip worth their while, but if you’re new to the genre, don’t start here.
By the way, how about the cover art on the 1948 edition? Wow.
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