As part of the 1946 Project, we’ll focus on the work of Alfred Elton “A.E.” van Vogt and his fellow author (also spouse) Edna Mayne Hull. Why so?
van Vogt is recognized as a Grand Master, having received the fourteenth instance of the Damon Knight Memorial award in 1996. He’s also regarded as something of an odd-duck, his work drawing a wide range of reactions.
Phillip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison credited van Vogt’s The World of Null-A as an early inspiration. In contrast, Damon Knight tore all aspects of that same novel to shreds, writing, “[van Vogt] is no giant; he is a pygmy who has learned to operate an overgrown typewriter.” (From the fanzine Destiny’s Child, November 1945).
In van Vogt’s 1975 autobiography (assembled from interviews he gave in the 1960s), he wrote: But then again, Knight later wrote: “Other writers may be able to work on intuition, but I can’t. In other words, here I am living on things. One is that there are methods for doing things and the other is that I dream my story ideas in my sleep.”
Responding to this revelation, Knight reconsidered his perspective on the author, writing: “van Vogt has just revealed, for the first time as far as I know, that he made a practice of dreaming about his stories and waking himself up every ninety minutes to take notes. This explains a good deal about his stories, and suggests that it is really useless to attack them by conventional standards. If the stories have a dream consistency which affects readers powerfully, it is probably irrelevant that they lack ordinary consistency.” (Science-Fiction Studies, v1n3, Spring 1974)
We submit that 1946 was a capstone year for the authors, where their prominence and influence on the genre and fandom may have been at its peak. What supports this assertion?
- van Vogt’s prominence had been growing since he captured the front cover of Astounding with his first published science fiction story, “Black Destroyer” in July 1939. John W. Campbell, Jr. chose to lead with this tale over Isaac Asimov’s first Astounding appearance in that same issue.
- The novel Slan, first serialized in Astounding beginning in September 1940, made a major impression on fans of the day. The sympathetic portrayal of a persecuted race of human mutants with extraordinary powers caused fans to ask the question, “Are fans Slans?” In the post-war publishing science fiction boom that began in 1946, van Vogt’s Slan was issued in book form by Arkham House. The novel was rated third in Joe Kennedy’s fan poll from January 1947.
- van Vogt’s second novel, The Weapon Makers, was widely praised by fans after its serialization in Astounding in 1943. That same year, the author ventured into the fantasy genre with The Book of Ptath, appearing in Unknown Worlds in October. Plans were announced in 1946 for the publication of The Book of Ptath by Fantasy Press (1947) and The Weapon Makers by the Hadley Publishing Company (1947).
- Kennedy’s 1946 fan poll rated van Vogt second among favorite authors, following only Henry Kuttner in popularity. “The Chronicler” (Astounding, October 1946) was ranked ninth among stories published in magazines.
- Hull had appeared regularly in Astounding under her own name (“E.M. Hull”) beginning in December 1942 (“The Flight That Failed”). She captured her first cover in the December 1943 issue with “The Debt,” part of a series featuring rapacious future businessman Artur Blord. Her work also appeared in Campbell’s Unknown Worlds, sometimes alongside that of her husband.
- van Vogt’s The World of Null-A appeared in Astounding beginning in August 1945. The controversial novel was much-discussed among fans for its embrace of “non-aristotalian philosophy,” sometimes described as “fuzzy logic.” It was ranked first in Kennedy’s fan poll for 1945.
- Following their move to Hollywood in November 1944, van Vogt and Hull became involved with the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS). van Vogt regularly attended meetings of the group and spoke at several events in 1946.
- van Vogt was a Guest Speaker at the January 10 1946 “Atomicon,” a gathering of the LASFS to discuss the beginning of the “Atomic Age.” He offered a novel idea regarding the potential benefits of atomic energy.
- van Vogt and Hull appeared at the 1946 World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles (the first Pacificon) as the Guests of Honor.
What works of van Vogt or Hull stand out for you? Which have best stood the test of time? How have these writings influenced the genre? Please drop us a note with your thoughts:
(The title of this post is informed by the best analysis we’ve seen of the proper pronunciation of “van Vogt.”)