SFRevu Tribute by Ernest LilleySF Authors Remember A.E. van Vogt
Jack L. Chalker / James Gunn / David Langford / Paul Levinson / Richard Matheson / Jerry Pournelle / Mike Resnick / Robert J. Sawyer / Michael Swanwick / Jack Williamson
SFRevu Tribute -- Last Year at NASFIC I was wandering around the dealers room looking for a copy of A. E. van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher and though I didn't find one, van Vogt's been on my mind all year. Now Weapon Shops is coming out out again (Amereon, Feb-00) but it's too late for me to think about getting an interview to go with the review...because this seminal author passed away Wed., January 26 of complications of pneumonia. (see SFWA Bulletin)
The Voyage of the Space Beagle inspired the movie Alien, Slan spoke so directly to the heart of SF fandom that their cry of "Fans are Slans" echoed throughout conventions, and inspired the PSI Corps of Babylon Five. The morning after he died I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and found an article on a smart gun Smith and Wesson is developing that uses biometrics to only allow the registered user to fire. SF does not have a good record for predicting the future, but van Vogt scored a direct hit here, as this gun could have literally fallen off the pages of The Weapon Shops of Isher. No doubt he will score many more hits as technology catches up to his vision.
Editing this piece I learned a lot about van Vogt from people who knew him well, and it made me deeply wish I'd been able to know him firsthand.
Towards the end of his life, van Vogt suffered the indignity of Alzheimer's, robbing a creative and facile mind of its gifts and us of a treasured mentor and icon.
Please forgive me a personal digression. It seems to me that this horrible disease attacks too often the best among us. Growing up I had a friend and mentor who taught me that an elipse is the loci of all points a fixed distance from two points, and that a triangle is the simplest rigid shape because it cannot vary its joint angles without changing the length of a side and that no man has the right to dictate morality to another. And very much more. His name was Michael Aquino, and reading the words sent in by the people who knew and cared about Van, I can't help but think they shared much that was good about them, just as they shared the disease that robbed them of what they were.
Some say no one dies as long as they are remembered. I thank the contributors to this tribute for sharing their memories with us so that we can keep A.E. van Vogt's alive.
A.E. van Vogt will continue to resonate in the themes and stories we create whether we are even aware of his contribution or not. We all know him by his works, and have benefited by his contribution to the field.
I'm only sorry I never had the chance to thank him myself.
Publisher/Editor - SFRevu
(There are a number of excellent sites devoted to A.E. van Vogt, including http://www.mmedia.is/vanvogt/ where I got the scanned covers.)
Authors Remember A.E. van Vogt
EL - I've asked some of today's SF writers to share their thoughts about him with SFRevu and thank them all for their contributions. Here they are, starting with a tremendous piece that Harlan Ellison wrote for the introduction to Futures Past: The Best Short Fiction of A.E. van Vogt:
Here, But Van is Gone by Harlan Ellison
Let me assure you: this little hors d'oeuvre will not long detain you. After all, you've come for the sumptuous buffet, not for the nugatory fustian of the toastmaster.
These prefatory words are, in truth, far shorter than their subject deserves. Alfred E. van Vogt, since the appearance of his first two stories --'Black Destroyer" and "Discord in Scarlet" (Astounding Science Fiction, July and December 1939) the most memorable debut in the long history of the genre - has been a giant. The words seminal and germinal leap to mind. Sadly, at this juncture. the words tragedy and farewell also insinuate themselves. It's the good news - and the bad news.
The good news, slight though it must be hi light of what follows, is that here we have a 'new* book of Van's stories. New in the sense that it gathers some of his lesser known but most exceedingly excellent, fictions in a contemporary setting. New in the sense that for a generation for whom nostalgia is what they had for breakfast it proffers the enormous and original van Vogt talent as if it had just been minted. Which is part of the 'tragedy" aspect of the bad news.
The bad news that I come to deliver makes this piece of writing one of the most difficult I've ever undertaken And for that reason, as well, I will not go on at too-great length.
Van is still with us, as I write this, in June of 1999, slightly less than fifty years since I first encountered van Vogt prose in a January 1950 issue of Startling Stories, but Van is gone. He is no longer with us.
More then four million people over the of 65 in these United States suffer from the merciless torturer we know as Alzheimer's disease. Like the slow Chinese Water Torture of pulp magazine thrillers, it destroys the mind drop by drop by drop. It takes forever, and it has no heart. It is awful, and it is relentless. Van's beloved Lydia knows these detestable truths as she truly cares for him, through all the hard days and nights.
Because the great and fecund mind of A.E. van Vogt has fallen into the clutches of that pulp thriller demon, Alzheimer's. Van is gone.
He remains, in body and on these pages; he is here and will remain here as long as those who adore his work - please give it up for the good Jacob Weisman and Tachyon Publications - continue to keep him alive in the eye of the reader. But that mind, that astonishing intellect that advised us (with a twinkle) that he *introduced an entirely new concept every three thousand words" of a story. that rare device is gone.
(My first profoundly amazing recollection of Van is of the evening, long ago, when we went for a walk here in Los Angeles, and he told me that when he went out walking his dog or strollign for health reasons, he always had a pair of earphones and a tape recorder with him, so he could teach himself yet another new language by tape instruction. I have no idea how many languages Van could speak, but if one were seeking an Icon for the Ever-Questing Intellect, you could place your chips on Double-V and the wheel would stop with you a 00 winner.)
Anyone's demise or vanishment is in some small way tragic but the word "tragedy" requires greater measure for its use.
Lear was a tragedy. Joan of Arc was a tragedy. That "person from Porlock" coming to Coleridge's door at the crucial instant, thus - distracting and preventing the poet, from finishing 'The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan," that was a tragedy. The world's foremost cancer specialist, our best hope for a medical breakthrough blown to bits by an ERA bomb in London, as he was out walking his dog, killed absolutely by chance ... tragedy. For all of us.
Van' s great mind now gone. Tragedy.
The ultimate tragic impropriety visited on as good a man as ever lived. A gentle. soft spoken man who was filled with ideas and humor and courtesy and kindness. Not even those who were not aficionados of Van's writing could muster a harsh word about him as a human being. He was as he remains now, quietly and purposefully, a gentleman.
But make no mistake about this: the last few decades for him were marred by the perfidious and even mean spirited and sometimes criminal acts of poltroons and self-aggrandizing mountebanks and piss-ants into whose clutches he fell just before the thug Alzheimer got him.
Those who know Van and Linda well, they will know to whom I refer in that preceding paragraph. People who used Van and set him up with projects beneath his talent, for a fast buck; people who used him for their own niggardly ends, and who eventually wound up stealing from him. I wish them --even the ones you continue to laud and to whom you give Grand Master and lifetime achievement awards - I wish them a gentler, kinder last act than has been written for Van, with this one proviso: let there not be a day, as they sit there waiting for the end, that they do not revile themselves for what they did to A.E. van Vogt.
I came late to the friendship with Van and Lydia. Perhaps only twenty-five or so years. But the friendship continues, and at least I was able to make enough noise to get Van the Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master Award, which was presented to him in full ceremony during on of the last moments when he was cogent and clearheaded enough understand that finally, as last, dragged kicking and screaming to honor him, the generation that learned from what he did and what he had created had, at last, fessed up to his importance.
Naturally, others took credit for his getting the award. They postured and spewed all the right platitudes. Some of them were the same ones who had said to me -- during the five years it took to get them to act honorably -- "we'd have given it to him sooner if you hadn't made such a fuss." Yeah. Sure. And pandas'll fly out of my ass.
Some of them were the same ones who assured me that Van would never get the Grand Master until Damon Knight had gotten it first, because Damon had loathed Van's work and had, in fact written the essay that ridiculed Van and held him up to opprobrium for decades thereafter, and Damon having founded SFWA it would be an affront to him if Van got it first. Well, I don't know if that's true or not, thought is was common coin in the field for years; but Damon got the Grand Master award in 1994. And Van got it in 1995. As they say during sweeps week on television: coincidence or conspiracy?
I mention this, all in what was said for posterity. Which is a fickle lover, neither gender insulted, please note, I mention all this because someone has to say it. I tried once before, when I wrote the prefatory note to Van's inclusion in the Nebula Awards volume a few years ago, where his Grand Master was noted. But there was a request that I be less rancorous than I have been here. That I be a little more sedate. So I was, Just for your edification, here's what I wrote about Van in volume 31 of the Nebula Awards:
Even the brightest star shines dimly when observed-from too far away. And human memory is notoriously unreliable. And we live in ugly times when all respect for that which has gone before suffers crib death beneath the weight of youthful arrogance and ignorance. But a great nobility has at last, been recognized and lauded. Someone less charitable than I might suggest the- honor could have been better appreciated had it not been so tardy, naming its race with a foe that blots joy and destroys short. term memory. But I sing the Talent Electric, and like aft the dark smudges of history, everything but the honor and die achievement remains for the myth-makers.
Alfred E. van Vogt Am been awarded the Grand Master trophy of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He is not the to first person to receive this singular accolade given only to those whose right to possess it is beyond argument or mitigation.
Were we in 1946 or even 1956, van Vogt would have already been able to hold the award aloft. Had SFWA existed then and had the greatest living sf authors been Polled as to who was the most fecund, the most intriguing, the mast innovative the most influential of their number, Isaac and Arthur and Cyril and Hank Kuttner and Ron Hubbard would all have pointed to the same man, and Bob Heinlein would've given him a thumbs-up. Van Vogt was the pinnacle, the source of power and ideas; the writer to beat. Because he embodied in his astonishing novels and assorted stories what we always say is of prime importance to us in this genre-the much vaunted Sense of Wonder.
Van Vogt was the wellspring of wonder.
Youthful memory is filled with gaps and insolent of history, but for those that were there and those who care, it was Vogt's books that were among the very first published in the mainstream from the despised realm of science fiction. When the first specialty houses formed, they went after The Weapon Shops of Isher and Slan and Masters of Time. But when Simon & Schuster got into the game, most prestigious of the mainstream houses taking a chance on sf, it was van Vogt they sought, and The World of Null-A and Voyage of the Space Beagle were the high water marks.
That's how important he was.
And then came the dark years during which the man was shamefully agented and overlooked; and even the brightest star loses its piercing light if observed through the thickening mists of time and flawed memory.
Now it is lifetimes later, and the great award has, at last, been presented. To some, less charitable than I, something could be said about a day late and a dollar short, but not I. I am here to sing the Talent Electric, and it is better now than never. He is the Grand Master, A.E. can Vogt, weaver of a thousand ideas per plot-line, creator of alien thoughts and impossible dreams that rival the vest ever built by our kind.
This dear, gentlemanly writer whose stories can still kill you with a concept or warm you with a character, now joins the special pantheon.
Isaac and Alfie B. and Arthur and those rare, few others have been waiting for him to step up onto the dais. As one who read Van's "The Shadow Men" in the very first sf magazine he ever ought, I bless those who presented him with the physical token of the greatness we knew all along.
He was born 26 April 1912, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The first story he sold was to the long - extinct McFadden Publication it was a true confession for one of their romance magazines, June 1932. He wrote for radio and trade magazines and anywhere else that a dollar could be had in those post-Depression times. And in 1939, just as "Black Destroyer" made his name, he married the writer Edna Mayne Hull. In 1947 he explained in a wonderful book edited by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, Of Worlds beyond, that he wrote in 800-word scenes. It was a startling explication of an absolutely idiosyncratic way to create fiction . It bewildered everyone.
Years alter, after Mayne's passing, Van was blessed with the love and companionship of Lydia, who shared the days and nights at the end of his last 800-word sequence.
Hmmm. A somewhat larger appetizer than I'd intended. I hope it only made a special few of you choke. For all the rest of you, I hope it was tasty, despite the bile it took to wash it down.
But then, this is an "introduction" that is being written with more than just love. It is written with honorable intent, and with the necessity of finally putting some of the spoiled fruit served at this banquet where It belongs, In the garbage can. The bad news is that Van won't know how you honor him by enjoying these stories. The good news is that 'Enchanted Village" and 'Vault of the Beast' and the others here included have another shot at an intelligent readership'. If you know Van, you know what a treat this book will be, If this is your first taste of the banquet, I envy you. he did a lot of writing, and it's open to you; all you've -got to do is go root it out.
Either way. it has been my pleasure and my honor to get in a few last words, even as bittersweet dessert, at this groaning board of wonderful literary viands known as the career of A.E. Van Vogt.
Harlan Ellison Los Angeles I July 1999
When Karen and I and all the world were young, A. E. van Vogt stood among our gods. His stories, boldly imaginative, vividly told, often thought-provoking, remain an influence on my own work to this day, and doubtless that of others. Eventually we began to meet him now and then in person. He proved to be a warm, gracious, witty, altogether charming human being. Everybody who knew him has lost a friend; but we will always remember. - PA
At the end of June in 1939 1 took a bus east to New York to attend the first World Science Fiction convention On the bus with me I took the June of Astounding Science -Fiction in which the short story by A.E. van Vogt appeared. It was an astonishing encounter. In that same issue with him were C.L. Moore and Ross Rocklynne, a fantastic issue to take with me on that long journey, for I was still a poor unpublished writer selling newspapers on a street corner for ten dollars a week and hoping, someday, to be an established writer myself, but that was still two years off. On the way I drank in the words of A.E. Van Vogt and was stunned by what I saw there. He became a. deep influence for the next year.
As it turned out, I didn't become A.E. Van Vogt, no one else could, and when I finally met him was pleased to see that the, man. was as pleasant to be with as were his stories. I knew him over a long period of years and he was a kind and wonderful gentleman, a real asset to the Science Fantasy Society in L.A., where there are alot of strange people. A.E. Van Vogt was not strange, he was kind. He gave me advice and helped me along the road to becoming what I wanted. to become.
The news of his death hurt many of us who had known him for a period of sixty years. His work will outlive him by a long number of years. wish could be there today to pay honor to him. He was much loved and will be missed.
Sir Arthur Clarke CBE
I was saddened to receive a phone call from Harlan a few minutes ago informing me that A.E. has just died.
After more than half a century I can still recall the impact of his early stories in ASP (even though I was often not quite sure exactly what was happening!) He originated many of the themes we now take for granted: how many monsters have infested spaceships -since "The Black Destroyer"? And although "Slan" - that wish-fulfillment dream of all S.F. fans (interesting resonance there!) was not the first superman story, it Is the one which has had the greatest impact.
Goodbye, Van - it's just got a little lonelier up here on dinosaur Plateau
Colombo 2000 -1 - 29
Jack L. Chalker
I didn't know van Vogt as well as I know/knew most of the others of his generation, but I certainly knew him by his work and listened to him talk about writing SF. I always appreciated the coupling of a fluid, eminently readable style with some really interesting and offbeat ideas, and I always thought it was a shame that he seemed unable to find a market in the final decade of his writing. Although he always seemed a bit of a madman--a new plot element every 800 WORDS?--nonetheless his stories and even his longer work MOVE, and I have kept going back to him over the years to see just how he did it. In person he was always friendly and he had wonderful stories about just about everyone in 20th Century science fiction. He made a great mark on the field and is today as widely imitated as the bulk of his work is, unfortunately, not easily available. One hopes that in the future that will be rectified and his impact fully recognized. - JC
James Gunn (submitted for possible use at the services)
I was 16 years old when I read A. E. van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" in the July 1939 ASTOUNDING, and I recognized story magic. Throughout the 1940s, when fans voted him the most popular science-fiction writer more often than not, a new van Vogt story or serial renewed that first rapture. I can still remember the thrilling opening scene of SLAN when Jommy Cross became a fugitive orphan, and the pregnant moment in THE WORLD OF NULL-A when the lie detector tells Gilbert Gosseyn, "You are lying." Van was one of my literary heroes, and I adopted his carefully thought-out techniques for some of my own stories and novels. When I had a chance to edit an anthology, one of the first stories I chose was "Black Destroyer." That section was called "Fairy Tales of Science," because what Van wrote combined the power of the possible and the magic of the archetype. - JG
David Langford (firstname.lastname@example.org | http://www.ansible.co.uk/)
I still remember the thrill of raw sense-of-wonder when first reading The Weapon Shops of Isher back in 1969: that temporal seesaw with the big building on the short arm swinging sluggishly across a couple of months while the man on the long arm went from 97 billion years in the future to 106 billion years in the past. Van Vogt kept hitting you with outsize jolts like that. - DL
Paul Levinson (SFWA President, 2000)
A. E. van Vogt was one of science fiction's greats -- I remember his books right up on the shelves along with Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, James Blish, when I started haunting my local public library for science fiction as a kid in the late 1950s. Van Vogt helped define science fiction as we now know it. He helped take it from Flash Gordon and bug-eyed monsters to the profound field that it is today -- delving into the meaning of human life and what we are doing here in this cosmos. Everyone who enjoys science fiction today owes something to van Vogt. - PL
I never really knew Mr. van Vogt - I believe I met him once - but I certainly am one of his many admirers and have great respect for his marvelously creative output. The field has lost yet one more its giants.
Jerry Pournelle -- A. E. Van Vogt RIP
Successful predictions are probably not the best measure of a science fiction writer's influence; perhaps "bad things that didn't happen because we thought them over" would be better. In Van's case neither measure works well: yet he was a giant, a man with as much influence on the field as anyone who ever lived.
He wasn't a good a writer as Wells, nor as careful a thinker as Heinlein. He tried literary experiments, some disastrous, and he invented concepts that, once you stepped back and looked at them, were plain silly like Gilbert Gossyn's "extra brain". And for all that he was a giant. Even the silly extra brain had its influence in the thoughts of his readers and colleagues.
It is a measure of his story telling ability that, while was one reading the story, some of the silly things he put in them seemed perfectly plausible. It is also a mark of his ability that fifty years after I read about Gilbert and his "extra brain" I remember it; that because of Van Vogt I read Korzybski's Science and Sanity at a time when it did me a lot of good to read it, and as a result of that I ended up taking classes with Wendell Johnson and Sam Hayakawa, and from there gravitated to Gustav Bergmann and the philosophy of science. Without Van Vogt in high school I doubt I would ever have found them.
It is a mark of his ability that we remember the Weapon Shops, and "the right to buy weapons is the right to be free." He also wrote a pretty good manual on hypnotism, and some other non-fiction works that are worth attention. But mostly we will remember Van for those wonderful ideas, concepts that really did stretch the imagination; the sort of thing that Herman Kahn (who once confided in me that he didn't like much science fiction except Heinlein and Van Vogt, which I thought at the time a curious pair, but now I think I see his point) called "paradigm shifts".
In the late 60's and early 70's Van used to entertain young writers in his home. He was unpretentious, a giant willing to speak to the rest of us without lecturing; a good listener. I have missed his company for years. - JP
I never thought much of van's "classics" -- The World of Null-A and Slan -- but I think he did write one masterpiece. Whenever someone asks me for a good book to get a teen interested in reading science fiction, I never recommend Heinlein's or Norton's juveniles, but always suggest The Voyage of the Space Beagle. Never had a complaint about it, either. - MR
Robert J. Sawyer -- On A. E. van Vogt
The happiest day of my career was Saturday, April 27, 1996 -- that's when my _The Terminal Experiment_ won the Nebula Award. But it also, in a way, was one of the saddest. That night, A. E. van Vogt received the really big prize, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Grand Master Award, honoring a lifetime of achievement. It should have been a joyous occasion, but it was actually quite tragic to see.
There was no doubt that van Vogt should have received this honor much earlier -- the injustice of him being overlooked, at least in part because of damnable SFWA politics, had so incensed Harlan Ellison, a man with an impeccable moral compass, that he'd lobbied hard on the Sci-Fi Channel and elsewhere on van Vogt's behalf.
Harlan, I'm sure, simply wanted van Vogt, born in 1912, to be honored during his lifetime, and he knew time was running short, but I don't think any of us, prognosticators all, predicted the sad way the future was really going to unfold: that, by the time SFWA got around to bestowing its Lucite obelisk, van Vogt would indeed still be alive but that much of the greatness that had been within him would be gone, stolen by the cruel thief of Alzheimer's.
After the awards ceremony, I was surrounded by well-wishers, for which I was very grateful, but it meant I had a hard time making it across the ballroom of the _Queen Mary_ to see van Vogt. I felt, in a way, that we shared a bond, and I wanted to express that to him: we were both Canadians, you see, and we'd both succeeded (he obviously to a much greater degree) in an American-dominated industry. When I finally did get near him, I heard him say words that crush my heart still: "I remember having been a writer," Alfred Elton van Vogt said, "but I don't remember anything I wrote."
And now all we have is our memories of him. May they never fade. - RS
Michael Swanwick: A. E. van Vogt: Fast, Smart, and Out of Control
A. E. van Vogt was the first science fiction writer I actually *learned* from. At an ungodly young age I encountered his "Recruiting Station" in a Groff Conklin anthology and was blown away by its headlong pace and dazzling energy. I came away from that story with two valuable lessons. First, to move the plot along as fast as it will go. Second, not to hoard ideas, but to fling em out as rapidly as you can find a place for them.
These two principles served van Vogt well. He was not much of prose stylist. So he moved the reader through his stories too fast for that defect to be noticed. He understood that ideas not used are like fairy goldthey turn to pebbles and leaves in the morning. So his best work is chockablock with wild notions and stunning imagery. Which is why stories like "Enchanted Village" and "Black Destroyer" still live, when the work of so many of his cohorts is now dust.
I owe the man a lot. I wish *I'd* written "Enchanted Village." - MS
A. E. VAN VOGT: AN APPRECIATION By Jack Williamson
I remember how, sixty years ago, A. E. Van Vogt's early stories broke like claps of thunder through the science fiction field. He followed "The Black Destroyer," (1939) with such novels as Slan, The Weapon Shops of Isher, and The World of Null-A all written with invention, dramatic Impact, and a sense of breathless wonder that won him instant popularity. Once, when Fred Pohl was editing magazines editor, I inquired which names on the cover helped newsstand sales. The name he gave me was Van's. Nobody who read those stories when they appeared is likely to forget them.
SFWA ONLINE UPDATE
>>> No. 59 <<< 1/28/2000 (reprinted with permission)
An electronic publication of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America <
A. E. van Vogt, 1912-2000
Golden Age standout A. E. van Vogt, a life member of SFWA, passed away on January 26, 2000 of complications of pneumonia.
Van Vogt's science fiction career began with the short story "Black Destroyer," published in John Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction in 1939. Over the next eight years, van Vogt placed at least 35 stories in Astounding. Among them were the memorable stories later incorporated into the "fix-up" novels THE WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER (1951) and THE WORLD OF NULL-A (1948). Other volumes in both series followed. Van Vogt's first novel SLAN (1946) is widely considered a classic of the field, and a prototype for the SF wish-fulfillment tale. His other notable works include THE VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE (1950), EMPIRE OF THE ATOM (1957) and CHILDREN OF TOMORROW (1970). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls van Vogt "a master of intricate, metaphysical space opera."
Alfred Elton van Vogt was born in Manitoba, Canada. In 1939 he married E. Mayne Hull, and they wrote several stories together in the 1940s. They moved to the United States in 1944. The last 50 years of van Vogt's life were spent in Los Angeles, California. (Hull passed away in 1975.)
In 1980, A. E. van Vogt received a Casper Award (precursor to the Canadian Aurora Awards) for Lifetime Achievement. In 1996, he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1996, and was selected as one of four inaugural inductees in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
Van Vogt is survived by his second wife, Lydia.Services will be held at 10am Monday, January 31, at Callanan Mortuary, 1301 North Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90027. Flowers may be sent to this address. Cards may be sent to 2850 Belden Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90068-1902, to the attention of Lydia van Vogt.
(Thanks to John Clute, Keith Stokes and Dan Hooker for their contributions to this notice. --Ed. (SFWA))