Slan

While I work on new stuff, I’ll continue with some pulp related material.

I have never been real keen on the smug “gosh, we are special” attitude of too many science fiction fans. This is the archetypal text for that: “Fans are slans” as the saying went.

I don’t know how popular this novel still is. I did come across a co-worker in the mid-1980s who said this was her favorite novel.

Kevin J. Anderson wrote a sequel, Slan Hunter, in 2007.

Raw Feed (1991): Slan, A. E. van Vogt, 1946, 1951.Slan

I expected to like this book since I’ve liked the van Vogt short stories I’ve read. I did not like it. In fact, I found its 176 pages a tedious read.

I suppose part of it may have been its pulpiness, but I’ve read pulp I’ve liked. I like baroque plots, so I don’t think I objected to the idea of back stage manipulations and twists and turns per se. But I don’t think van Vogt handled it well. His idiosyncratic method of 800 word scenes was usually obvious and kind of fun to look for. But too much was left for the end-chapter revelations instead of being revealed piecemeal like more conventional mystery/suspense plots. Van Vogt’s 800 word method may prevent that.

The return, at end, of the allegedly dead Kathleen Layton Gray caught me by surprise, I must admit though it’s very typical for sf of the period (must end with that marriage). [In retrospect, this seems an overgeneralization.]  I’ll even admit Kier Gray, world dictator, turning out to be a slan caught me by surprise; van Vogt effectively defused my suspicions of this in the middle of the novel.

Maybe my expectations killed my enjoyment of this book. Instead of getting a straightforward tale of a manhunt for mutants, I got a quest for a spaceship and manipulators and plot twists aplenty. And I found the payoff of accelerated evolution (to meet the demands of modern civilization), pacifistic slans forcibly spurned on by persecution covertly directed by other slans so they can meet the attacks of normal humans, genetic manipulation, and atomic superscience dull and rather contrived.

I did think van Vogt did a good job with the emotional experience of telepathy though not as good as Alfred Bester in The Demolished Man. I thought the moral implications of protagonist Jommy Cross’ “hypnotism crystals” terrifying. The slans’ plan to re-engineer humans’ — symbolized by what Cross does to the grotesque human Granny — (an interesting character, perhaps the best done in the novel) psyches without their consent and allegedly for their own good raises moral questions.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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