Posts tagged ‘A.E. van Vogt’

A.E. van Vogt

A.E. van Vogt

A.E. van Vogt, who was born in Canada on this date in 1912 but moved early to Southern California and never left, became a major sf writer with almost his first story and remained so through the rest of the Campbelll revolution.

That first story was “Black Destroyer,” in the July. 1939 issue of Astounding, and it did almost what Stanley G. Weinbaum had done with his first story, “A Martian Odyssey.” It revolutionized science fiction’s treatment of aliens. Weinbaum’s character Tweel had been the first successful attempt to describe an alien creature not merely as a threat to humans but as a character — not human in any way, but with as much personality and individuality as any homo sapiens. Van Vogt completed the process by telling his story from the Black Destroyer’s point of view.

And that was only the beginning. For the next decade Van Vogt was among Campbell’s most prolific contributors, with stories that delighted most of the readers — novels like Slan, The World of Null-A and many more. True, there were some that felt less than delight, perhaps especially sf’s iconoclast-in-chief, Damon Knight. Damon went over some of Van Vogt’s most famous stories, pointing out that they could hardly be called science fiction because Van had not provided any science at all for some of his most important story inventions. He never said what the ten points in ten-point steel measured, only that it became s really steely kind of steel, et cetera.

Not long after the publication of Knight’s review, Van Vogt’s production began to slow down and nearly to stop entirely. By the time I was editing the Galaxy magazines and trying to get a new trail-blazer from Van he was friendly but not productive.

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.

L. Ron Hubbard, left, and John W. Campbell

L. Ron Hubbard, left, and John W. Campbell

Part 6 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
 

Pohl: I’ve just realized something very significant. Of all the science fiction writers in the English-speaking world who began in the late ’30s and ’40s who have survived since and done reasonably well, there are only two who were not largely and directly influenced by John Campbell. That’s you and me!

John Campbell is the fellow who took science fiction by the scruff of the neck in the late ’30s and changed it. Made it much better. And people like Isaac Asimov and van Vogt and Bob Heinlein, and almost everybody else who really became significant writers around that period owe a great debt to Campbell. They were published primarily in his magazine and got a great deal of advice and guidance from him. And I know I didn’t.

John Campbell was a good friend of mine but he had this one tacky personality trait — he never bought any stories from me! I kept trying but he never would buy them. How about you, Alfie?

Bester: Oh, I had an experience with Campbell! As Fred has said, he really took science fiction by the scruff of the neck and shaped it into something really worthwhile. Up until then it had just been hack writing by guys who were translating westerns into science fiction. Campbell changed all that. He was a great man. I worshipped Campbell, of course.

I wrote a story called “Oddy and Id.” The premise of the story simply was that we are not consciously in control of our actions but this deep Id, this well of primal urges within us, is really in control. I submitted the story to Campbell and got a phone call from him — I’d never met him.

“I want to talk to you about the story. I want to buy it but I want some changes. Will you come and see me?”

“Oh God, yes, Mr. Campbell.” It was when their office was out in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Now, you’ve got to picture me, a guy from Madison Avenue writing scripts; all I know is the networks, the advertising agencies and all that jazz, it’s what I’m used to. I’m also used to the rates that they pay. But I have to meet Campbell.

I go out to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and I come to this goddamn printing plant, this factory, expecting to be ushered into the great office of this great man. But I go into this tacky little office which is about two feet by four feet and here is this guy who is about the size of what we would call in American football, a defensive tackler. He’s about 19 feet high, 47 feet wide, a towering guy. He sits behind his desk and I squirm into the one visitors’ chair.

He says, “Now about your story. Freud is finished!”

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 6: John W. Campbell and Dianetics’ »