A. E. van Vogt

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Van Vogt in 1963.

You have to remember that I was a bright but simple fellow from Canada who seldom, if ever, met another writer, and then only a so-called literary type that occasionally sold a story and meanwhile worked in an office for a living.


A hardworking writer of Science Fiction during the Golden Age, Alfred Elton van Vogt was certainly one of the most prolific. Though often overshadowed by the "Big Three" (Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov), van Vogt penned a great many long-lived classics, including Slan, The Book of Ptath, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, The Weapon Shops of Isher, and the Null-A series. He cranked out dozens of short stories, many of which have been anthologized over and over again. Like several of his contemporaries, he also forayed into the realms of mainstream fiction and nonfiction.

The Other Wiki states that van Vogt was born in Edenburg, a Russian Mennonite community near Gretna, Manitoba. He spoke German until he was four years old. He got his start by writing for pulp magazines, but decided to switch to something he liked a lot better.

Critics are sharply divided over the quality and merit of van Vogt's work. While it's true that he won few awards during his lifetime, his name is often mentioned along with the Big Three. It's worth pointing out that Clarke, Asimov, and John W. Campbell, Jr. all spoke highly of him. Damon Knight, however, called him "a pygmy who has learned to operate an overgrown typewriter." Despite his critics, van Vogt did manage to inspire several prominent sci-fi writers, such as Harlan Ellison and Philip K. Dick. Ellison in particular was so outraged that van Vogt had received so little recognition that he went on a one-man media rampage until the SFWA finally presented the aging van Vogt with a Grand Master Award.

Van Vogt claimed that many of his ideas came from dreams, and often arranged to be awoken every 90 minutes so he could jot down his nocturnal imaginings. He had a habit of throwing together short stories he'd written previously into composite tales, novels, or novel series, which he called "fixups." He often favored the use of temporal conundra in his stories, and was interested in totalitarian states, power struggles and inductive reasoning, all of which show up frequently in his works.

A. E. van Vogt provides examples of the following tropes: