Alfred Elton van Vogt (April 26, 1912 - January 26, 2000) was a Canadian-born science fiction author. After starting his writing career by writing for "true confessions" style pulp magazines, he decided to switch to writing something that he enjoyed: science fiction. His first published science fiction story, Black Destroyer (Astounding Science Fiction, 1939), depicting a fierce, carnivorous alien stalking the crew of an exploration ship was extremely popular and set the style for a number of science fiction films over the years. He was one of the most popular and highly esteemed science fiction writers of the 1940s. Many fans of that era would have named van Vogt, Robert A. Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov as the three greatest science fiction writers. In 1995 he was awarded the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award.
Extremely prolific for a few years, van Vogt wrote a large number of short stories, many of which were retrospectively patched together into novels, or "fixups" as he called them. Sometimes this was successful (The War against the Rull); other times the disparate stories thrown together made for an incoherent plot (Quest for the Future).
He had always been interested in the idea of all-encompassing systems of knowledge--the characters in his very first story used a system called "Nexialism" to analyse the alien's behaviour--and he became interested in the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski, and wrote three novels on this theme, The World of Null-A and The Pawns of Null-A in the late 1940s, and Null-A Three in the early 1980s. (The term Null-A refers to non-Aristotelian logic.)
In the 1950s, he became involved in L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics and his writing more or less stopped for some years. He resumed writing again in the 1960s.
He had systematised his writing method, using scenes of 800 words or so where a new complication was added or something resolved. He claimed to get many of his ideas from dreams, and indeed his stories at their worst had the coherence of a dream, but at their best, as in the fantasy novel The Book of Ptath, his works had the power of a dream, as well. Philip K. Dick has said that van Vogt stories got him interested in science fiction, with their strange sense of the unexplained, that there was more going on than the protagonists realized.
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13