Transfinite: The Essential A. E. Van Vogt Hardcover – 1 Feb 2003
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Top customer reviews
This nicely produced volume from NESFA collects together 25 classic stories,such as The Enchanted Village,The Great Engine,Asylum and A Can of Paint.
Also included here are the three stories that made up the novel,The Voyage of the Space Beagle (another classic).They are Dark Destroyer,War of Nerves and Discord in Scarlet.
There are a couple of duds here,but there will be in any collection of two dozen stories or more.
I now intend to read a couple of his novels,starting with Slan.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This was one of the first books I purchased and read, a fine representative collection of his works, that I feel in my opinion would get the persons unfamiliar with his writings hooked. In this book were stories both familiar and ones I never encountered before. 'A Can of Paint' was an old favorite along with 'The Monster', which is part of a bunch of works written around the space craft 'Space Beagle' story-lines. Beside a good number of stories about the Space Beagle, we also encounter a couple of stories about the 'Rull'. What I didn't see were stories from the 'Null-A' or the 'Weapon Shop' story-lines, which I also purchased and re-enjoyed.
These stories are dated, especially when it came to atomic energy usage, but well written and clever in plot and well worth any money invested in its purchase.
If you have never read van Vogt, be prepared to be swept away from the very first sentence. His stories are not always logical, nor are all loose ends always tidied up, but they move along at breakneck speed, are filled with ideas, and will contain moments that you will remember forever.
From a historic perspective, you will see some of the first science fiction stories dealing with human-alien warfare (The Sound, The Rull), humans that can travel back through time (The Search), encounters with energy vampires (Asylum), humans of varied nationalities populating a spaceship that explores the galaxy, and beyond (Black Destroyer, War of Nerves), and so much more.
A few of van Vogt's classic novels have recently been reprinted, but sadly most of his work is out of print. Here is probably your last chance to own a large collection of his best short stories - stories that are timeless classics of science fiction.
Van Vogt's interest is in the concepts, the aliens---the humans are often left as so many soiled tissues at the ends of his stories. Win or lose, these poor puppets are not the focal point of the stories---they (and we) only think they are.
The guy never gets the gal because the guy only thinks he exists. The humans beat the alien, not because they're tougher or smarter, but because they hold a certain technology. The protagonist fails to resist temptation and do what is right, but is saved by a mathematical oddity. These are stories about human pawns, placeholders, extras in tales where the math, the alien, the concept of time travel is the real protagonist.
So, by all means read him, enjoy him, but not for the human story, because that is nearly always a red herring, a false trail, and the real scent leads in a different direction, to the resolution, not of man's emotions or ethics or character, but to an abstract scientific principle. And there you have the main, perhaps the only, flaw in a vastly entertaining body of work by a master.
Van Vogt wasn't as flamboyant as, say, E. E. Smith, in his use of over the top adjectives. But he was pretty careless with his facts. The opening story in this collection, "Black Destroyer," is the memorable tale of the alien Coeurl, who has a Chlorine-based metabolism. He breathes the oxygen atmosphere of the human starship just fine. The invading Yevd in "The Sound" are fluorine-based, but they, too, do just fine breathing our air.
Still, the stories are generally well-plotted, if you can suspend your disbelief. They are, in Le Guin's phrase, "careless of science," but great fun. Van Vogt's human characters tend to be very nearly perfect, if slow learners - they repeatedly bring the evil alien into the ship for example - and there is an annoying sexism that I suppose traces to the time the stories were written.
But these are unmistakably science fiction's roots. You can see "Alien" here, and bit of "Star Wars," and even the Starship Enterprise in its voyages of exploration. The roots may be a little worn and gnarly, but clearly the antecedent for the more modern stuff. The collection is worth a read and place on a collector's bookshelf; kudos to NESFA for getting them back in print. But the later, long novels like "World of Null-A" and "The Silkie" are better written and more fun.
Four stars for the great ideas nicely presented. But only four stars. Recommended.