The World of Null-A Paperback – Oct 25 2002
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“A. E. Van Vogt's early stories broke like claps of thunder through the science fiction field. Such novels as Slan, The Weapon Shops of Isher, and The World of Null-A, all were written with invention, dramatic impact, and a sense of breathless wonder that won him instant popularity” ―Jack Williamson
“After more than half a century I can still recall the impact of his early stories.” ―Arthur C. Clarke
“Interplanetary skullduggery in the year 2650. Gilbert Gosseyn has a pretty startling time of it before he gets to the root of things. Fine for addicts of science-fiction” ―The New Yorker
“One of those once-in-a-decade classics” ―John W. Campbell
“A. E. van Vogt was one of the first genre writers ever to publish an actual science fiction book, at a time when science fiction as a commercial publishing category did not yet exist, and almost all SF writers--even later giants such as Robert A. Heinlein--were able to publish novels only as serials in science fiction magazines. It's indicative of the prestige and popularity that van Vogt could claim at the time that he was one of the first authors to whom publishers would turn when taking the first tentative steps toward establishing science fiction as a viable publishing category. . . . Nobody, possibly with the exception of the Bester of The Stars My Destination, ever claim close to matching van Vogt for headlong, breakneck pacing, or for the electric, crackling paranoid tension with which he was capable of suffusing his work.” ―Gardner Dozois
About the Author
A. E. Van Vogt was a SFWA Grand Master. He was born in Canada and moved to the U.S. in 1944, by which time he was well-established as one of John W. Campbell's stable of writers for Astounding Science-Fiction. He lived in Los Angeles, California and died in 2000.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Gilbert Gosseyn is a man seemingly without a past. He is drawn into a complex web of intrigue by Earth's leaders and soon discovers a plot by an alien Galactic League to conquer the Solar System. Whats more, he realises he is also being used as a pawn by an unknown power, the nature of which he must uncover to determine his true purpose and identity.
As one of the earliest commercial SF novels, written in 1948, the "World of Null-A" is predictably anachronistic in its description of a world of the future. Yet the book is suitably action-packed and fast-paced to hold your interest. In fairness to it, in the late-1940s it would have been groundbreaking. The plot is only partially resolved at the end and its clear that the book was intended as the first in a series. Probably worth reading only for serious connoisseurs of sci-fi.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
At first a humble and unwitting pawn, Gilbert is quickly promoted as he progresses through the ranks in unorthodox and interesting ways.
In addition to the great pulp-style sci-fi story, A.E. Van Vogt adds a lot of interesting semantic theory by beginning each chapter with a quote for Alfred Korzybski's work SCIENCE AND SANITY. "The Map is not the territory it represents" is one of the shorter, and most easily understood. They get progressively more challenging, mirroring Gilbert's story. The Korzybski excepts are worth the price of the book alone. If you're interested in a good old sci-fi tale with conspiracies, space battle and other planets, as well as some thing which actually challenges your own mental processes, check it out.
The core of the story is set in the year 2650, and is told from the point of view of Gilbert Gosseyn, who discovers very early on that all his memories are not real. He is being used as a pawn in a struggle for power.
The story of Gosseyn is interesting and the reader does want to find out what happens to him, but there are problems with the story as well. Key to the plot is the philosophy of Null-A (non-Aristotelianism), which is never clearly defined and thus can easily leave the reader confused. This is the first of three books in this series, so perhaps this problem will be resolved in the other books.
For my tastes, "Slan" was a better example of van Vogt's work. In addition, his Isher series is easier to follow as well. The other two books in the Null-A series are: "The Players of Null-A" and "Null-A Three".
In this novel, Gilbert Gosseyn has traveled to the city of the Machine to participate in the annual Games. Joining the local self-protection group, his identity is challenged by a resident of his home town. A lie detector confirms that he is not Gilbert Gosseyn, but states that his true identity is not known within his mind.
Ejected by the hotel staff into the crime filled night, Gilbert is bewildered by these events. Without any warning, a young woman runs into him and almost knocks them both off their feet. The woman claims to be pursued by two men, but Gilbert doesn't see them.
Teresa Clark tells him that she has been evicted from her boarding house and lacks a place to spend the night. Gilbert finds them a vacant lot and they settle down amidst the bushes. During their discussion, various things she says and does contradict her story. The next day, he learns that she is actually Patricia Hardie, the woman that he had believed to be his dead wife.
In this story, Gilbert meets various members of a group that has taken over the government of Earth and Venus. Patricia's father is the President of Earth. Thorson is the personal representative of the leader of the Greatest Empire. Elred Crang is the commander of the local Greatest Empire forces and John Prescott is his vice-commander. Dr. 'X' is a gravely injured Earth scientist whose personality has been distorted toward megalomania.
They all seem to be interested in his brain. After his interrogation and examination, Gilbert is carried down, still bound to his chair, into a dungeon and locked up. Later, Patricia releases him and they escape to her room. Then guards come searching for him and he slips out the window. As he is approaching the Games Machine, cars come out of the trees and attack him. He is shot by projectile weapons and burned by energy guns, quickly passing out from the blood loss.
Later, Gilbert wakes up on Venus. He doesn't have any scars or other signs of the wounds and burns, but he still has all his memories, including those of extreme pain. He visits the house of Prescott and Crang, but is then captured and returned to Earth. There he is shown the corpse of Gosseyn I. Apparently he is Gosseyn II, alive and well after the death of his previous body.
This story has several themes, one of which is the practice of General Semantics. This approach to mental discipline, based upon the theories of Alfred Korzybski, is claimed to provide greatly stability and adaptation to change. An introduction to this approach can be found within Science and Sanity, first published in 1933.
Another theme is the transportation of objects by causing them to become similar to within twenty decimal places. Supposedly, such similarity will cause the greater to bridge space to the lesser. Although such transits take finite time, the bridging occurs at speeds much greater than lightspeed. Thus, this principle provides a practical way to travel among the stars.
This novel is first of three in the series. The next volume is The Pawns of Null-A (also entitled The Players of Null-A). Enjoy.
Highly recommended for van Vogt fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of high adventure, political intrigue, and strange talents.
-Arthur W. Jordin
He is not everyone's cup of tea. His stories are often illogical and are filled with loose-ends that do not get tied up. They have often been described as dreamlike, and there is the paradox. For their power lies in their dreamlike intensity, wild ideas and concepts, and roller-coaster plots. If they were more logical, and more carefully plotted and constructed, they would lose much of their power and intensity.
Of all of his books, this is the one that is the most powerful and the most memorable, in my opinion. In fact, 30 years after reading it for the first time, I still consider it the most unforgettable book I have ever read. You are hooked from the outset, and you must find out - as the main character must find out - who is Gilbert Gosseyn? It is exciting, spell-binding, confusing, mind-bending and totally absorbing. And along the way, you will be introduced to this thing called General Semantics. If you are like me, you will have to know more about it, too.
The sequel, The Players of Null-A, is also a great read. Together, these two books are among my two favorite series of all-time, rivaled only by Dan Simmons' Hyperion and Endymion books.
Although van Vogt returned to Null-A with a third book in the 1980's (Null-A Three), this third book is a weak entry and does not really continue the story in a meaningful way. For a better return to the Null-A universe, try John C. Wright's Null-A Continuum (published in 2008). Wright does something I thought impossible - he emulates van Vogt's style - not just in the way he uses the language, but also by the roller-coaster plot and the vastness of the ideas and concepts. In some ways, Wright's book becomes almost incomprehensible - but, then, so do many of van Vogt's books! Wright's ending is great, as it takes the books full circle, right back to where it all began...with the World of Null-A.