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The World of Null-A [Paperback]

A. E. van Vogt
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 25 2002
The classic novel of non-Aristotelian logic and the coming race of supermen

Grandmaster A. E. van Vogt was one of the giants of the 1940s, the Golden Age of classic SF. Of his masterpieces, The World of Null-A is his most famous and most influential. It was the first major trade SF hardcover ever, in 1949, and has been in print in various editions ever since. The entire careers of Philip K. Dick, Keith Laumer, Alfred Bester, Charles Harness, and Philip Jose Farmer were created or influenced by The World of Null-A, and so it is required reading for anyone who wishes to know the canon of SF classics.

It is the year 2650 and Earth has become a world of non-Aristotelianism, or Null-A. This is the story of Gilbert Gosseyn, who lives in that future world where the Games Machine, made up of twenty-five thousand electronic brains, sets the course of people's lives. Gosseyn isn't even sure of his own identity, but realizes he has some remarkable abilities and sets out to use them to discover who has made him a pawn in an interstellar plot.

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Review

"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.

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THE OCCUPANTS of each floor of the hotel must as usual during the games form their own protective groups. . . . Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An early SF classic Jan. 25 2004
By JW
Format:Paperback
The year is AD 2560. Earth is controlled by a gigantic computer, the "Games Machine", which each year determines who is eligible for emigration to Venus, home to an utopian society based on the precepts of "Null-A" philosophy, a discipline which allows an individual's intellectual and emotional processes to work in perfect harmony.
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.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dated, but still fun Feb. 21 2004
Format:Paperback
As a classic Sci-Fi novel it reads pretty good. Much of the futuristic speculative science is not yet either obsolete nor proven impossible 60 years later. Some of the high-tech foreseen by Vogt includes a society run by a mega-computer which selects leader based on a mental discipline and philosophy called "Null-A." Our hero enrolls in the annual selection by the computer after some years of study. Selected winners are sent to an imaginative colony on Venus. Everything in perfect order, until he finds out that his brain has been tampered with, he isn't who he thinks he is, and nothing is as it seems. The Earth is a pawn in a galaxy wide political plot wherein one evil dictator is planning to destroy Earth and Mars as and use it as justification to start a huge interstellar war. Our hero finds out that his brain has been genetically augmented to give him extra abilities, and his body is being cloned and the clones receiving his mental patterns so that when he is killed the clone takes over without loss, a sort of immortality. Typical of early sci-fi the characters are mostly cardboard cutouts. There is a woman in the plot, and he almost but not quite manages a relationship. In Vogt style it ends when he gets tired of writing without the reader finding out what ever became of the space war. Still, it's an entertaining read on a lazy afternoon.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  38 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to permanently alter the way you think March 22 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book changed my brain. The story centers on the 'life' of Gilbert Gosseyn (Go-Sane), a man with a very special brain. As a contestant in the Game, a challenging test of one's ability to master Null-A (non-Aristotelian logic), Gilbert hopes to achieve one of the better prizes, citizenship on Venus or even the Presidency. But a conspiracy of shadowy players and public figures have other plans for Gilbert and his special brain. Gilbert is a surprisingly resilient challenge to their power. And a great surprise to himself, as well. As he discovers more about himself, he also learns more about a larger game being played by hidden masters who control whole galaxies.
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.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Not His Best March 15 2005
By Dave_42 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"The World Of Null-A" is a tremendously influential work in the SF genre. It was first published in August - October of 1945 in "Astounding Science Fiction", however that version is quite a bit different from the version which was published in book form in 1948. A final revision was published in 1970, which was very close to the 1948 version.

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".
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Man Who Doesn't Exist Oct. 17 2007
By Arthur W. Jordin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The World of Null-A (1948) is the first SF novel in the Null-A series. The Earth has been gradually influenced by the principles of General Semantics over several centuries under the direction of the Semantic Institute and the Games Machine. Those who show the greatest comprehension of these principles are transported to Venus to live in a Non-Aristotelian society. Those who don't score high enough to be allowed on Venus are awarded with high offices on Earth.

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
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic in its time Jan. 16 2002
By Michael Battaglia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If this book was released today I don't think it would be as critically praised as it has been and regarded as an outright classic of Golden Age SF. It's not that standards were lower back then, but the audience was different and looking for a different type of story, one that audiences today probably aren't as interested in. Of course, keeping in mind that, all nostalgia aside, most of the Golden Age SF, except for a handful of notable authors was mostly derivative crap, this book looks pretty good indeed. It's original, for the most part it's readable and often times fairly exciting. What we have here is a hero who has no idea who he really is fighting against an enemy and being manipulated every time he turns around. Like most novels of the period, Van Vogt wasn't about to let something as simple as plot get in the way of a good story and it shows. The book is supposed to be based around the concept of General Semantics which I admittedly know nothing about and didn't learn much from the book itself . . . the concept is never really fully explained except for general asides and most of the stuff "fully null-A people" would do strikes me as mostly common sense (attack an army at night? it takes a logical system of thought to figure that out) so I suspect there's more to it than Van Vogt shows us. The best way to read this book is as quickly as possible, preferably in one sitting . . . plots shift gears and scenes change so quickly and ideas are tossed out with such uncaring glee that when you're immersed in the story, it's great fun. But when you take a step back to think about it, you're not so pleased. But the ideas and the feelings are what make this story work and explains why people still read it fifty some odd years after its publication . . . it's certainly not for the sophisticated writing or the depth of charactization but simply because it's a fun book that at best will get you interested in General Semantics and at worst will simply entertain you.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most unforgettable book I have ever read March 30 2010
By Donald A. Ketchek - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is difficult to review the books of A.E. van Vogt. In fact, even during his time, he was difficult to review by the professional reviewers. His books, I think it can be said, are different from anyone else's. There wasn't anyone like him during his prime years (the 1940's), nor has there been anyone like him since.

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.
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