Friday, March 28, 2014

"The right to buy weapons is the right to be free"

A Google Nexus 10 will shortly be winging its way from Amazon's vaults as I've finally succumbed to mass tablet-hysteria. I'm motivated by two things - I do a lot of reading of the digital newspaper plus sundry eBooks: my Galaxy S3 is too small and my Kindle too obsolete. The second reason is that Microsoft are apparently going to release their Office suite for Android at some point, which finally saves me from having to consider a Microsoft tablet or another clunky PC. Now if only Amazon would support Amazon Prime video streaming (films, TV) to generic Android devices .. . Read my lips, guys, I am not going to buy a Kindle Fire.

Amazon have been reformatting some of the A. E. Van Vogt 'Golden Age' books for Kindle. The plots are clunky, the science lamentable and the attitudes dated, but they do pass the test of page-turning excitement! I started with "The Weapon Shops of Isher" and "The Weapon Makers". From Wikipedia:
"The Isher/Weapon Shops novels are very rare examples of Golden Age science fiction that explicitly discuss the right to keep and bear arms, specifically guns. Indeed, the motto of the Weapon Shops, repeated several times, is "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free". Van Vogt's guns have virtually magical properties, and can only be used in self-defense.

"The political philosophy of the Weapon Shops is minimalist. They will not interfere with the corrupt imperial monarchy of the Isher government, on the grounds that men always have a government of the type they deserve: no government, however bad, exists without at least the tacit consent of the governed. The mission of the Weapon Shops therefore is merely to offer single individuals the right to protect themselves with a firearm, or, in cases of fraud, access to a "Robin Hood" alternative court system that judges and awards compensation from large, imperial merchant combines to cheated individuals. Because the population has access to this alternative system of justice, the Isher government cannot take the final step toward totalitarianism."
Other great van Vogt novels are "Slan"; "The World of Null-A" and "The Players of Null-A" (both ordered); "Empire of the Atom" and "The Wizard of Linn" (both featuring scientific genius Clane Linn in a post-apocalypse barbarian age). Treats for the scientifically-inclined intellectual teenager of any age.

Van Vogt used to say that he always engineered a cliff-hanging crisis every 800 words: critics were divided
One early and articulate critic was Damon Knight. In a chapter-long essay reprinted in In Search of Wonder, entitled "Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. van Vogt", Knight famously remarked that van Vogt "is no giant; he is a pygmy who has learned to operate an overgrown typewriter". Knight described The World of Null-A as "one of the worst allegedly-adult science fiction stories ever published". About van Vogt's writing, Knight said:

"In general van Vogt seems to me to fail consistently as a writer in these elementary ways: 1. His plots do not bear examination. 2. His choice of words and his sentence-structure are fumbling and insensitive. 3. He is unable either to visualize a scene or to make a character seem real."

About Empire of the Atom Knight wrote:

"If you can only throw your reasoning powers out of gear - something many van Vogt fans find easy to do - you'll enjoy this one."

Knight also expressed misgivings about van Vogt's politics, noting that his stories almost invariably present absolute monarchy in a favorable light.

On the other hand, when science fiction author Philip K. Dick was asked which science fiction writers had influenced his work the most, he replied:

"I started reading sf when I was about twelve and I read all I could, so any author who was writing about that time, I read. But there's no doubt who got me off originally and that was A.E. van Vogt. There was in van Vogt's writing a mysterious quality, and this was especially true in The World of Null A. All the parts of that book did not add up; all the ingredients did not make a coherency. Now some people are put off by that. They think that's sloppy and wrong, but the thing that fascinated me so much was that this resembled reality more than anybody else's writing inside or outside science fiction."
In fact van Vogt was treated disgracefully by the US SF establishment.
The Science Fiction Writers of America named him its 14th Grand Master in 1995 (presented 1996). There had been great controversy within SFWA regarding its long wait in bestowing its highest honor (limited to living writers, no more than one annually). Writing an obituary of van Vogt, Robert J. Sawyer, a fellow Canadian writer of science fiction remarked:

"There was no doubt that van Vogt should have received this honor much earlier — the injustice of him being overlooked, at least in part because of damnable SFWA politics, had so incensed Harlan Ellison, a man with an impeccable moral compass, that he'd lobbied hard on the Sci-Fi Channel and elsewhere on van Vogt's behalf."

It is generally held that the "damnable SFWA politics" concerns Damon Knight, the founder of the SFWA, who abhorred van Vogt's style and politics and thoroughly demolished his literary reputation in the 1950s.
Read his stuff and judge for yourself.