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The Voyage of the Space Beagle

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“A. E. van Vogt is truly a grand master of science fiction. He is to Canadian SF what H. G. Wells is to the British variety or Jules Verne is to the French.  We all stand on his broad shoulders.”  --Robert J. Sawyer--This text … see full wiki

Publisher: Random House Value Publishing
1 review about The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Interesting and imaginative but dated!

  • Sep 5, 2010
  • by
With all the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to read Van Vogt's "Voyage of the Space Beagle" with the same clarity and futuristic vision that perhaps inspired Gene Roddenberry to spin off Star Trek vesting the Enterprise with the five year mission to go where no man has gone before. In a style that will remind readers of Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" or Asimov's "I, Robot", this quintessential example of early pulp science-fiction and space opera - at once fun-loving, thought-provoking, intense, frightening and entertaining - is actually a series of four short stories joined together by the common theme of inter-stellar exploration and alien first contact.

Each of the four stories is brim full of the stock in trade and requisite hard sci-fi toys and elements of the typical stories of the day - blasters, stun guns, force fields, teleportation, bizarre aliens, hostile landscapes, communicators, travel at near light speeds, and the like. But assessing it from the hard side of the sci-fi spectrum, "Voyage of the Space Beagle" is certainly not unique, has little beyond short-term entertainment value to recommend it and I think most readers would be unlikely to accord it the status of "classic".

But look more closely at the softer side of the sci-fi field of play! Ah, now there's where "Voyage of the Space Beagle" comes into its own with some compelling and imaginative ideas, insights and questions - Elliot Grosvenor as the expert in the newly founded science of Nexialism which purports to be the nexus or bridge between hitherto unrelated fields of scientific endeavour such as physics, chemistry, metallurgy, geography or sociology for example (a means of looking at the "big" scientific picture from a new meta-level, as it were - do you think we're talking about a 1950s version of Science Officer Spock here?); the social difficulties of a population living in the confined quarters of an exploratory vessel for extended periods; the political, command and management clashes between scientific, technical and military personnel with their varying motives, agendas and decision making styles on such a mission; the completely ineffectual nature of democracy as part of a command structure in the context of such an operation; and the unbridgeable philosophical differences and overwhelming communication difficulties that might be encountered in an alien first contact situation.

Clearly Van Vogt was appreciative of our ultimate smallness in the universe. Like Clifford D Simak, he was also openly critical of man's history of violence and the arrogant impression of his own power and importance:

"You assume far too readily that man is a paragon of justice, forgetting, apparently, that he has a long and savage history. He has killed other animals not only for meat but for pleasure; he has enslaved his neighbors, murdered his opponents, and obtained the most unholy sadistical joy from the agony of others. It is not impossible that we shall, in the course of our travels, meet other intelligent creatures far more worthy than man to rule the universe."

I wonder if Van Vogt appreciated the irony in his own writing. Despite the obvious criticism of the human condition inherent in his character's words, Van Vogt persisted in writing stories in which every alien encounter failed to transcend that hostility and savagery and either began or ended with violent confrontation or battle. For the most part, the inhabitants of the Space Beagle barely even tried. Sigh!

"The Voyage of the Space Beagle" is fun to read, entertaining and imaginative to be sure but not truly visionary and capable of lasting other than as a memento of what good space opera was like in the 50s! Recommended for lovers of classic science fiction.

Paul Weiss

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