by A.E. van Vogt
“Our science is a joke, our education a mass of lies. And every year the wreck of human aspirations and human hopes piles higher around us. Every year there’s greater dislocation, more poverty, more misery. Nothing is left to us but hatred, and hatred isn’t enough.”
Jommy, a nine-year-old boy and a mutant know as a ‘slan’, is driven from humanity and forced to mature on his own, developing his father’s technology. The world is crazy with exterminating any slans, but Jommy learns they’ve already infiltrated everywhere, and he races to disrupt an impending war between the species.
The story here is lively and interesting, mixing hard science and pulp writing. It was originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1940, and released in novel format in 1946. In 2016, the novel received a retroactive Hugo award for Best Novel 1941.
Slan is Vogt’s first published novel, and one of his most famous works, but some of the corn stemming from the pulp aspects of the writing doesn’t fit as well with serious science fiction as we might like. Balancing this, though, are the hard science fiction elements of the story. Generally these two aspects don’t mix all that well, being on opposite ends of the spectrum, but it’s pulled off successfully here in an excellent novel.
Championed by Harlan Ellison, Vogt was granted the title of Science Fiction Grand Master in 1995, a few years before his death. We’ll be looking into him more with the upcoming review of Transfinite, a career retrospective collection of his best short fiction.
It was not grief or even sadness that swayed him, but a deep, philosophical sense of the profound tragedy of life.