Sci-fi author seeks new slan-fans for van Vogt with masterwork's sequel
Best-selling science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson felt like a giddy fan while completing the unfinished last novel of A. E. van Vogt, the forgotten...
The Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP ) — Best-selling science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson felt like a giddy fan while completing the unfinished last novel of A.E. van Vogt, the forgotten science fiction master's sequel to the influential "Slan."
Van Vogt filled the imaginations of boys across America with telepathic mutants and big ideas when he published "Slan" 61 years ago. With "Slan Hunter," recently released by Tor Books, Anderson hopes to do the same while paying homage to one of the genre's forgotten but most important authors.
"It's really cool if you're a fan," Anderson said. "I love my job. I get to play with the best toys."
Anderson, 45, hopes the sequel and its original will introduce a new generation of readers to van Vogt, a former giant in the world of pulp novels and serial magazines who fell into obscurity.
Van Vogt's work fell out of style after he took a writing break to pitch the 1950 book "Dianetics," written by his friend and fellow science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who created Scientology. He later became disillusioned and when he returned to writing, he didn't have the same zip. He died in 2000 after suffering several years from Alzheimer's disease.
"He was this pathfinder," Anderson said. "He was Lewis and Clark charging across the landscape of science fiction."
For those who remember the exploits of Jommy Cross from "Slan," the next book ties up the mutant telepath's story in a conflicted future Earth after the abrupt surprise ending of van Vogt's original. Slans are superhuman mutants with telepathic abilities and tendrils protruding from the backs of their heads.
Cross, who was orphaned as a boy after the evil leader of Earth's secret police murdered his parents, attempts to unite slans, humans and a third species — the mysterious tendrilless slans, whose evil nature is eventually revealed. The book examines race, genetics, war and humanity's flaws. Slans, victims of intense government propaganda, are persecuted by humans who don't trust these mutant creatures.
"Slan" spurred a legion of admirers. Among them was a young Harlan Ellison, the author and winner of multiple Hugo, Nebula and Edgar awards.
"You would be reading along, and all of a sudden he would pop out of a dark alley in the book and hit you in the head with a sock full of quarters," Ellison said.
Admirers of van Vogt's work had a catch phrase — "fans are slans" — and met in "slan shacks" to talk over his work.
Tor Books editor David Hartwell, who is reissuing van Vogt's work for the third time, said the author tried to put a new idea into each story every 700 words or so. And he would wake himself up every few hours so he could jot down his dreams.
"He was interested in everything," Hartwell said. "He was interested in general semantics, ideas of linguistic meanings, Dianetics. Mental health and sanity was a big theme in his work. He was extremely imaginative, and there was no other science fiction writer like him."
Van Vogt was born in 1912 and grew up on a Mennonite farm in Canada before moving to the United States as an adult. He built his fame writing stories and serials for John W. Campbell Jr.'s influential Astounding Stories magazine, which launched what many consider the golden age of science fiction.
His first story for Campbell, "Black Destroyer," is about an alien that stalks the human crew of a spaceship, picking them off one by one. It's an obvious influence on "Aliens," the blockbuster movie franchise. Dozens of stories followed.
Ellison said Campbell's writers transformed the genre from hackneyed space Westerns to a realm of sophisticated ideas.
"He brought along a cadre of writers that included Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard, and very prominently A.E. van Vogt, who was at the top of his game in those days," Ellison said. "And everyone thought of him as a giant."
Van Vogt's widow, Lydia, picked Anderson to write the sequel. Ellison said Anderson is one of the few writers he would trust with van Vogt's legacy, and Hartwell, the book's editor, said the sequel was a "gift" from Anderson to van Vogt's estate and to Lydia van Vogt.
Anderson has written and co-authored more than 90 books. More than 40 have been best sellers. Besides his original works, he has co-authored the continuing "Dune" sagas, held contracts for the "Star Wars" and "X-Files" franchises, and will put out six books this year alone.
"When writers become successful, one of the things we're always told is we're supposed to 'pay it forward' and help new writers coming up," said Anderson, who was careful to follow van Vogt's style and worked with about 130 pages of scenes that van Vogt produced just as he was sliding into Alzheimer's.
"By doing "Slan Hunter," I'm actually paying back by trying to get new readers for 'Slan,' to get our new generation of readers to pick up these books that are not very well remembered," he said. "And they should be."
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company