The World of Null-A


Actual Reading Notes: Whoa, this book is deceptively complex: a wildly convoluted and impossible story told very plainly, with an almost maddening lack of detail — lacking the atmospheric fuzz and hypertext of more contemporary sci-fi — we’re told very little of how the “World” Null-A looks, feels, and functions, only of the drama that unfolds within it — a real economy of words, almost Hemingway-esque — Somewhat strange for its era (1945) is the total lack of rocket-techno-nerdery: people ride in rocket ships long distances between planets, but the ships and how they work are never discussed, not even in passing, there are aliens whose physiology is hardly mentioned, and a giant city-sized computer whose dimensions are barely touched upon — this lack of information has a kind of claustrophobic effect that leaves the reader in a state of harried confusion not unlike that being experienced by the main character, Gilbert Gosseyn — who is an amnesiac and without specific personal identity, maybe even a clone, a kind of archetype, and whose situation requires a complete and singular focus on survival, on moving forward — Gosseyn has no time to notice the world, only to travel towards a seemingly unavoidable destiny, much like the reader of this book inevitably reaches its end!

Related Concepts: General Semantics, the Singularity, Aristotelian Logic, Decision-Tree Reasoning, Alfred Korzybski, Logic, Intuition, Time-Binding, Clone Ethics, Eugenics, non-Aristotelian Logic, World War II, Totalitarianism, Authority, Meta-Systems, Colonialism, Utopia.

One Professional Opinion: “Van Vogt knew precisely what he was doing in all areas of his fiction writing. There’s hardly a wasted word in his stories…His plots are marvels of interlocking pieces, often ending in real surprises and shocks, genuine paradigm shifts, which are among the hardest conceptions to depict. And the intellectual material of his fictions, the conceits and tossed-off observations on culture and human and alien behavior, reflect a probing mind…Each tale contains a new angle, a unique slant, that makes it stand out.” — Paul Di Filippo

Excellent Representative Passage: “There was a pause. Then the Machine spoke again and there was a curious sadness in its words. ‘I am only an immobile brain, but dimly aware of what is transpiring in remote parts of Earth. What plans are brewing I can only guess. You will be surprised and disappointed to learn that I can tell you nothing more about that.’
‘What can you tell me?’ asked Gosseyn.
‘That you are very deeply involved…'”

Special Thanks: to Tor/Forge for the book! More reviews (err, “reviews”) of books from the Forge canon of Golden Age SF reissues will appear in the months to come.

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