Story-telling with A. E. van Vogt

Man (woman/alien), you’d think writing about the way one writes would be easier. Or maybe I just want this to be the case—for there to be some part of writing that’s easier, and not just have all writing be like pulling teeth.


At least with pulling teeth you eventually run out of teeth to pull, right?


But one of the elements I want to share with you on Patreon is my writing process. Even without mini-essays like this one, you are still essentially getting my writing process because the stories I’ll be sending you are fresh off the mind-skillet. If we get to the point where I’m writing a novel in pieces, month-by-month, you’ll see even more how my process involves writing something down and seeing what that written-down-thing calls forth from my brain. It’s a self-generative, subconsciously-guided process and the fact that it works is as mysterious to me as it is to anyone else. I’m just thankful that it usually works.


I bring this up because I recently finished reading A. E. van Vogt’s The World of Null-A. Van Vogt is one of the first pulp science-fiction writers, having first published in 1939 and continuing to publish through the mid-eighties. Even though I took one of my Ph.D. exams on the history of science fiction, I’ve never read him—which means either that I was lax in my research or he just isn’t very well respected (SF critic Damon Knight would agree that he shouldn’t be respected) or he just isn’t a very good writer.


My interest in van Vogt stems from my love of Philip K. Dick, who cites van Vogt as one of his major influence. And part of that influence has to do with the way van Vogt wrote. Dick said of The World of Null-A that “All the parts of that book did not add up; all the ingredients did not make a coherency.” This lack of coherence was probably a result of van Vogt deciding to add a new concept every 800 words, which made his novels seem to spin out of control (in the same way that Dick’s books reveal layer upon layer of reality the deeper you get into them, your vision of the world you thought you were inhabiting constantly being radically adjusted).


If you haven’t figured out by now, from what I’ve written above or from the fact that my 2400 dollar goal involves writing a novel that quite possibly would spin out of control (never, perhaps, having been in control), I find this way of writing fascinating. If I know where I’m going in a story, I get bored. And I believe that if I’m surprised by what I’ve written, then the reader’s likely to be surprised as well.


A. E. van Vogt is not a great writer. Critics lambast him for his inability to create believable characters or believable science or believable plots. However, his books are fascinating simply because of his (seeming) lack of control. He has a character die at the end of one chapter only to wake up resurrected in the next. This is a third of the way into the book, and there’s no mention before this point of this kind of death-cheat being possible. The other characters in the book (I might even say the book itself) is as confused about how such a thing could happen as the main character is.


I’d bet money van Vogt had no idea where the novel was going until he got there, chapter by chapter, new concept by new concept, because as I read the book I recognized the moves he was making. He was writing the way I write.


If you’ve signed on with me at Patreon, I’m assuming your down for this sort of chaos.


It’s about time for a new concept.


Venus Fly Toasters.