A.E. Van Vogt – In the Beginning

Not every origin story needs to be revealed.

Recently I responded to an article about pseudonyms written many years ago by Anthony Boucher. In it I mentioned that A.E. Van Vogt as an example of an author didn’t care to be associated with a certain genre. I made this claim because I had a memory of reading a piece by him in which he admitted to writing for true adventure style pulps but giving no details.

Since then an old friend of mine, Denny Lien, who knows more about such matters than I ever will, pointed me to a page on the van Vogt website that actually reprints one of these stories and gives some background on how it was rediscovered. So it turns out I was wrong about him writing for the true adventure pulps. What he actually wrote apparently were true confession type stories which is about as far from his later science fiction in theme and style as you could get.

When I read this example of van Vogt’s true confession work I have to admit I didn’t find it terrible as I suspected it might be. It probably helped that the story isn’t a long one, or that to my eye at least it appeared to be an attempt by van Vogt to parody the short stories of O. Henry. I think it was a parody attempt rather than simple imitation. Certainly lines such as this suggest parody to me:

It was the old Ted, exasperatingly smug in his knowledge of her, incurably romantic about himself and probably already planning to commemorate the occasion by writing one of his happy-ending stories, in which he would be the forgiving and ill-used hero.

Not perhaps the most on-target dart tossed at O. Henry’s sentimental tendencies but van Vogt’s ire was in the right place.

So I can see why van Vogt would want to avoid revealing his literary past to his science fiction audience if it’s all like this. While not terrible it’s clearly a bit too twee and small in scale for the author of epics such as The Weapon Shops of Isher or The World of Null A to admit to.

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