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Authors: A. E. van Vogt,van Vogt

The World of Null-A

BOOK: The World of Null-A
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A.E.Van Vogt


Editorial Reviews

Book Description
The classic novel of non-Aristotelian logic and the coming race of supermen
Grandmaster A. E. van Vogt was one of the giants of the 1940s, the Golden Age of classic SF. Of his masterpieces, The World of Null-A is his most famous and most influential. It was the first major trade SF hardcover ever, in 1949, and has been in print in various editions ever since. The entire careers of Philip K. Dick, Keith Laumer, Alfred Bester, Charles Harness, and Philip Jose Farmer were created or influenced by The World of Null-A, and so it is required reading for anyone who wishes to know the canon of SF classics.
It is the year 2650 and Earth has become a world of non-Aristotelianism, or Null-A. This is the story of Gilbert Gosseyn, who lives in that future world where the Games Machine, made up of twenty-five thousand electronic brains, sets the course of people’s lives. Gosseyn isn’t even sure of his own identity, but realizes he has some remarkable abilities and sets out to use them to discover who has made him a pawn in an interstellar plot.
About the Author
A. E. Van Vogt
was a SFWA Grand Master, and lived in Los Angeles, California,

John W. Campbell, Jr.

Copyright 1945, 1948, © 1970, by A. E. Van Vogt

All rights reserved

Published by arrangement with the author’s agent

All rights reserved which includes  the  right

to reproduce this book or portions thereof in

any form whatsoever. For information address

SBN 425-02558-6


Berkley Publishing Corporation

200 Madison Avenue

New York, N.Y. 10016


Printed in the United States of America

Berkley Medallion Edition, MARCH, 1974










































Reader, in your hands you hold one of the most controversial-and successful-novels in the whole of science fiction literature.

In these introductory remarks, I am going to tell about some of the successes and I shall also detail what the principal critics said about
The World of Null-A.
Let me hasten to say that what you shall read is no acrimonious defense. In fact, I have decided to take the criticisms seriously, and I have accordingly revised this first Berkley edition and have provided the explanations which for so long I believed to be unnecessary.

Before I tell you of the attacks, I propose swiftly to set down a few of
The World of Null-A’s

It was the first hard-cover science fiction novel published by a major publisher after World War II (Simon and Schuster, 1948).

It won the Manuscripters Club award.

It was listed by the New York area library association among the hundred best novels of 1948.

Jacques Sadoul, in France, editor of
Editions OPTA,
has stated that
World of Null-A,
when first published, all by itself created the French science fiction market. The first edition sold over 25,000 copies. He has stated that I am still-in 1969-the most popular writer in France in terms of copies sold.

Its publication stimulated interest in General Semantics. Students flocked to the Institute of General Semantics, Lakewood, Connecticut, to study under Count Alfred Korzybski-who allowed himself to be photographed reading
The World of Null-A.
Today, General Semantics, then a faltering science, is taught in hundreds of universities.

has been translated into nine languages.

With that out of the way, we come to the attacks. As you’ll see, they’re more fun, make authors madder, and get readers stirred up.

Here is what Sam Moskowitz, in his brief biography of the author, said in his book,
Seekers of Tomorrow,
about what was wrong with
World of Null-A: “…
Bewildered Gilbert Gosseyn, mutant with a double mind, doesn’t know who he is and spends the entire novel trying to find out.” The novel was originally printed as a serial in
Astounding Science Fiction,
and after the final installment was published (Mr. Moskowitz continues), “Letters of plaintive puzzlement began to pour in. Readers didn’t understand what the story was all about. Campbell [the editor advised them to wait a few days; it took that long, he suggested, for the implications to sink in. The days turned into months, but clarification never came-“

You’ll admit that’s a tough set of sentences to follow. Plain, blunt-spoken Sam Moskowitz, whose knowledge of science fiction history and whose collection of science fiction probably is topped only by that of Forrest Ackerman (in the whole universe) … is nevertheless in error. The number of readers who wrote “plaintive” letters to the editor can be numbered on the fingers of one and a half hands.

However, Moskowitz might argue that it isn’t the quantity of complainers, but the quality. And there he has a point.

Shortly after
The World of Null-A
was serialized in 1945, a sci-fi fan, hitherto unknown to me, wrote in a science fiction fan magazine a long and powerful article attacking the novel and my work in general up to that time. The article concluded, as I recall it (from memory only) with the sentence: “Van Vogt is actually a pygmy writer working with a giant typewriter.”

The imagery throughout this article, meaningless though that particular line is (if you’ll think about it), induced me to include in my answering article in a subsequent issue of the same fan magazine-which article is lost to posterity-the remark that I foresaw a brilliant writing career for the young man who had written so poetical an attack.

That young writer eventually developed into the science fictional genius, Damon Knight, who-among his many accomplishments-a few years ago organized the Science Fiction Writers of America, which (though it seems impossible) is still a viable organization.

Of Knight’s attack so long ago,
Galaxy Magazine
critic Algis Budrys wrote in his December, 1967, book review column: “In this edition [of critical essays] you will find among other goodies from the earlier version, the famous destruction of A. E. van Vogt that made Damon’s reputation.”

What other criticisms of
The World of Null-A
are there? None. It’s a fact. Singlehandedly, Knight took on this novel and my work at age 23-1/2, and, as Algis Budrys puts it, brought about my “destruction.”

So what’s the problem? Why am I now revising
Am I doing all this for


But why?-you ask.

Well, on this planet you have to recognize where the power is.

Knight has it?

Knight has it

In a deeper sense, of course, I’m making this defense of the book, and revising it, because General Semantics is a worthwhile subject, with meaningful implications, not only in 2560 A.D. where my story takes place, but here and now.

General Semantics, as defined by the late Count Alfred Korzybski in his famous book,
Science and Sanity,
is an over-word for non-Aristotelian and non-Newtonian systems. Don’t let that mouthful of words stop you. Non-Aristotelian means not according to the thought solidified by Aristotle’s followers for nearly 2,000 years. Non-Newtonian refers to our essentially Einsteinian universe, as accepted by today’s science. Non-Aristotelian breaks down to Non-A, and then Null-A.

Thus, the titles
World of
Players of

General Semantics has to do with the Meaning of Meaning. In this sense, it transcends and encompasses the new science of Linguistics. The essential idea of General

Semantics is that meaning can only be comprehended when one has made allowances for the nervous and perception system-that of a human being-through which it is filtered.

Because of the limitations of his nervous system, Man can only see part of truth, never the whole of it. In describing the limitation, Korzybski coined the term “ladder of abstraction.” Abstraction, as he used it, did not have a lofty or symbolical thought connotation. It meant, “to abstract from”, that is, to take from something a part of the whole. His assumption: in observing a process of nature, one can only abstract-i.e. perceive-a portion of it.

Now, if I were a writer who merely presented another man’s ideas, then I doubt if I’d have had problems with my readers. I think I presented the facts of General Semantics so well, and so skilfully, in
World of Null-A
and its sequel that the readers thought that that was all I
be doing. But the truth is that I, the author, saw a deeper paradox.

Ever since Einstein’s theory of relativity, we have had the concept of the observer who-it was stated-must be taken into account. Whenever I discussed this with people, I observed they were not capable of appreciating the height of that concept. They seemed to think of the observer as, essentially, an algebraic unit. Who he was didn’t matter.

In such sciences as chemistry and physics, so precise were the methods that, apparently,
it did not matter
who the observer was. Japanese, Germans, Russians, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, and Englishmen all arrived at the same impeccable conclusions, apparently bypassing their personal, racial, and religious prejudices. However, everyone I talked to was aware that, as soon as members of these various nationalities or religious groups wrote
-ah, now, we had a different story (and of course a different history) from each individual.

When I say above that “apparently” it didn’t matter in the physical sciences, or the “exact sciences” as they are so often called, the truth is that it does matter there also. Every individual scientist is limited in his ability to abstract data from Nature by the brainwashing he has received from his parents and in school. As the General Semanticist would say, each scientific researcher “trails his history” into every research project. Thus, a physicist with less educational or personal rigidity can solve a problem that was beyond the ability (to abstract) of another physicist.

In short, the observer always is, and always has to be a “me “… a specific person.

Accordingly, as
World of Null-A
opens, my hero-Gilbert Gosseyn-becomes aware that he is not who he thinks. He has a belief about himself that is false.

Now, consider-analogically, this is true of all of us. Only, we are so far gone into falseness, so acceptant of our limited role, that we never question it at all.

… To continue with the story of
Not knowing who he is, nevertheless, my protagonist gradually becomes familiar with his “identity.” Which essentially means that he abstracts significance from the events that occur and gives them power over him. Presently he begins to feel that the part of his identity that he has abstracted is the whole.

BOOK: The World of Null-A
3.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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