Christy's Reviews > The World of Null-A

The World of Null-A by A.E. van Vogt
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The World of Null-A is a mixed bag. All too frequently I found myself having to stop and re-read sections to figure out basic plot points (and this was generally because of a basic lack of clarity in key scenes, not because of a particularly advanced concept) and found it difficult to integrate the two major drives of the book, one toward political thriller regarding interplanetary and galactic war and one toward speculation about human and social evolution.

These two drives are definitely related through the basic plot, but they do not feel related; it is a major shift to go from one element of the novel to the other as one is focused on the protagonist, Gosseyn, and his attempts to discover who he is and to survive the warfare and politicking going on around him, and the other deals with the larger picture of null-A society (based on non-Aristotelian, non-Newtonian, and non-Euclidian logic), Venus and its null-A inhabitants, and the politics of the galactic community.

This is really a shame, too, because the novel does contain some interesting speculation about the future evolution of the human species as well as human society (not to mention some fast-paced adventure sequences which make it great fun to read at times). Van Vogt lays out the potential future of mankind in Gosseyn's description of the overall situation:

"We...have witnessed a greedy interstellar empire trying to take over another planetary system, in spite of the disapproval of a purely Aristotelian league. It's all very childish and murderous, an extreme example of how neurotic a civilization can become when i fails to develop a method for integrating the human part of man's mind with the animal part. All their thousands of years of additional scientific development have been wasted in the effort to achieve size and power when all they needed was to learn to cooperate" (169).

What's more, van Vogt provides a model for how this cooperation would work in the Venusian null-A society, which is described as an "ultimate democracy":

"There is no president of Venus, no council, no ruling group. Everything is voluntary; every man lives to himself alone, and yet conjoins with others to see that the necessary work is done. But people can choose their own work. You might say, suppose everybody decided to enter the same profession. That doesn't happen. The population is composed of responsible citizens who make a careful study of the entire work-to-be-done situation before they choose their jobs" (67).

This description provides an interesting counter to Edward Bellamy's description of a utopian society in Looking Backward , which is designed and maintained from the top down, through government regulation (authoritarian), rather than from the bottom up, through the decision-making processes of a group of responsible individuals (anarchist). It's too bad that van Vogt does not develop this society and its implications further. Null-A society is clearly meant to be seen as utopian and as achievable, but the novel is more political thriller (a la The Bourne Identity) than utopian novel or political novel (with a coherent argument to be made).
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