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The World of Null-A

(Null-A #1)

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  4,259 ratings  ·  235 reviews
The classic novel of non-Aristotelian logic and the coming race of supermen

Science Fiction 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. Published in 1949 it was the first major trade SF hardcover, and has been in print in various editions ever s
paper, 272 pages
Published October 25th 2002 by Orb Books (first published 1945)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pardon me for asking, but aren’t we ALL - in this happy clan of GR omni-readers - becoming little Null-A Pioneers?

For like Gilbert Gosseyn - no matter how he slices and dices this big old Multiverse we now call home - the whole thing just keeps getting, as Alice said deep down in the rabbit hole... “Curiouser and curiouser!”

I know, I didn’t finish the book. But does that disqualify me?

You see, living mostly in the twentieth century, I wanted to resign from the Whole Rat Race when I retired at t
An extremely strange occurrence. Many years ago, when I was in my early teens, I read A.E. van Vogt's World of Null-A, which is about as good as most of A.E. van Vogt's oeuvre - that is to say, not very good at all. I was however struck by his preface, where he boasted that this novel, all by itself, had more or less established the French SF market. Even at age 14, I was puzzled. Why?

Much later, I discovered that van Vogt's unimpressive book had in fact been translated by Boris Vian, author of
4.0 stars. One of the better novels by A. E. Van Vogt and certainly one of his most famous. Big ideas, cool concepts and a fast paced plot. Above average science fiction from the Golden Age.

Nominee: Retro Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction novel.
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hardcover, special
I've read this three times now. Every time I do, it feels like I'm reading it for the first time. So weird, yet I really like it. It is such a strange book; like reading a standard classic from a parallel universe. "Is this what a great novel is like in your world?" In mine it's all wrong; sloppy disjointed, illogical, but if you put yourself in that other world (van's world), it is a master piece of scifi literature.

It is inspired by the pseudoscience work "Science and Sanity: An Introduction t
Charles Dee Mitchell
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mid-century-sf
Science fiction writer A. E. van Vogt liked big ideas. In the 1950's he became head of fellow sf writer L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics Institute, the secular precursor to the Church of Scientology. When Hubbard's institute failed within a year, van Vogt and his wife formed their own institute and kept it going for the entire decade.

Earlier, the big idea that captivated van Vogt was the Gerneral Semantics program of the Polish count Alfred Korzybski, a program defined in the count's 800 page self - p
Sue Burke
This novel, written in 1945, shows its age. This goes beyond imagining Venus as a damp forest of huge trees, or that people in the year 2650 will still be placing personal ads in paper newspapers. The world itself is smaller, pretty much all white men, in a conformist society. The science itself, such as what can be done with atomic power or plastics, gets stretched beyond all possibility.

Still, A.E. van Vogt is famous for ideas, and he has one that powers this novel: What if a highly rational n
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 relat
Dec 16, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science-fiction
An extremely strange occurrence. Many years ago, when I was in my early teens, I read A.E. van Vogt's World of Null-A, which is about as good as most of A.E. van Vogt's oeuvre - that is to say, not very good at all. I was however struck by his preface, where he boasted that this novel, all by itself, had more or less established the French SF market. Even at age 14, I was puzzled. Why?

Much later, I discovered that van Vogt's unimpressive book had in fact been translated by Boris Vian, author of
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a very strange book. I had read that it influenced some of the great science fiction writers of the golden age, including Philip K Dick. I guess I can believe it. It's very dickian. At times it is disjointed, confusing, even incomprehensible. I attribute that to the authorship of van Vogt. It could have been much better written. There is virtually no character development, and the motivations and loyalties of the characters is confusing.

The World of Null-A. Null-A means non-Aristotelian,
Drew Perron
Nov 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Tell me if this sounds like a modern-day young adult novel:

In the City of the Machine, the Games take place. For a month, there are no laws and no police, as the participants in the Games make their way through dozens of tests of their mental abilities. Success in the Games unlocks a good life. Those who make it through the first week are guaranteed well-paying jobs, and the further you go, the better it gets. But only the winners get the ultimate prize - going to the mysterious planet Venus.

Jul 08, 2008 added it
Shelves: 50books2008
Continuing this year in my exploration of classic SF I thought I would take a look at a famous novel by van Vogt. It turns out that van Vogt was a Canadian from a Mennonite community in Manitoba. He was an amazingly prolific author who moved to LA right after the war. There he became quite interested in the concepts of General Semantics or non-Aristotelian logic (Null-A). I'm no logician but from what I understand Aristotelian logic assumes binary states for a statement (e.g. The dog is a collie ...more
May 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi, reread
The book brings back to me the 1950s. Names like Eldred Crang and Hari Seldon (this from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series), Intergalactic wars. Highly advanced devices with tubes like an old Emerson TV set. Planets in our solar system that could sustain life. Take, for instance, this description of Venus:
Gosseyn said, "Doctor, what is Venus like -- the cities, I mean?"

The doctor rolled his head sideways to look at Gosseyn, but did not move his body.

"Oh, much like earth cities, but suited to the
Storyline: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Writing Style: 1/5
World: 5/5

This was my first A.E. van Vogt experience. I can see why Philip K. Dick was inspired by the mysterious, incoherent ideas of Null-A. I can also see why Damon Knight named it "one of the worst allegedly adult science fiction stories ever published." The two are not mutually exclusive. I was initially enchanted by what Null-A meant and the world crafted by Vogt. I was thereafter continually frustrated and pained by the writing and developmen
Peter Kazmaier
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time deciding between two stars and three stars for this novel. In the end, I decided on two stars. I found the definition of non-Aristotelian (Null-A) thought an ill-defined and incoherent concept. From my perspective Null-A seemed to imbue the adherents with super-human mental acuity completely disconnected from "integrating animal (thalamus) and human (cortex) parts of the brain.

In the Foreword the author tried to shed some light on Null-A. He says: "In World, we have the Null-A
Regina Watts
Oct 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Classic pulp fiction that basically inspired Philip K Dick's whole career. You can't go wrong with this one. ...more
Kaiju Reviews
The World of Null-a is a fascinating and strange book. The style is somewhat matter of fact, very much in line with its many contemporary pulp bretheren. The main character, Gosseyn, doesn't really drive the story so much as the story just happens to him. He almost comes across as a kind of Mr. Magoo character, stumbling around in a world that he believes to understand, but doens't. But there is a delightful quality to the dangers and adventures he happens through. I found myself feeling a sense ...more
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
He began to think of the necessity of making a determined effort to escape. But not yet. Funny, to feel that so strongly. To know that learning about himself was more important than anything else. (pgs. 45-46)

Picked this book up at the local library because PKD kept namedropping it throughout The Last Interview and Other Conversations. It's easy to see why he gave nods to it - it has got the shifting realities, shifting bodies, shifting body-realities and the requisite femme fatale.

Ernest Hogan
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Gilbert Gosseyn (Go-sane, get it?) has outrageous sci-fi adventures in search of his lost identity. Based on General Semantics, Van Vogt was trying to create a rational philosophy for the irrational Atomic Age. The result is pulp fiction in the service of philosophy that keeps bumping into bizarre, ahead-of-their time ideas. I like to say that Van Vogt rationalized himself into surrealism. A metaphor for life in uncertain times, even though it may have been meant to be taken literally.
Jan 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Oddly, there's a cover quote from The New Yorker on this edition--"Fine for addicts of science fiction". This is not actually an endorsement or compliment.

At some point of this rocket-powered sled ride I started wondering: would a background in (van Vogt's version of) General Semantics make this novel more comprehensible? The characters, and indeed most of the story, doesn't seem to make conventional sense, and things sort of happen because they need to push Gosseyn into the events of the next c
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book really seems to polarise peoples opinions of it. I found it after seeing it discussed online as one of the most important 20th century scifi books. This book and its author inspired some of the greatest scifi writers of the 2nd half of last century, notably Philip K. Dick.

Although the technology ideas in the book are now extremely dated, the overall story is fascinating and I found myself glued to it.
The writing style can be confusing and the author doesn't bother to explain every de
David Agranoff
I was on an SFF audio podcast panel about this book. Link here:

Some times a book, a film or a band is more important for who they inspired, and I went into this book for that reason. Of course, Van Vogt was a name I had seen on spines on the shelf as a Science Fiction reader/shopper many times but I am sad to say I never read him before this. My original inspiration to buy the book was our Philip K Dick podcast. PKD himself credited Van Vogt as his biggest
Rod Van Meter
Aug 10, 2019 rated it liked it
When I was a kid, my world consisted in part of books my father had acquired during a brief membership in the Science Fiction Book Club, in the 1950s. That's how I learned about Heinlein, Simak, and especially Asimov. (I don't think there was any Clarke, if memory serves, dunno why.) And there was one by A.E. van Vogt. I don't remember which book it was, but I remember distinctly _not_ liking it. I never pursued more books by him. Lately, though, I'm on an SF binge, some recent, some classic, an ...more
Jun 07, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
Right from the outset this is a mind-bending, roller coaster ride of twists and turns. Don't expect detailed world building and character development, that is not what Van Vogt is all about. He is instead concerned with exploring his crazy ideas and plot twists.

In the opening chapter we discover that the protagonist, Gilbert Gosseyn, is not who he thinks he is as his memories are proven false. Gosseyn (and the reader) are then thrown into a state of confusion which lasts throughout the book. A l
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful classic tale of interstellar intrigue and adventure, that unravels in layer after layer like a galactic onion. The story can be a tough one to keep up with, with twists and turns and shifting alliances, some plot inconsistencies, plus all the 1940's era pseudo-science concepts and terminology. But ultimately it's entertaining, quick paced and well worth the effort. It shares many similar themes with Asimov's Foundation series, which, maybe not coincidentally, was first published a few ...more
Jul 19, 2009 rated it liked it
A whirlwind of a read. I read this on the recommendation of a friend, and because of a superb short story by van Vogt called "The Weapons Shop." It illustrates very well the price an author pays for writing a true page-turner. The action never lets up in The World of Null-A, but Van Vogt's penchant for cliffhangers at the end of each chapter obstruct the achievement of a cohesive structure with which to effectively dramatize the very interesting ideas he's exploring. ...more
Ike Oglesby
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the book that hooked me on Sci-Fi. I was enthralled and fascinated by the cover (Ace paperbacks), the characters, the plot and, most importantly, by the ideas of science fiction. I have been reading them ever since. Thanks Mr Van vogt.
Jan 22, 2015 rated it did not like it
I can tell how this guy was a big influence on Philip K. Dick, but the bizareness of his ideas is upstaged by the lack of his skill in storytelling.
Jun 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: scifi
1981 grade A-

Series book NA1
A snippet of van Vogtian prose poetry: “The crowd was a soulless woman; it reared up on its toes and stared mindlessly at those who were feasting on the destroyed symbol of a world’s sanity” (197).

No, that isn’t Google Translate rendering some swatch of Serbo-Croat pulp fiction into the mother tongue. It is in fact canonical Golden Age SF that would’ve made a young, pre-Scientology L-Ron Hubbard’s ballsack tense up in envy.

Van Vogt’s half-baked avatars converse like malware’d chatbots, plonk acr
Well, this is a pretty crazy book. Its plot is amazingly disjointed, with Van Vogt introducing and abandoning enough plot threads for at least a trilogy. Our protagonist, Gosseyn ("Go sane"--yes, that is deliberate), discovers that he is not who he thinks he is, and that his memories have been altered; that he is somehow caught up in a plot to overthrow the Null-A (that is, anti-Aristotelean) philosophical principles that govern his world; that an intergalactic empire (folk from which appear in ...more
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Alfred Elton van Vogt was a Canadian-born science fiction author regarded by some as one of the most popular and complex science fiction writers of the mid-twentieth century—the "Golden Age" of the genre.

van Vogt was born to Russian Mennonite family. Until he was four years old, van Vogt and his family spoke only a dialect of Low German in the home.

He began his writing career with 'true story' ro

Other books in the series

Null-A (4 books)
  • The Players of Null-A (Null-A #2)
  • Null-A Three
  • Null-A Continuum (Null-A)

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Here’s some trivia for your next vacation get-together: The concept of the summer “beach read” book goes all the way back to the Victorian...
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“[He] had the hard eyes of the disciplinarian and the smile of a man who must be tactful and pleasant to many people.” 5 likes
“And the more technically developed a nation or race is, the more cruel, ruthless, predatory, and commercialized its systems tend to become … all because we continue to think like animals and have not learned how to think consistently like human beings. A. K.” 5 likes
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