A Sci-Fi Writer's Labor of Love
Monday, August 6, 2007
JACKSON, Miss. -- Best-selling science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson felt like a giddy fan while completing the unfinished last novel of A.E. van Vogt, the forgotten science fiction master's sequel to the influential "Slan."
Van Vogt filled the imaginations of boys across America with telepathic mutants and big ideas when he published "Slan" 61 years ago. With "Slan Hunter," recently released by Tor Books, Anderson hopes to do the same while paying homage to one of the genre's forgotten but most important authors.
"It's really cool if you're a fan," Anderson said. "I love my job. I get to play with the best toys."
Anderson, 45, hopes the sequel and its original will introduce a new generation of readers to van Vogt, a former giant in the world of pulp novels and serial magazines who fell into obscurity.
Van Vogt's work fell out of style after he took a writing break to pitch the 1950 book "Dianetics," written by his friend and fellow science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who created Scientology. He later became disillusioned and when he returned to writing, he didn't have the same zip. He died in 2000 after suffering several years from Alzheimer's disease.
"He was this pathfinder," Anderson said. "He was Lewis and Clark charging across the landscape of science fiction."
For those who remember the exploits of Jommy Cross from "Slan," the next book ties up the mutant telepath's story in a future Earth full of conflict after the abrupt surprise ending of van Vogt's original. Slans are superhuman mutants with telepathic abilities and tendrils protruding from their heads.
Cross, who was orphaned as a boy after the evil leader of Earth's secret police murdered his parents, attempts to unite slans, humans and a third species -- the mysterious tendrilless slans, whose evil nature is eventually revealed. The book examines race, genetics, war and humanity's flaws. Slans, victims of intense government propaganda, are persecuted by humans who don't trust these mutant creatures.
"Slan" spurred a legion of admirers. Among them was a young Harlan Ellison, the author and winner of multiple Hugo, Nebula and Edgar awards.
"You would be reading along, and all of a sudden he would pop out of a dark alley in the book and hit you in the head with a sock full of quarters," Ellison said.
Admirers of van Vogt's work had a catch phrase -- "fans are slans" -- and met in "slan shacks" to talk over his work.
Tor Books editor David Hartwell, who is reissuing van Vogt's work for the third time, said the author tried to put a new idea into each story every 700 words or so. And he would wake himself up every few hours so he could jot down his dreams.