Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Away And Beyond

by A. E. van Vogt


There's something very refreshing about Away And Beyond. It's full of the qualities that made Golden Age science fiction live up to its name. There's a relentless optimism to these eight tales, coupled with a sense of wonder about the infinite possibilities space travel and technology might offer mankind. It's science fiction for readers who appreciate upbeat and hopeful stories.

The Great Engine tells the story of Pendrake, a likeable character who lost his arm in the war, along with his enthusiasm for life. When he discovers a spectacularly advanced engine he also finds a new sense of purpose, although he has no idea who the true owners of the device are. Unlike many "MacGuffin" stories, this one has a lot of personality. It concentrates on the effect the engine has on people and their relationships, rather than focusing wholly on the technology.

Secret Unattainable is another tale that revolves around a machine, although in this case it takes place in the paranoid setting of Nazi Germany during WWII. The Germans are working on a secret weapon that they hope will win them the war. It's a tense and atmospheric story, told through a series of terse messages between officials in the Gestapo and the Ministry of Science.

In several stories it's the ingenuity of scientists that trumps the greed, short-sightedness and evil of others. In places there's an idealism that seems very naive. This is most obvious in Heir Unapparent, which is about a benevolent dictator looking to hand power to a worthy successor.

Themes of time-travel, high technology and advanced alien races are prominent in this varied collection. In Asylum there are even vampires, although they are of the space-faring kind. Asylum's plot is somewhat messy, in that it shifts perspective abruptly and doesn't make the kind of clear-cut, unambiguous point that some of the shorter stories do. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing, since it means there's more variety in the way the stories are told, as well as in the subject matter.

Away And Beyond is a medley of ideas and situations, as seen by the kind of guy who looked at the future with dizzy anticipation. Diverse and entertaining, van Vogt is at his best in some of his longer stories, when he reaches beyond the concepts to give his characters the individuality that can bring them to life for readers.

Book Details

Decade: 1950s

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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