Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Destination: Universe!

by A. E. van Vogt

cover  

Destination: Universe! is a collection of ten short science fiction stories written well before man set foot on the moon. Time has a way of making science fiction writers look silly when the things they write are eclipsed by later events and discoveries. This is true of The Enchanted Village, which tells of a Martian landscape with a breathable atmosphere and sophisticated alien life. There's also a breathable Venusian atmosphere in A Can Of Paint, and Defence has become entirely obsolete with the passage of time.

However this lack of realism is a minor thing, and rather beside the point when it comes to van Vogt's style of storytelling. Often set in the far future or on distant planets, each story is a puzzle, a mystery in short form. The tales tend to be clever and inventive, with a twist at the end.

The author presents an optimistic and colourful view of the universe, where tentacled aliens and civilisations vastly more advanced than our own abound. And it's more than just tentacles: in Dormant, The Enchanted Village, and Dear Pen Pal the creatures are stranger still. These lifeforms are so different from our own that we would have difficulty in recognising them as such.

These stories work on the level of entertaining mysteries and oddities, but on the whole they are too short to be emotionally engaging. The characters are often ciphers, mere names or protagonists we glimpse only briefly.

Destination: Universe! is certainly brimming with ideas, and this is its best feature. However few of these ideas could be considered visionary, in the sense of predicting the way technology might alter our lives. There's an exception in The Search, a story that's full of amazing and improbable gadgets, including one that seems a lot like a Polaroid camera. But that's one of the few examples.

Mostly these are fables, and the fabulous elements dominate whilst the moral of each tale and the scientific basis for it (if any) are relegated to mere background details. These are the kind of amusing stories that challenge readers to approach them much like a crossword puzzle. Each tale is more of a riddle than the last.

Book Details

Decade: 1950s

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
 
  Cheerful

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about A. E. van Vogt