The Voyage of the Space Beagle
By E. A. van Vogt
A “fix-up” of four short stories that was published in the annis mirabilis of SF fix-ups (1950, which also saw the publication of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles), The Voyage of the Space Beagle has two claims to historical fame. The first story, which has the cat-like Coeurl killing and eating the crew after it’s rescued from its dying planet, is considered by many to have kicked off the golden age of science fiction in 1939. And the third story, which has an evil red demon called an Ixtl laying its eggs, or guuls, inside the guts of living crewmen until they hatch and eat their way out, may have inspired Alien (the creators of Alien said it hadn’t, but Van Vogt sued the studio, and the action was later settled out of court).
The Space Beagle itself is clearly a precursor to Star Trek’s Enterprise, only without any women in miniskirts. Or any women at all. It’s a ship on a mission to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations. What they meet up with, as with the Coeurl and Ixtl, is usually some threat to their survival. Meanwhile, politics on board play out in a nasty way, with the hero of the story being the hotshot “Nexialist” Grosvenor, whose field is a combination of all the arts and sciences. One new science being an early form of Hari Seldon’s psychohistory, which is applied in highly improbable ways.
Grosvenor is also a figure who, despite all his resourcefulness, is unappealing today, being so full of himself and possessing a dubious sense of personal ethics. The writing is also casual and clumsy, unable to keep up with the fire of Van Vogt’s imagination. At times he even seems impatient with the whole idea of narrative. So despite being a landmark work rooted in the pulps, I didn’t find the book to be much fun. Nonetheless, its influence was dramatic, and it did much to shape the later history of SF along some interesting new lines.