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The Voyage of the Space Beagle    by A. E. Van Vogt order for
Voyage of the Space Beagle
by A. E. Van Vogt
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 1994 (1951)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A. E. Van Vogt's Voyage of the Space Beagle was one of the early classics that hooked me on SF. The book is written as a series of episodes in a scientific expedition into the far reaches of space. Most of the scientists are older and well established. Nexialist Elliott Grosvenor is a young representative of a new branch of science, a generalist capable of integrative insights that his more specialized peers cannot reach.

The stories involve dangerous aliens, naive scientists, and Grosvenor's lonely voice warning of danger, unheeded. Power games and political maneuvring amongst the scientific community complicate matters further. In particular Gregory Kent, while physically small, has a 'big personality' and wants control. In parallel with the crises, Grosvenor steadily explains Nexialism to all who will listen, and gradually gains supporters. Unfortunately, he also makes an enemy of Kent, who does everything in his power to make Elliot's life difficult.

In the first adventure, the scientists take aboard their ship the huge catlike creature Coeurl, who's very hungry and able to manipulate energy. After mass murders, with 'pussy' still in the cage they put him in, they wonder how he did it. Soon they have a 'super-being in control of the ship', and only Grosvenor knows how to deal with it. Next, comes an attack by hypnotic images, resulting in small groups fighting each other all over the Space Beagle. When Elliot succeeds in making contact with the aliens, he discovers that their communication was intended to be friendly.

Ixtl is a creature that lives in intergalactic space - he manages to make his way on board too, and the scientists regret it once more, when they discover that the 'scarlet monster' can 'dissolve his body through a wall'. Various elements of the movie Alien seem to have originated in this story, including the solution. Finally the ship is attacked by beasts 'precipitated through hyperspace' and all of mankind is endangered by a powerful alien. This time, when Grosvenor's advice is not taken (despite his prior successes) he takes over the ship!

The Voyage of the Space Beagle is great, classic SF - with human conflict, alien attacks, puzzles to solve and a story driven by science, including a fascinating view of a 'theory of cyclic history', which is often used in analyses. If you enjoy SF, you really should read this one!

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