Monday, January 28, 2008


Just submitted for review: John C. Wright's Null-A Continuum (Tor, May '08), a sequel to A.E. van Vogt's The World of Null-A.

I haven't looked inside the book itself, so I can't comment there. I'm just a bit croggled that it exists at all, though I suppose it's no surprise that if someone was going to have the chutzpah to "continue" one of the most influential books in the American SF canon, it would be Wright. The jacket copy claims that he "trained himself to write in the exciting pulp style and manner of van Vogt". What a terrifying statement. I'm not sure I can bring myself to read the book just yet; I'm very glad I have a reviewer I can assign it to instead, so I'll have a bit of warning.

I told Josh at Skifferati* about this and he asked, "Can you think of anyone who's written a sequel for a dead famous author that was worthwhile? Outside of fanfic**?" I had to think hard, and the only name I could come up with was Ruth Plumly Thompson. Pulp sequels in particular are really the written SF world's equivalent of Hollywood remaking The Day the Earth Stood Still.

* Who also happens to be my husband.
** I think that in this case, the only distinction between "fanfic" and "not fanfic" is whether it's a) authorized or based on notes by the original author and b) being published on paper.

I haven't read Kevin J. Anderson's Slan Hunter, though our reviewer thought it was decent; that would be a natural point of comparison, but Anderson was working from van Vogt's notes, whereas Wright appears to have created this from whole cloth. At least I'm fairly sure that it can't be worse than the recent multi-author sequel to The Witches of Karres (or at least the first few pages of it, which is all I managed to get through before putting it back on the bookstore shelf and backing away).

Of course, the point isn't so much to outdo other sequels as to equal the original. It's also unfair to demand that it be as mind-blowing and groundbreaking as The World of Null-A was in 1949; it seems more honest to see whether Null-A Continuum can match the effect of the original on a present-day reader. I find Wright's novels contorted and stilted at best, but they are admittedly contorted and stilted in a way that's not all that far from the style of the pulp era's unpolished gems, and while van Vogt's writing has aged pretty well, there are a lot of places where someone familiar with the evolution of SF in the last sixty years would find it tired, predictable, or inane. I suppose at some point I'll just have to reread The World of Null-A and then see whether Wright's sequel does at least a good a job of standing up under modern critical examination. Hopefully framing it in those terms will sufficiently reduce my expectations. Hopefully.