Pendulum by AE Van Vogt (book review).

If you have any ambition with your favourite authors, then its to get and read everything they’ve done. With the 8 story ‘Pendulum’ anthology, I think I’m nearly there with AE Van Vogt. The first two stories didn’t really strike me and then I noted the book’s date again: 1978. His last story came out in 1986 and he was beginning to suffer dementia over a period of years so just before that happened. It’s either that or proof that not all stories in any anthology can appeal to everyone.

Whether that was an effect on those two stories, I don’t know but the third story, ‘Living With Jane’ hit solidly on the mark. Jane is a youngster when her parents divorce and to keep some harmony, an android of her father is kept around and stands down when the real one visits. Over the course of the story, we learn the reason for the divorce is an over-powering mother-in-law wanting her daughter to lay the law down on her husband. That is only a minor issue when some super-androids are intent on killing the android expert ex-husband for their own aims and the teen-age Jane contributes to stopping them.

‘Footprint Farm’ has a charm that still works today and would make an excellent part of any TV SF anthology. Peter Tasker takes his wife and nine-year old daughter to a farm where he is retrieving meteoroid fragments and finds them taking ever longer night sleeps. When he takes his daughter to a doctor and finds some serious damage to her fingers, he’s determined to find out what she is doing at night when he’s asleep. You would think that this has the makings of a horror story but Van Vogt turns it in the opposite direction.

The last three stories I have seen before. ‘The Non-Aristotelian Detective’ being one of them. This was the only other time that Van Vogt went back to Null-A, although in what appears to be our time than in the future. There’s an awareness that he wanted to clear up some misconceptions on the subject, including how to pronounce it. A police officer decides to test the title character on being able to solve baffling murders and sees what happens, getting a little more than be bargained for. Without going too spoiler, the Null-A detective just looked at those involved and the motivations from their point of view.

‘The Human Operators’ was co-written with Harlen Ellison, where a youngster does maintenance on an AI starship and gets wracked, essentially intense electric shock treatment to keep him in-line. He’s also aware that at a particular age, the AI will kill him and have another 14 year-old, like he was, to replace him. When another AI spaceship comes along side, a female is brought on-board for procreation. There’s a lot more to it than that, especially in how to beat the AIs.

Finally, the last is less a story but Van Vogt at Apollo 17’s launch and trying to get interviews with some of the people there to watch and how the VIP area was roped off. I wish he’d given more insight as to what he felt about it and those people but the feeling was more about attendance than the event until Apollo launched.

Well, an ambition fulfilled, unless there’s any other Van Vogt books I’ve missed. Oops, I think I spotted another one getting the JPG for this review. A near thing then. If you’re into exploring any of the original Golden Age masters of SF, then make sure Van Vogt’s on your list. Even in the 1970s, he was bringing the modern day into his stories.

GF Willmetts

February 2023

(pub: New English Library, 1978. 223 page paperback. Price: Look around, I pulled my copy for about £10.00 (UK). ISBN: 0-450-05477-2)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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