The Blal And Other Science Fiction Monsters by AE Van Vogt (book review).

There is always something a little weird finding another AE Van Vogt anthology and finding only a couple titles that I recognised. Of course, ‘The Enchanted Village’ is regarded as a classic and been reprinted all over the place. Van Vogt had an enormous back catalogue of short stories although as some of the nine here are 40 pages long, they would be classified as novelette even back in the day. Likewise, back in the day, it was quite common for publishers to note alien encounters as being with monsters only because it was a buy-word to sell books.

‘Not Only Dead Men (1952) was set in WW2 has an alien encounter and then we see it from their perspective which places us far down on the evolutionary chain.

‘Final Command’ (1949) is in the future where a human meets up with a robot on a distant planet and sees just how far it has developed.

‘War On Nerves’ (1950) is actually an extract from ‘The Voyage Of The Space Beagle’, the same book that ‘Alien’ drew some of its plot from. This isn’t that one but an alien attack on the spaceship causing hallucinations. Eliott Grosvenor is a Nexialist, that is an expert over several sciences rather than being a specialist in one. You would think every research department should have on our own planet. Here, he is effective in…well, read for yourself.

‘The Enchanted Village’ (1950) should be on anyone’s list for being a brilliant SF story and frequently pops up in SF anthologies. No harm in emphasising that. Although it was written when it was thought there might be life on Mars, the setting could be transposed to any alien planet. Bill Janner is the survivor of a rocket crash. Out of rations and nearly water, he encounters a deserted village. He slowly discovers its unusual properties of providing food and such and tries to get it to provide for his own nutritional needs from crumbs in his pocket with a startling result. A brilliant use of emotions and choices and one of Van Vogt’s best.

‘Concealment’ (1943) is a spoiler because it’s a build-up between an Earth spaceship meets a lost colonist and we see from their different perspectives until the end. Neatly played to the conclusion.

‘The Sea Thing (1939) is an oddity. A shark-like being merges from the sea and transforms itself into a human, albeit with odd eyes, to investigate a human outpost infringing on its territory and…let’s just say it wasn’t very happy and will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.

I didn’t recognise ‘Resurrection’ (1948) under this title and the indicia points out it was called ‘The Monster’ originally and puzzling why in a book on monsters, didn’t keep its original title. Aliens arrive on Earth with the intension of colonising only to find the population dead. They have a reconstructor, a machine capable of resurrecting any organic from a skull fragment to find out what happened. The first two, an ancient Egyptian and a drunk driver are quickly exterminated.

The third is far more modern and is just as curious about the aliens but does explain that a massive nucleonic storm from space that they couldn’t escape destroyed them all. He is also able to evade them and seeing their planetary colonisations without birth control likely to fill the galaxy out-wits them. For that you have to read for yourself but is also classic Van Vogt and always a puzzle why it has never been picked up for TV or film. You can see touches of ‘Null-A’ in this story, hardly surprising as he had to be prepping the first novel around the same time but a true battle of wits.

The final story, ‘Vault Of The Beast’ (1940) is essentially aliens attempting to rescue one of their own locked in a prison on Mars centuries and duplicating people to get him out in our future. Not the strongest story to end on and you’ll still be wondering what the Blal of the title was about.

As always, there is a sound argument to look at the works of the Golden Age authors and see how they did their work if you want to compare how SF is stagnating a bit today.

GF Willmetts

June 2022

(pub: Zebra Science Fiction, 1976. 224 page paperback. Price: it is possible for get for a £ 5.00 (UK) so shop around. ISBN: 0-89083-200-5)


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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