Review by Neko_Bijin
One of the most influential Science Fiction books you’ve never read is A.E. van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950, but parts originally published as a serial in 1939). It was translated into dozens of languages and it even inspired two color plates in Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (1979). So, you ask, was it ever made into a movie? Well, yes. The movie was called Alien.
But the mood of VotSB is better captured by another science fiction colossus, Star Trek. Now, this wasn’t the Swinging Sixties, so there are no women in miniskirts aboard the Space Beagle (no women at all, that is). But the premise of the show owes a lot to this book: the men of the Space Beagle go Where No Man Has Gone Before. They discover strange new life-forms (that paralyze them and lay eggs in their stomachs), and new civilizations (that communicate telepathically, causing the crew to hallucinate). They even reach the neighboring galaxy, M33 in Triangulum (which they find has been conquered by a life-devouring super-being).
Also, the character Mr. Spock seems based upon the ship’s psychologist, Dr. Korita, whose main job is explaining to the reader what’s going on in the story.
The book still holds up as a good read. All the genre conventions you’ve come to expect feel pretty fresh here (because they are!). Spacemen get picked off one by one while visiting mysterious planets, mass hypnotism threatens the ship’s crew, super-beings are tricked by wily captains, etc. A. E. van Vogt was not just a science fiction writer but a futurist, and his characters practice a philosophy of the future that feels very American, perhaps not in a good way (at times I was reminded of Ayn Rand, another science fiction author). Van Vogt wrote another novel called The World of Null-A, about a man who solves a mystery—that of his own identity—using super-human logic. It’s the sort of book L. Ron Hubbard might have kept on his desk.
Buy and read Voyage of the Space Beagle, especially if you can find an old paperback. It’s a time capsule to another time and place, a place where proto-Fascist can-do was as American as apple pie!