Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
van Vogt, A E

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(1912-2000) Canadian-born writer, a central figure of Science Fiction's Golden Age; much of his significant work was written before he moved to the USA in late 1944. The dreamlike momentum of the plots and rationales of his best sf are reminiscent of the fantasy of anxiety, but most of his work is certainly sf. Of the stories assembled in Out of the Unknown (coll 1948) with E Mayne Hull (1905-1975), "The Sea Thing" (1940 Unknown), "The Witch" (1943 Unknown) and "The Ghost" (1943 Unknown), all by AEVV alone, are Rationalized Fantasies in the Unknown mode; AEVV's single fantasy novel, The Book of Ptath (1943 Unknown; exp 1947; vt Two Hundred Million A.D. 1964), also attempts to ground its plot in something like science. The God Ptath – whose power derives Mythago-like from the collective will of the folk of Earth – has (after millions of years of godhood) subjected himself to Bondage within a series of mortal forms (i.e., to successive Reincarnations) so that he may relearn what it means to be human. Ptath awakens in a state of Amnesia in the Far Future and, both confused and aided by memories of his last mortal persona, Holroyd from 1944, gradually regains knowledge of his true selfhood as Ptath, combats the evil goddess Ineznia, and blazes forth in his full glory as the god who will reunite the planet.

Beyond its hypnotic, wind-burned pace, the tale is perhaps most memorable as an early form of what, a few decades later, might have been described as a full-blown Planetary Romance set on a Dying Earth: the billions of citizens of Gonwonlane (and the lands with which it is at war) inhabit endless, volcano-riven Landscapes, engage in Sword-and-Sorcery exploits made necessary because the Earth is metal-poor and high technologies are now impossible, and are ruled by gods who derive their power through the transference of mental energies. But AEVV is not much interested in depicting social complexities or conveying a sense of elegy, and in the end The Book of Ptath stands alone. [JC]

Alfred Elton van Vogt


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.