Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

1971: The Battle of Forever (van Vogt, A.E.)

Fingering the bureaucracy of alien invasion (3/5)
From February 28, 2011

After my eighth van Vogt novel to-date, I do consider myself a fan merely because of his wide range of pulp novels, which spur on my readership through the years of reading. His novels may be short (The Battle of Forever being only 173 pages long), his stories are always centered around an interesting theme which he tends to explore in unique ways. My favorite, of course, is Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) but Battle of Forever shares nothing in likeness to Voyage. Rather, it has more in common with Man With a Thousand Names (1974); likenesses that include the shifting of mindsets from the viewpoint of a single narrator... the narrator unknowingly changing realities.

Rear cover synopsis:
"For thousands of years--evolving a miniature physiology for a life of peace and philosophical contemplation. Modyun agrees grow his body large and to return beyond the barrier, where animal-men roam the world. His quest will lead him deeper into darkness and deeper into the uncertain..."


Battle of Forever is simply a miserable title--easy to forget and reflects very little from the story. It has to be one of the worst titles for a sci-fi novel right behind Philip K. Dick's Zap Gun E.E. Smith's The Skylark of Space (neither of which I remotely enjoyed).

Modyun is a modified human living in the Ylem where all 1,000 humans live a multi-millennial philosophical existence. When the question of what is happening to the sentient man-animals the humans left behind, Modyun is set out to inhabit a human body and discover what has become of the world they departed so long ago. As four beast-men befriend the naïve Modyun, passing himself as an ape as there are no longer any humans to be found in the flesh, he experiences a shift in the laws the humans had left the animal-men to follow... which is where the story begins.

Finding that the hyena-men have taken the role of an unnecessary government, Modyun later finds the pusher of the move- the Nunuli race who conquered earth before humans hermetically secluded themselves. Behind this alien race is yet another race with a hidden agenda and so forth and so on. Modyun finds himself aboard a spaceship, the same ship employing his four friends, where they are off on a predestined route to search for new worlds to conquer.

The story begins to lose a lot of steam when the ship finally reaches a planet. I liked the story of dealing with alien bureaucracy but having to shift between true reality and perceived reality (if those are the right words to be chosen) is a tedious business which should be left to a much thicker novel (like Banks' Transition [2009]). In the last ten percent, especially, the reader must be vigilant about the mindsets of the entire cast, who can play who and which means to an end need to be met, etc. It might just scramble your brain or urge you to chuck it in the bin. I stuck it out and kind of shrugged, uncommitted to either liking or disliking the entire rigmarole.

So, like Man of a Thousand Names this novel is a bit heady with bodily disconnectedness but with even more ideas crammed into its future history. I liked the future history of the novel, it is quite unique but I just wish the plot wouldn't had been so spastic and far-flung. A nice terrestrial sci-fi story never hurt anyone. A must for any van Vogt fan but a polite pass for the non-so keen reader. I'm not even sure if it warrants a re-read, but I need more van Vogt in the collection before I can draw more comparisons to his earlier and later works.

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