Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, December 2, 2013

1972: The Darkness on Diamondia (van Vogt, A.E.)

Difficult to penetrate van Vogt’s logic (2/5)

A.E. van Vogt was one of the first authors I was exposed to back in 2007 when I seriously began to start reading science fiction. Of course, I read The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950) and was titillated with the adventure, thrill, and horror of it all. I’ve also read three of his collections which have been hit and miss, where Monsters (1965) is a fun, indulgent foray into the creepy and Away and Beyond (1952) fell DOA. Aside from Beagle, his novels haven’t found purchase on my readership yet with Rouge Ship (1965) and Quest for the Future (1970) being the notable failures. Needless to say, I was leery on starting this last van Vogt novel on my shelves.

Rear cover synopsis:
“Colonel Morton was sent to Diamondia to report on the war between the Earth-descended colonists and the guerrilla warriors of the inhuman Irsk. Because something was going terribly wrong—a darkness was setting in, mental confusion was epidemic, and there was evidence of Outside interference.

The Darkness was impartial, and Morton’s encounters with it were the most disturbing events in his career. For it seemed as if the Outside were deliberately stirring up the planetary pot, mixing minds with minds, and personalities with personalities.

But when Morton realized that the only solution might be to find and use the incalculable power of the Lositeen Weapon, he realized also that the decision was too great for any one man—or even for all men together—to make.”


Below the book’s own synopsis, I almost always provide my own synopsis to the novel. Usually, this is a lengthy affair which touches on all the aspects of the novel which come into play without revealing any fundamental spoilers. Occasionally, this summarization is hampered by one of two things: (a) my inability to penetrate the author’s intentions or (b) my inability to understand the pivotal point of the novels existence. The Darkness on Diamondia is a case of the latter, where “finite logic” plays an essential and recurring role in the affairs of the protagonist Morton and his fractal fight against the Darkness. So, the brevity of the synopsis is both my own fault and one of the book’s most frustrating points.

The human-colonized planet of Diamondia was inhabited with the simple Irsk aliens when it was settled. Gradually, the Irsk undertook menial labor posts, thereby exposing them to the common human habits, which they largely subsumed. For a long while, the billion Irsk and half-billion humans got along fairly well… until strife and resistance to the occupation began to spring up thirty years prior. To placate both parties, the native tentacle Irsk and the bipedal human Diamondias, Earth sent a Negotiating Committee which continually swelled in size and diminished in capability and effectiveness.

The onset of strife is mysterious, but a common sickness strikes at random with tight-eyed facial contortions are followed by unconsciousness and the memory of living through the eyes of another. Colonel Morton had be stricken once and saw through the eyes on a seemingly common Irsk laborer, but inside its house was another mystery, a possible solution or weapon to be used against the nebulous incursion or mind transference.

Morton is no common man, mind you. He’s not a man conflicted with so-called modern logic based on man’s nature of emotion and estimation; rather, Morton prides himself in the finite logic system which the universe and all life operates on though in infinitely differentiating realities of the same logic system. This finite logic, a mathematical system of sets of duplicates, enables a man to perceive his world with ample yet realistic possibilities, but also grant a man “courteous, generous, and almost completely nonviolent” (155). Certainly applicable to a military-minded man such as Morton, the skill also applies to his leisure, where women are attracted to him because, according to his memory, women “were attracted to him because they recognized that he was becoming a finite logic male” (69). Women love a mathematical mind. [Chapter 26 contains a much lengthier and rather perplexing explanation about finite logic.]

Utilizing his finite logic and the weakness of the Darkness which transfers minds, Morton is able to release his mind from its carnal carriage and penetrate the minds of others, even convincing other that they are his duplicate. Thence, thousands of people, of both human and Irsk descent, claim to be the original Morton, a subterfuge which frustrates the Darkness and its nefarious agenda.


I collected notes on the number of times van Vogt mentioned finite logic versus modern logic, I had page numbers and arrows and stars next to material; I tried to synopsize what “finite logic” was to van Vogt in the context of The Darkness on Diamonia and how it affects the outcome of the novel, but my attempt failed me. The closest approximation of what finite logic is harkens, rather predictably if you know a bit about van Vogt’s history, to Scientology: “Man is basically good, the he is seeking to survive, that his survival depends on himself and his attainment of brotherhood with the universe”. With this goodness and universality of one with finite logic, only the greater good for the greatest number can be attained. The pitfall of this “greater good” lays in ignoring the individual, the death of individuality or even the physical death of one for many. Morton, the conscientious colonel, sticks to his finite logic guns and attempts to form a greater good for both human and Irsk, alike.

Morton’s attempt to spread himself over the planet sounds a lot like brainwashing. Again, I’m not entirely clear about how Morton perpetrated his actions with the willing/unwilling assistance of the Darkness, but therein, again lays the problem: Why was this 253-pag novel so doggedly difficult to penetrate? Was it my lack vigilance? Was it my own lack of finite logic? Or was it van Vogt’s inability to write a smooth yet engaging novel? My guess it the latter… van Vogt seems to have failed somewhere. Where was his writer’s logic in writing for the reader?

Perhaps my inability to find purchase came with my repugnance with the inclusion of telepathy and hypnosis. These weak pseudo-sciences thereby weakened the book’s plot: a tower of sand built on the silty foundations of muddy scientific waters, where the build-up of silt blocks most upriver understanding. I didn’t quit the novel, I didn’t thrown away my oars of readership and drift to another book because some elements of the Darkness were actually interesting: the origin, the function, and the future. At the conclusion, the Darkness proved to be an excellent vehicle for the plot, but van Vogt was underskilled at presenting this with finite logic for the reader’s (or this reader’s) full understanding. Mentioning finite logic again and again should cement the reader’s understanding, but perhaps there were too many points spread across too many pages.

Another thing van Vogt tried to force into the plot is promiscuous women. All the females on Diamondia seem to be prostitutes because (a) the Diamondia male is a difficult man to deal with and (b) the Negotiation Committee has many members (ha) on the planet whose needs must be fulfilled. Isolina is one women who is part of the underground resistance against Earth’s nosiness, so to enlist double agents in her guerilla unit, she simply sleeps with men so that they will instinctively feel obliged to her. I guess there’s no better way to wrangle a man in the 39th century. Conversely, according to van Vogt’s novel here, what’s the best way to wrangle and/or tame a woman? Isolina’s own monologue reveals the answer: “While I am hurt … it will be a pushover for me to get him to marry me … I should like to die Mrs. Charles Morton” (232); apparently, this is a common thought among Diamondian women. How very subservient of them.


Accuse my impatience and poor note keeping or accuse van Vogt’s inability to transfer an idea to paper, but other Amazon and Goodreads reviews seem to have trouble understanding where van Vogt was going with this novel. The first inkling of frustration should have come from the book’s very first page; is it a teaser or a test, an invitation or an eviction notice?

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