In 1948, a young author by the name of A. E. van Vogt published the first ever SF hardback: a book titled The World of Null-A. Although little read these days, van Vogt was one of the major SF figures of the mid-20th century and a formative influence on later writers – among them Philip K. Dick. He was not the sort of author one would expect to be torn apart by a callow twenty-three year old critic. And yet . . .
When van Vogt revised The World of Null-A in 1970, he included a lengthy introduction explaining why he had felt it necessary to do so. The introduction included the following passage:
What other criticisms of The World of Null-A are there? None. It’s a fact. Singlehandedly, Knight took on this novel and my work at age 23-1/2, and, as Algis Budrys puts it, brought about my “destruction.”
So what’s the problem? Why am I now revising World? Am I doing all this for one critic?
But why? – you ask.
Well, on this planet you have to recognize where the power is.
Knight has it?
Knight has it.
The ‘Knight’ he refers to is, of course, Damon Knight: founder of the Science Fiction Writers of America, co-founder of the Milford Science Fiction Writers’ Conference, editor of the influential ‘Orbit‘ series of original anthologies, master of short-form SF and one of the most astute critics in the history of the field. Together with his wife, Kate Wilhelm, he ran Milford for more than twenty years and the two lent their expertise to the later Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Conference. His most famous story, ‘To Serve Man’ holds the distinction of having been adapted for the small screen by both The Twilight Zone and The Simpsons*. The SFWA Grand Master Award is named in his honour.
He is, quite simply, one of the most important figures in modern science fiction, and we recommend these Gateway Essentials as the perfect places to start reading his work:
* ‘To Serve Man’ can be found in Far Out.