A. E. Van Vogt
Tor, 1998 (1940)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
is an SF classic, on an '
aliens among us
' theme, except that Slans are not aliens but evolved superhumans, '
whose intelligence is two to three hundred per cent higher than that of a normal human being
'. They have two hearts, tendrils rising out of their hair and can read minds. After a brief period of ascendancy, most were exterminated by normal humans years ago in the
. Nine-year-old Jommy Cross escaped to the slums of Centropolis when his mother was killed. She left him with a challenging task, to carry on his father's lifetime work and apply his '
athleen Layton, on the other hand, is an eleven-year-old slan, raised in an experimental program as a '
' under the aegis of the planet's dictator Kier Gray. She lives in perpetual fear of those around her, most of whom want her killed. While Kathleen exists in Gray's shadow, Jommy is sheltered, and exploited, by Granny, a rapacious old hag and a '
rag and bone picker
'. While appeasing her with stolen goods, he is able to educate himself and to recover his father's invention. He also has several hostile encounters with
slans, who share with humans a ferocious hatred of true slans, and have explored the solar system (without human knowledge).
f course, Kathleen and Jommy finally meet and fall for each other, with tragic results. Jommy develops his father's technology and uses it to find out more about the tendrilless slans and to search for his own people. Van Vogt is, as always, a master of the superman plot, though I prefer his lesser known
Voyage of the Space Beagle
, with its Nexialist hero, to
. Van Vogt books are never strong on characterization, but he delivers fast-moving adventures with twisting plots that throw out regular surprises. This is one of the genre classics that all SF fans should read.
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