SCIENCE FICTION WRITER A.E. van Vogt, who would have celebrated his hundredth birthday on April 26, introduced a new term into the literary vocabulary: the fix-up. A fix-up is a novel constructed out of shorter works of fiction, a kind of Frankenstein's monster of narrative, stitched together with hopes that the seams don't show.
Although van Vogt originated the term, he didn't invent the concept. Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses are fix-ups, and one might even assign that label to The Canterbury Tales, Le Morte d'Arthur or The Decameron. But few writers embraced the technique with more zeal than van Vogt, who built much of his reputation on fix-ups such as The Voyage of the Space Beagle, The Mixed Men, and Empire of the Atom. "Let's put it very simply: a novel would sell whereas the individual stories seldom did," van Vogt explained to interviewer Robert Weinberg. "Hence, the great thought came; and the fix-up novels began.... It was only later that I learned the fix-ups had their critics. I could only shake my head over these people; to me, they were obviously dilettantes who didn't understand the economics of writing science fiction."
Van Vogt's life was also something of a fix-up. The storylines are squeezed together, and sometimes the seams show. When van Vogt died in Los Angeles in January 2000, at age 87, the New York Times obituary discreetly passed over his close relationship with L. Ron Hubbard and van Vogt's role running the West Coast base for Dianetics — the precursor to Scientology. A strange omission, no? Not many people participate in the birth of a religion, and van Vogt was proselytizing for Hubbard in Hollywood, out of an office on Sunset Boulevard, even before Tom Cruise and John Travolta were born.
But this mainstay of science fiction's "Golden Age" had no shortage of other achievements to his credit. His stories anticipated — and may well have inspired — various hit movies, television shows, and games. The producers of the Oscar-winning film Alien had to pay off van Vogt for their alleged borrowing from his 1950 novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle. The TV series Star Trek also boldly went where van Vogt had gone before, although no cash payments validated its apparent borrowings. The displacer beast in the role-playing game&n...read more