The Voyage of the Space Beagle

I enjoy a nice bit of classic sci-fi. I have been reading The Voyage of the Space Beagle, a fine tale of space exploration by A E Van Vogt. If you enjoy Star Trek, in any incarnation, I recommend you seek out this slim volume.

In structure, the overall tale takes in more than one shorter story bridged into this format. We join Grosvenor, head of the one-man Nexialist department, onboard the Space Beagle. The ship supports both a military and a scientific crew in a precarious balance that becomes a real power play halfway through the book. Nexialism provides a basis for combining all the best elements of the sciences into a more effective and embracing whole – a holistic vision of conceptual perfection. Nexialism also embraces the uses of advanced educational techniques to enhance learning and provide an ideal way to expand the potential of almost anyone in a totally non-obtrusive subliminal way. Grosvenor uses his ability to grasp a little of everything to great effect throughout the book, showing that a narrow-minded approach consistently leaves your weaknesses open to unrelenting and hostile forces.

Star Trek and Alien owe something (or, indeed, a lot) to Van Vogt’s stories of the Space Beagle. One tale deals with an alien menace that uses the crew to implant it’s eggs. The parasitic menace apparently proved influential enough to force 20th Century Fox to settle out of court when Van Vogt sought to press charges against them for plagiarism. More generally, the overall vision of the book feels like proto-Trek, including a specific reference to a 5 or 10 year mission of exploration. Time and again, one or other member of the crew question whether to linger and explore after defeating an assault on the ship, but the demands of the mission and the need to push forever onward always weighs in. The composition of the crew and the power struggles survive in a milder form within the classic Trek of the Original Series, with Kirk depending on the skills and knowledge of his various Departmental Heads. In each villain, the stories also harken back to the Star Trek of old, as these mean and menacing creatures either seek to do harm in the most horrible way or simply exist in an alien fashion beyond the ken of mere mortals to comprehend. Of course, our dear Grosvenor harnesses his new science to grip that which cannot be gripped – otherwise, the ship wouldn’t make it past the first obstacle!

Seriously, I recommend reading this book because of these many influences, the generally enjoyable science fiction stories therein, and the fact it isn’t that long. You’re not committing yourself to reading something monstrously thick here. You have a thin volume of less than two hundred pages, split into five consecutive tales. I love the simplicity, the purity. I read it now for the fourth or fifth time. I can’t say the same about many other books – and my copy becomes increasingly dog-eared. I expect to read it a few more times before it finally disintegrates.

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