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by A. E. van Vogt

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

This review will be brief since I don't recommend this book. Slan won a 2016 Retro Hugo for Best Novel of 1940. Its first book publication didn't come until 1946, but it had been serialized in the September-December 1940 issues of Astounding Science Fiction. Even though I voted in 2016, I cannot remember if I cast a Retro ballot. I did sample each novel on the final ballot, that being my second attempt at reading Slan, but I didn't finish it then either. After its win, I put it on the list of titles I needed to review, and this week I tried again. I did finish it, but it was a struggle. It is a good example that some "classics" from the Golden Age show considerable tarnish.

Jommy Cross is a nine-year-old slan, a race of mutated humans capable of telepathy. They also exhibit superior strength and endurance, although not necessarily super-intelligence. It might be their mind reading ability that gives them an edge in that category. Their distinguishing physical feature is golden-colored tendrils on their head, apparently the organ that enables their telepathy. There had been a war between the slans and humanity hundreds of year's prior to the main action, with slans defeated and forced into hiding. Jommy's knowledge is hampered by years of rumors and propaganda concerning slans. His father had been killed several years before, and when Jommy and his mother are spotted by the state police in Centropolis, his mother is killed but he is able to escape. He knows he must survive in order to continue his father's scientific research, which will hopefully give slans a chance to defend themselves. What he doesn't know is that there is another group of slans, tendrilless and incapable of mind reading, but whom have infiltrated high levels of government and industry. Will they be allies or yet another foe for the "true" slans?

The plot is super-thin, character development negligible, dialog pompous and/or laughable. The science is also preposterous, including what Jommy is able to accomplish while in hiding. For comparison's sake, if this was a movie, it would be like early Buck Rodgers serials compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I can only assume that those who did vote for Retros were older readers, relying on nostalgic memory rather than a recent re-read. The Golden Age still has meaning for me since I have read and enjoyed quite a few books and stories from that era. This is not one of them. Do not bother with it.


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A. E. van Vogt

1940 (serialized in Astounding, Sep-Dec)
1946 (book publication)

Retro Hugo 2016

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