The Voyage of the Space Beagle
Cover of first edition
|Author||A. E. van Vogt|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
The novel is a "fix-up" compilation of four previously published SF stories:
- "Black Destroyer" (cover story of the July, 1939, issue of Astounding magazine—the first published SF by A. E. van Vogt) (chapters 1 to 6)
- "War of Nerves" (May, 1950, Other Worlds magazine) (chapters 9 to 12)
- "Discord in Scarlet" (cover story of the December, 1939, issue of Astounding magazine—the second published SF by A. E. van Vogt) (chapters 13 to 21)
- "M33 in Andromeda" (August, 1943, Astounding magazine, later published as a story in the book M33 in Andromeda (1971)) (chapters 22 to 28)
The book was republished in 1952 under the title Mission: Interplanetary.
A huge globular spaceship, manned by a chemically castrated all-male crew of nearly a thousand, who are on an extended scientific mission to explore intergalactic space, encounters several, mostly hostile, aliens and alien civilizations. On board the spaceship during its journey, both political and scientific revolutions take place.
Explanation of the novel's title
The main protagonist of the novel is Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, the only Nexialist on board (a new discipline depicted as taking an actively generalist approach towards science). It is Grosvenor's training and application of Nexialism rather than the more narrow-minded approaches of the individual scientific and military minds of his other shipmates that consistently prove more effective against the hostile encounters both from outside and within the Space Beagle. He is eventually forced to take control of the ship using a combination of hypnotism, psychology, brainwashing, and persuasion, in order to develop an effective strategy for defeating the alien entity, Anabis, and saving the ship and our galaxy.
The book can be roughly divided into four sections corresponding to the four short stories on which it was based:
In the first section, the Space Beagle lands on a largely deserted desolate planet. Small scattered herds of deer-like creatures are seen, and the ancient ruins of cities litter the landscape. Coeurl, a starving, intelligent and vicious cat-like carnivore with tentacles on its shoulders, approaches the ship, pretending to be a unintelligent animal, and quickly infiltrates it. The creature kills several crewmen before being tricked into leaving the now spaceborne ship in a lifeboat. It then commits suicide when it realizes it has been defeated.
In the second part, the ship is almost destroyed by internal warfare caused by telepathic contact with a race of bird-like aliens, called Riim. The benign signals that the Riim send are incompatible with the human mind. Only Grosvenor's knowledge of telepathic phenomena saves the ship from destruction.
In the third section, the ship comes across Ixtl, a scarlet being floating in deep space. It is a vicious survivor of a race that ruled a previous universe before the Big Bang, the creation of our own universe. Ixtl boards the ship, and being obsessed with its own reproduction, kidnaps several crew members in order to implant parasitic eggs in their stomachs. It is eventually tricked to leave the ship, after all the crew has left the ship temporarily, leaving no prey left for its offspring to feed on.
In the last section, Anabis, a galaxy-spanning consciousness, is encountered. Once again, it is both malevolent, starving and aggressive, and under all circumstances must be prevented from following the ship back to any other galaxy. Anabis, which is essentially a galaxy-size will-o'-the-wisp, feeds off the death of living organisms, and has destroyed all intelligent life in its galaxy. It transforms all planets it can find into jungle planets through terraforming, since it is these kind of worlds that produce most life. The crew of the Space Beagle is brainwashed by Grosvenor into spending several years luring the intelligence to chase the ship into deep space, causing it to starve to death.
Running concurrently to this, the book also covers a power struggle on the ship among the leaders of individual scientific and military groups.
References or allusions
References in other works
A sentient panther-like species named Coeurl (or Zorl in French editions), with psi capabilities and tentacles coming out of its shoulders, was adapted as the character Mughi (or Mugi) in the anime Dirty Pair. It also appears in several versions of the Final Fantasy video games, and as the Displacer beast in the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The Coeurl suck potassium ("id") from their victims; the "salt vampire" in the Star Trek episode "The Man Trap" removes sodium.
At first glance, the alien Ixtl also appears to be an inspiration for the film Alien, though those involved with the film denied any influence on its part. Van Vogt initiated a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox for plagiarism, but the case was settled out of court, the details of which were never disclosed.
The book was translated into several languages and, as was the case for most of van Vogt's work, was very popular in France. In Japan it is noted that Korita, the character who explains the demise of the first monster, is Japanese, and presented without racist slights.
Two of the races, the Riim (pp 82–83) and the Ixtl (pp 52–53) are depicted in Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials.
In David Gerrold's Chtorr novel A Season for Slaughter, a robot probe called a "prowler" is used. The prowler makes a distinctive "coeurl" sound, described several times as "the prowler coeurled on." The reference to the Coeurl in the first story of the Voyage of the Space Beagle, where the phrase "Coeurl prowled on" occurs, is unmistakable.
That the novel, first published in 1950, continues to attract readers is indicated by the publication of a reprint edition in 2008. The critic Joe Milicia took the opportunity of this re-issue to revisit the novel in a comprehensive review for the New York Review of Science Fiction. Milicia looks at what today’s reader might find in the novel, noting:
- “Thus the stories read as if they were the inspiration for those episodes of Star Trek where some particularly odd and hostile entity must be ingeniously defeated by the Enterprise crew before that entity continues on its marauding path. (Indeed, they very likely were direct inspirations).” 
But the novel is richer than this perspective alone allows. Among the surprises identified by Milicia that it may hold for the modern reader are the disharmony aboard the Space Beagle, (“Clearly, Machiavelli rather than Darwin is the true spirit guiding the Space Beagle.”) and that the Space Beagle’s mission is like the original Beagle’s and very unlike the U.S.S. Enterprise’s.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle was translated into Turkish by Necati Kanatsız and published in 1954 "pirately" under the name of "Feza Canavarları" (without mentioning or noting the original author) as part of a 10-book series by Caglayan Yayinevi, the first publisher of American-style pocket-size paperback books in Turkey. All the 10 novels in the series were of science-fiction writers of the Golden Age of Science Fiction and have been very influential for Turkish readers and authors. This 10-book series has become a collector's item and now is widely sought by Turkish rare-book collectors of sci-fi.
- "Book Reviews", Astounding Science Fiction, May 1951, p.152
- Reeves-Stevens, Garfield; Judith Reeves-Stevens; Brian Muirhead (2004-12-21). Going to Mars: The Stories of the People Behind NASA's Mars Missions Past, Present, and Future. London: Simon & Schuster. pp. 124–125. ISBN 978-0-671-02796-4.
- Rogers, Michael (1992-08-01). "Book reviews: Classic returns". Library Journal 117 (13): 156. ISSN 0363-0277.
- Smith, Don G. (2005-11-29). H.P. Lovecraft in Popular Culture: The Works and Their Adaptations in Film, Television, Comics, Music and Games. McFarland & Company. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-7864-2091-9.
- BBC - My Science Fiction Life - The Voyage of the Space Beagle
- A E van Vogt: The Voyage of the Space Beagle ; Reprint edition, Orb Books, 2008. ISBN 978-0-7653-2077-3
- Milicia, Joe: “A E van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle,” New York Review of Science Fiction, Number 262 Vol. 22, No. 10, June 2010, page 1
- Milicia (2010), page 4
- Milicia (2010), page 6
- The Voyage of the Space Beagle title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Free Copy of the first section, Black Destroyer