The World of Null-A

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The World of Null-A
World A.jpg
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author A. E. van Vogt
Cover artist Leo Manso
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 246 pp
Followed by The Pawns of Null-A

The World of Null-A, sometimes written The World of Ā, is a 1948 science fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt. It was originally published as a three-part serial in Astounding Stories. It incorporates concepts from the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski. The name Ā refers to non-Aristotelian logic.

Plot summary[edit]

Gilbert Gosseyn, a man living in an apparent utopia where those with superior understanding and mental control rule the rest of humanity, wants to be tested by the giant Machine that determines such superiority. However, he finds that his memories are false. In his search for his real identity, he discovers that he has extra bodies that are activated when he dies (so that, in a sense, he cannot be killed), that a galactic society of humans exists outside the Solar system, a large interstellar empire wishes to conquer both the Earth and Venus (inhabited by masters of non-Aristotelian logic), and he has extra brain matter that, when properly trained, can allow him to move matter with his mind.

Publication history[edit]

The World of Null-A appeared originally as a 1945 serial in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which was edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. Van Vogt revised and shortened the tale for the 1948 novel release by Simon and Schuster. In 1970, van Vogt revised it yet again (though only slightly this time), and added an Author's Introduction in which he both defended the controversial work, and admitted that the original serial had been flawed.

Critical reception[edit]

The novel was the subject of an extended critical essay by noted author and critic Damon Knight. In "Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. van Vogt",[1] Knight writes that "far from being a 'classic' by any reasonable standard, The World of Ā is one of the worst allegedly-adult science fiction stories ever published." Knight criticizes the novel on four main levels:

1. Plot: "The World of Ā abounds in contradictions, misleading clues and irrelevant action...It is [van Vogt's] habit to introduce a monster, or a gadget, or an extra-terrestrial culture, simply by naming it, without any explanation of its nature...By this means, and by means of his writing style, which is discursive and hard to follow, van Vogt also obscures his plot to such an extent that when it falls to pieces at the end, the event passes without remark."
2. Characterization: "Van Vogt's characters repeatedly commit the error known as the double-take. This phenomenon is funny because it represents a mental failure...Its cause is inability to absorb a new fact until a ridiculously long time has elapsed. In The World of Ā there are twelve examples in all."
3. Background: "In van Vogt's world, the advancement over 1945...amounts to no more than (a) a world government; (b) a handful of gadgets...van Vogt has not bothered to integrate the gadgets into the technological background of his story, and he has no clear idea of their nature."
4. Style: "Examples of bad writing in The World of Ā could be multiplied endlessly. It is my personal opinion that the whole of it is written badly, with only minor exceptions."

It should be noted[by whom?] that Damon Knight and Van Vogt differed on a number of points of personal ideology. Damon Knight, the founder of the SFWA, abhorred van Vogt’s style and politics and thoroughly demolished his literary reputation in the 1950s.[2]


The World of Null-A was followed by the sequel, The Pawns of Null-A (also known as The Players of Null-A) (1956), and much later by a follow-up, Null-A Three (1984).

In 2008 John C. Wright wrote a new chapter to the story of Gilbert Gosseyn, Null-A Continuum, in the style of van Vogt.


  1. ^ Knight, Damon (1967). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent. pp. 47–62. 
  2. ^ Hartwell, David: “The Way We Were: A. E. van Vogt, 1912-2000”, page 24, New York Review of Science Fiction, March 2000, Number 139, Vol. 12, No.7

External links[edit]