Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder

Man Beyond Man

 Part 3

    The less obvious, less superficial, common element in van Vogt's earliest stories -- the message from his unconscious that he was forced to repeat until at last he understood it -- was morality, or, as the more psychologically minded Atomic Age would prefer to call it, sanity.  In each of his first three science fiction stories, super-powered monsters are undone by their drives and hungers, by their egotism, ruthlessness and cruelty, and by their inability to surrender cherished attachments, while men constituted much like ourselves are able to prevail over them through decency, self-sacrifice, cooperation and breadth of vision.

    After three of these science fiction monster stories -- plus that paler imitation for Unknown -- and just when he was beginning to think that this might be all he could write, van Vogt finally came to a conscious recognition of what his unconscious mind had been getting at all along.  It was telling him that true superiority was not a matter of age or biology or personal power.  Rather, it lay in being able to distinguish between mere self-interest and the good of the whole.

    Having finally gotten this message, van Vogt would state it as explicitly as he could in his next science fiction story, the aptly titled "Repetition" (Astounding, Apr 1940).

    In this story, an envoy has been sent from Earth to persuade the stubbornly defiant colonists of the Jovian moon Europa to allow their world to be ceded politically to Mars in order to bring Mars into union with Earth and Venus and forestall a Solar System-wide war.  The envoy admits that short-term suffering for this colony is a real possibility, but argues that it should lead to a greater long-range good:

    "Remember this, it's not only Europa's recoverable metals that will be used up in a thousand years, but also the metal resources of the entire Solar System.  That's why we must have an equitable distribution now, because we can't afford to spend the last hundred of those thousand years fighting over metal with Mars.  You see, in that thousand years we must reach the stars.  We must develop speeds immeasurably greater than light -- and in that last, urgent hundred years we must have their co-operation, not their enmity.  Therefore they must not be dependent on us for anything; and we must not be under the continual mind-destroying temptation of being able to save ourselves for a few years longer if we sacrifice them."
    The envoy's concluding exhortation, which convinces a young Europan to switch from being his enemy to being his earnest protector, is this:
    "I have talked of repetition being a rule of life.  But somewhere along the pathway of the Universe there must be a first time for everything, a first peaceful solution along sound sociological lines of the antagonisms of great sovereign powers.
    "Some day man will reach the stars, and all the old, old problems will repeat themselves.  When that day comes, we must have established sanity in the very souls of men, so firmly rooted that there will be an endless repetition of peaceful solutions."
    The story had little of the intensity, heat and drive that had made van Vogt's three previous science fiction stories different from all other SF.  Next to them, "Repetition" was merely conventional -- similar in appearance and scope to other short fiction in Astounding in 1940.  More than that, it was a talky story, in essence no more than a dramatized lecture.

    Even so, it did have one highly important statement to make.  If men were ever to become the beings that van Vogt had described in "Black Destroyer" -- if they were ever to reach the stars at all, let alone inherit the galaxy -- they would first have to learn simple sanity: breadth of vision, surrender of self-interest, and peaceful cooperation.  And if they couldn't achieve this, they would be just so much chopped liver for creatures far simpler and less powerful than Coeurl.

    That this indeed was the point implicit for van Vogt in "Black Destroyer" and "Discord in Scarlet" would be confirmed in 1950 when he put these stories together with two others and added new material to make what he would call a " 'fix-up' novel" -- The Voyage of the Space Beagle.  The overall point made by this book would be the necessity for integrated vision.  Sanity.

    In the novel, van Vogt would introduce a new central character, Elliot Grosvenor, a Nexialist, or applied holist.  He might be understood as the van Vogtian equivalent of Heinlein's ideal man -- the "encyclopedic synthesist" or master of all knowledge.  The difference between them was that in Heinlein's version the weight of emphasis was on photographic memory and perfect command of fact, while in van Vogt's case the emphasis was on holistic vision.

    At the outset of the story, Grosvenor is something of an odd man out aboard the exploration vessel.  He is all but invisible:

    He was becoming accustomed to being in the background.  As the only Nexialist aboard the Space Beagle, he had been ignored for months by specialists who did not clearly understand what a Nexialist was, and who cared very little anyway.  Grosvenor had plans to rectify that.  So far, the opportunity to do so had not occurred.
    Grosvenor intends to apply Nexialism to the splintered viewpoints of the various scientific specialists aboard the ship and to resolve the small-minded political infighting that divides the men of the Space Beagle.  His opportunity to demonstrate the value of holistic thinking arrives in the encounters with Coeurl and Xtl -- here given as Ixtl -- and other bizarre life forms.  With his broader view of things, Grosvenor becomes the person most responsible for the survival of the expedition.

    By the end of the book, the need for Nexialist thought has become sufficiently well-established that Grosvenor is giving classes in holism to the men of the Space Beagle which even his former chief antagonist has begun to attend.  Grosvenor says:

    "The problems which Nexialism confronts are whole problems.  Man has divided life and matter into separate compartments of knowledge and being.  And, even though he sometimes uses words which indicate his awareness of that wholeness of nature, he continues to behave as if the one, changing universe has many separately functioning parts.  The techniques we will discuss tonight . . . will show how this disparity between reality and man's behavior can be overcome."
    In late 1939, however, van Vogt's thinking had not yet explicitly progressed as far as this.  Rather, we can say that with "Repetition," he had answered one question for himself, but then raised another.  He had satisfied himself that men who were well-integrated into the universe could face any selfish Village-minded creature to be found in this galaxy or beyond it, and prevail.  But he had also begun to wonder what men must become if they were to be successful in making their own transition from the Village Solar System to the wider universe.

    It seemed to him that men would have to transcend themselves and become better attuned to the universe as a whole.  So to John Campbell, van Vogt suggested the possibility of a novel about Homo superior emerging out of man as we presently know him.  This story, Slan, would be told from the point of view of the new higher order man.

    Campbell's immediate reaction to this proposal was that what van Vogt wanted to do simply couldn't be done.  It wasn't possible.

    Some twenty-five years later, in a letter to Doc Smith, Campbell would recall what he told van Vogt:  "I pointed out to him that you can't tell a superman story from the superman's viewpoint -- unless you're a superman.  He pulled a beautiful trick in that yarn, and proved me 100% wrong."

    What Campbell threw at van Vogt was nothing less than orthodox wisdom, received truth.  During the Age of Technology, it had been presumed that superior meant superior -- clearly better in every significant regard.  If a being were to be acknowledged as a superman, by definition that must mean that his thoughts and motives and values were completely beyond the ability of lesser men to understand.

    The very unfathomability of the superman would be a central evidence of his superiority.  Consequently, a superman story in the Techno Age, like Olaf Stapledon's Odd John, would invariably be told by some uncomprehending but tolerated human who is allowed close enough to the New Man to look upon his radiant splendor in something of the same way that a dumb but adoring cocker spaniel might gaze upon its lord and master.

    The "beautiful trick" that van Vogt would pull off in Slan was to tell his story from the point of view of an isolated, ignorant and immature superman -- a young and vulnerable boy on the run, seeking to learn more about himself and his kind.

    And this was something that John Campbell could accept.  Not only would he be willing to concede that a superman who wasn't very old and didn't know all that much might be within the power of ordinary human beings to comprehend, but he would be thoroughly delighted with van Vogt for demonstrating the insufficiency of an accepted truth.  There was nothing Campbell liked better than that.

    So much did Campbell like it, in fact, that he would adopt the narrative argument of Slan as his own and attempt to pass the lesson he'd learned on to others.  Here is how Campbell would phrase that lesson in a letter to Clifford Simak:

    The super-man can't be fully portrayed.  But since ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, a super-human must, during boyhood and adolescence, pass through the human level; there will be a stage of his development when he is less than adult-human, another stage when he is equal to adult-human -- and the final stage when he has passed beyond our comprehension.  The situation can be handled, then, by established faith, trust, understanding and sympathy with the individual as a character by portraying him in his not-greater-than adult human stages -- and allow the established trust and belief to carry over to the later and super-human stage.
    This Campbell-eye view of Slan would be accurate and perceptive -- but only as far as it went.  For instance, it would be quite true that van Vogt would portray his superman, Jommy Cross, at different moments in his early life -- in boyhood, in adolescence, and as a young man.  But to van Vogt, these different points would not represent a series of discrete stages, climaxed by a leap to some single final stage of supermanhood in which Jommy passes beyond our power to understand.  Rather, they would delineate a steeply rising curve of growth that might well continue on to even higher levels.

    For van Vogt, being a superman was a relative condition, not an absolute one.  Because he was more able and together than an ordinary human being, Jommy Cross would be a superman.  But he wouldn't be the superman -- the one and only kind of superman there could be -- in the old Techno Age sense.

    Again, Campbell would be perfectly correct in noting that trust and belief in Jommy's motives and behavior were established when it was easiest, while he was a helpless, hunted, innocent kid.  There can be no doubt that van Vogt, the writer who had evoked empathy with blobby creeping androids and id-thirsty tentacled cat-monsters, spared no effort to hook the reader into making an emotional identification with his nine-year-old telepathic boy with golden tendrils in his hair, separated from his mother on a city street and forced to flee for his life.

    What's more, he would make the boy an unflagging idealist as well, and completely convince the reader of Jommy's constant desire to find out the truth and to do right.

    Where Campbell would be mistaken, however, would be in thinking that Jommy Cross's innocence and idealism were only a narrative ploy, a device to gain reader identification and sympathy.  In fact, Jommy Cross's purity would have its own reason for being.  It would be the very essence of what van Vogt was attempting to express in this novel.

    The central plot-problem of Slan would be young Jommy's struggle against all the old Techno Age stereotypes which insisted that the superman must be a remote, unfeeling, hyper-intellectual -- Big Brain's younger brother.  Jommy would be told that this was the true nature of his own kind, the tendrilled slans.  Again and again he would be offered reason to perceive them as utterly cold and ruthless and cruel.

    In the meantime, however, through his own maturation and gradual self-discovery, Jommy would demonstrate what it really might be like to be a superior human being.  We'd see for ourselves that a superman didn't necessarily have to be brainy, heartless and amoral, because Jommy himself would not be at all like that.

    Jommy Cross would be the first example of a new and radically different sort of Earth-born superman -- good and noble and altruistic.

    It was van Vogt's holistic sense of an organic, evolving, inter-connected universe that permitted him to reconceive the superman in these terms.  More than permitted him -- compelled him.

    If the universe was indeed a whole and not merely a jumble of unrelated parts, then it was obvious to van Vogt that true superiority must consist in being relatively more in tune with the purposes of the whole.  To be superior was to be more integrated and less partial.  To better approximate the wholeness of the whole.

    However, it would be one thing for van Vogt to come to an apprehension of this gestalt -- to have a sudden gut awareness that there was a novel demanding to be written about a superman whose superiority ultimately lies in his relatively greater integration with the purposes of the universe -- and another to actually write the story.  Like most of van Vogt's work, Slan was completed only with considerable effort.

    Because van Vogt was so often vague and implausible and had so little concern for exact factuality, there would be those among the readership of Astounding who would take him for a hasty and careless writer.  That wouldn't exactly be the case, however.

    The truth of the matter was that A.E van Vogt toiled endlessly over the stories he wrote.  He wasn't facile -- anything but.  It was often difficult for him to find any words, let alone the right words set down in the right way to express the images and relationships that came to him in dreams or sudden flashes.

    Like a Romantic of the previous century, he struggled to express the all-but-inexpressible: his sense of where transcendence was to be found.  And with his eye fixed on the whole of things, he was always capable of tripping over the English language and taking a header.

    It wasn't that van Vogt had no ear at all for the language.  One of his real pleasures in writing lay in coining names like Coeurl and Xtl and Jommy Cross.  And he loved what he liked to call "the great pulp music," and aimed to emulate it, most successfully in his ringing final lines.

    But the truth must be admitted -- his prose wasn't as consistently clear as Asimov's, as consciously clever as Heinlein's, or as exquisitely cadenced as Theodore Sturgeon's.  Van Vogt was capable of bashing words together in the most dismaying manner without seeming to take any notice of the damage he was inflicting.  One example of this is the phrase " 'fix-up' novel" -- but there have been and will be others that we may quote without lingering over.

    At the same time, however, it is also true that a considerable portion of what looked to be clumsiness on van Vogt's part was in fact deliberate and hard-won technique: A word used more deliberately for its sound value than for its meaning in order to set up some subliminal resonance.  Or a provocative vagueness introduced in order to prevent his readers from understanding too clearly and exactly what was happening and thereby losing their sense of mystery.  As van Vogt would eventually say:

    Each paragraph -- sometimes each sentence -- of my brand of science fiction has a gap in it, an unreality condition.  In order to make it real, the reader must add the missing parts.  He cannot do this out of his past associations.  There are no past associations.  So he must fill in the gap from the creative part of his brain.
    On several different occasions, van Vogt would offer this passage as an example of what he meant by this kind of writing: "The human-like being reached into what looked like a fold of skin, and drew out a tiny silver-bright object.  It pointed this shining thing at Hagin."

    But so difficult and trying did van Vogt find it to write in this way -- in dream-born, emotion-charged, headlong sentences, each with its own special element of oddness or not-thereness -- that there were times when he would more than half-envy those SF writers like L. Ron Hubbard who could just sit down at the typewriter and bang out finished story copy as fast as they could type.

    He would think of writers like that as intuitional -- and himself as not.  Indeed, van Vogt's own self-description would be:  "The writer with the slowest natural intuition -- meaning the least naturally talented, in terms of normal creativity availability -- of any successful writer that I, personally, have ever met."

    It was van Vogt's firm belief that it was only his systems for contacting his unconscious processes and for writing stories that allowed him to produce science fiction at all.  He would say: "People do not seem to realize that form does not bind.  It frees.  If your form seems to constrain you, learn others. . . ."

    We should also take note, however, that at another moment he would say: "I mean, I'm always trying to write by methods, see.  I'm mad about methods and I sometimes feel that's the only thing that makes my stories worth it, but it's really not true.  There is a place for method in writing, but I've overdone that many times and had to back away from it and start all over."

    So here we have A.E. van Vogt, for whom words always came with a certain difficulty, systematically at work on his first novel, the revisionist superman story Slan.  It would take considerable self-alignment and constant self-monitoring to produce this story.  But, with the aid of his methods for contacting his creativity and engaging the intuition of his reader, and the further systems he used to guide him in the construction of his stories, science-fictional sentence by science-fictional sentence and scene by scene, van Vogt would inch his way along, only occasionally having to back away and start over.

    Making Slan go slower, however, was the fact that van Vogt was a part-time SF writer who had to steal his moments to work as best he could.  Most of his attention was required elsewhere.

    Until two months after the publication of "Black Destroyer," van Vogt still continued to write trade paper interviews for the likes of Hardware and Metal, Sanitary Engineer and Canadian Grocer.  But then, in September 1939, Hitler's armies invaded Poland and World War II began, and Canada was carried into the war along with the rest of the British Empire.

    Poor eyesight rendered van Vogt unfit for active military service.  But the Civil Service, rummaging through its files, recalled him as someone who had worked on the census eight years before.  A telegram was sent to van Vogt offering him a job as a Clerk II in the Department of National Defence.

    In his heart, van Vogt didn't really want to take this job.  Working as a low-level paper-pusher once again felt like taking a big step backward.  But he thought that everyone should try to be of some use in the war effort, so he accepted the offer.

    He traveled to Ottawa by bus, leaving Edna in Winnipeg to pack, sell their furniture, and follow.  It was November by then, and the newspapers told them there were only fourteen apartments to be had in the entire city.  They felt highly fortunate to locate a nice place to live, even though the monthly rent was $75 and van Vogt's take-home pay was just $81.

    The gap between his pay and their actual living expenses could be made up for a time out of the money for the furniture they had sold back home.  But it was evident that if they wished to eat, to meet the time payments on their new furniture, and to have such amenities as a phone, a working stove, or lights, it was going to be necessary for van Vogt to push ahead and finish that novel of his and bring home some writing income.

    But the new job didn't leave him very much time for it.  Van Vogt had his Sundays free, and half a day on Saturday, but for the most part he did his writing in the evenings, when he wasn't too tired.  He'd come home from the job, eat dinner, take a short nap, and then press on with Slan until eleven at night.

    At the times when it was going well, he could complete a scene in longhand during a single writing session.  And sometimes, especially toward the end when the narrative had gained a momentum of its own, it might be two scenes.  Then, the next day while he was off at work, Edna would transcribe what he had written.

    It took six months for van Vogt to write his story, all the time existing in such a state of tension that he was constantly waking and worrying over his novel in the middle of the night.  Somehow, however, between Campbell's pronouncements, his own vision of things, his conscious methods for writing, his dreams, his urgent need for money, and the ever-dwindling amount of time he had in which to write, he finally managed to complete Slan in the late spring of 1940.

    Van Vogt rushed his novel off to John Campbell, who not only received it with considerable pleasure but backed his enthusiasm with a swift check which included a highly welcome quarter-of-a-cent per word bonus.

    Van Vogt says: "Checks from Campbell were always prompt.  He evidently knew writers starved, because you could send him a story and, apparently, he'd read it almost immediately, and put the check through."

    Slan would be serialized in Astounding from September to December 1940, and would be far and away the best-liked story published in the magazine that year -- more popular than either Robert Heinlein's story of the overthrow of the Prophets, " 'If This Goes On--'," or L. Ron Hubbard's endless war story, Final Blackout.

    But what a completely unusual story Slan actually was!  The more closely it was examined, the stranger and more elusive it had to seem.  Like all of van Vogt's early stories, except for his most recent, "Repetition," it had that bizarre, intense, dreamlike quality -- but this time at the extended length of a novel.

    At the outset of Slan, nine-year-old Jommy Cross and his mother are on a city street, surrounded by an unseen but mentally sensed circle of hostile humans.  People blame the slans for their use of the mutation machines of ancient scientist Samuel Lann, which have caused ordinary humanity to give birth not only to slan babies, but also to grotesque failures and botches.  They aim to exterminate the tendrilled telepaths.

    As the humans close relentlessly in on them, Jommy's mother sends her son running in a desperate but successful try for life that has him clinging with super-strength to the rear bumper of a speeding "sixty electro Studebaker."  But before she is cut down, she gives Jommy a final mental admonition to kill the man behind the anti-slan campaign, the dictator of Earth, Kier Gray.  She thinks:

    "Don't forget what I've told you.  You live for one thing only: To make it possible for slans to live normal lives.  I think you'll have to kill our great enemy, Kier Gray, even if it means going to the grand palace after him."

    When he is 15, Jommy follows a hypnotic command from his long-dead scientist father.  He enters the catacombs underneath the city to recover his father's great discovery, the secret of controlled atomic power, from the place where it has been hidden.  However, he is caught in the act, and in order to escape he must use an atomic weapon to kill three guards.  This is something that causes him continuing remorse, and which he becomes determined not to repeat.

    In his own right as a teenage super-scientist, Jommy develops "ten-point steel," a metal that approaches the theoretical ultimate in hardness.  And he invents "hypnotism crystals," which enable him to control the thinking of ordinary human beings.

    Jommy also roams the world looking for other slans with golden tendrils in their hair -- but he is never able to find any.  Where can they be?

    However, again and again he stumbles across a widespread network of "tendrilless slans," who are also products of Samuel Lann's mutation machines but lack telepathic ability.  They have mastered anti-gravity and built spaceships, and established settlements on Mars that are completely unknown to ordinary Earthbound humanity.

    But these half-slans look on Jommy as an enemy, too.  It seems that when the tendrilled slans were in ascendancy, they persecuted the slans without tendrils, and the tendrilless slans have neither forgiven nor forgotten.  They call Jommy " 'a damned snake' " and strive even more diligently than the simple humans to kill him.

    Jommy steals a spaceship from them, and has the opportunity to kill a tendrilless slan, Joanna Hillory.  But he forbears in spite of the enmity she shows him.  Instead, he assures her of his good will:

    "Madam, in all modesty I can say that, of all the slans in the world today, there is none more important than the son of Peter Cross.  Wherever I go, my words and my will shall rule.  The day that I find the true slans, the war against your people shall end forever."
    And he sets Joanna Hillory free.

    Then, at last, when he is 19, Jommy finds another slan like himself, a girl, Kathleen Layton, seeking refuge in a long-abandoned slan hideout, an underground machine city.  Kathleen has been kept for observation by Kier Gray ever since she was a child, but now, with her life in imminent danger from the slan-hating secret police chief, John Petty, she has fled the palace.

    The meeting of Jommy and Kathleen is a wonderful moment of mutual recognition:

    "And she was a slan!

    "And he was a slan!

    "Simultaneous discovery!"

    But almost in the moment in which they find each other and fall in love, John Petty invades the cave hideout and surprises Kathleen there alone.  He shows her no mercy at all, but straightaway puts a bullet into her brain.

    Jommy arrives on the scene with Kathleen's dying telepathic goodbye to him still ringing in his mind.  He might pay John Petty back in kind by blasting him into nothingness with his atomic weapon, but he stays his hand.  He leaves the crucial button unpressed, and withdraws under heavy fire in his car made of ten-point steel.

    Then, when Jommy is 26 -- still not fully mature by slan standards -- the tendrilless slans launch an all-out attack upon his secret laboratory and his spaceship, hidden under a mountain twenty miles away.  But Jommy signals his spaceship, and it tunnels its way to him, and he escapes.

    He travels to Mars to spy upon the tendrilless slans.  Posing as one of them, he confirms his speculation that they soon intend to make a general attack upon the Earth.

    But no sooner is he certain of this than he is suspected of being himself.  He is taken to the office of Joanna Hillory, now the tendrilless slan military commissioner who has the job of tracking him down.  She has written no less than four books on the subject of Jommy Cross.

    While he waits, he is allowed the opportunity to consult what we today would think of as a computer:

    Inside the fine, long, low building, a few men and women moved in and out among row on row of great, thick, shiny, metallic plates.  This, Cross knew, was the Bureau of Statistics; and these plates were the electric filing cabinets that yielded their information at the touch of a button, the spelling out of a name, a number, a key word.
    Jommy asks these electric filing cabinets to tell him about Samuel Lann -- and in no time he is reading Samuel Lann's diary for 1971, and then further random entries from 1973 and 1990, and from them is discovering that there never was a mutation machine at all.  From the very outset, the tendrilled slans were and always have been a purely natural mutation.

    Then, when he is called into the office of Joanna Hillory, he finds that his idealism as a 15-year-old was so convincing to her that she has spent the years since maneuvering herself into a position to help him in just such a moment as this.  She aids him to escape and to return to Earth with the knowledge of a secret entrance to the slan-built palace of Kier Gray.

    Van Vogt has said, "From a fairly early time, towards the end of my stories . . . I would launch my subconscious into free associations, and, within the frame of what I was writing -- roughly -- would just let it rattle on."  This kind of creative process would seem to underlie what happens next in Slan.

    In a very strange scene, Jommy hurls himself down a hole in the palace garden, and when he reaches the bottom he is two miles beneath the surface.  There he encounters signs which presume him to be a slan and tell him where he is and what his circumstances are.  Then walls close together around him, and in a kind of prison-elevator he is raised high up into the palace to the most private inner sanctum of Kier Gray.

    And once again, as in the Greek plays that van Vogt had read, a scene of recognition takes place.  Jommy looks on the ruthless and powerful, but noble, face of Kier Gray and knows him for what he really is:

    "Kier Gray, leader of men, was--

    " 'A true slan!' exclaimed Cross."

    At first, Gray's manner is cold and hard.  He even threatens to amputate Jommy's tendrils.  But then Jommy demonstrates his own power by effortlessly freeing himself from his bonds, and the recognition becomes mutual.  Kier Gray knows that this must be the son of Peter Cross, the master of atomic energy, and immediately his manner completely alters:

    "Man, man, you've done it!  In spite of our being unable to give you the slightest help!  Atomic energy -- at last."
    His voice rang out then, clear and triumphant: "John Thomas Cross, I welcome you and your father's great discovery.  Come in here and sit down. . . .  We can talk here in this very private den of mine."
    And Gray then proceeds to tell Jommy all.

    Slans, he says, really rule the world from behind the scenes -- something like those Scotsmen running the British Empire: " 'What is more natural than that we should insinuate our way to control of the human government?  Are we not the most intelligent beings on the face of the Earth?' "

    Slans are " 'the mutation-after-man.' "  Despite the fact that ordinary humanity hates and fears them, the slans are watching out for poor feckless old-style man, who is now growing sterile and beginning to pass from the scene.  And if the slans in the past gave the tendrilless slans something of a hard time, well, that was all for their own good, to keep them tough.

    The fact of the matter is that all unknown to themselves the tendrilless slans are the true slans.  Their special characteristics -- tendrils, double hearts, more efficient nervous systems, and so on -- have been temporarily genetically suppressed to keep them safe from the wrath of humanity.  But one by one the slan characteristics have been re-emerging.  And in another forty or fifty years, the tendrils and telepathic power will start coming back, too.

    The problem for the slans-behind-the-scenes is to make the transition from man to slan a smooth one.  They would like to keep the humans from launching one last desperate anti-slan witch-hunt.  And they would also like to keep the tendrilless slans from exterminating ordinary man before he passes naturally from the scene.

    Now, however, it appears that both problems can be solved.  With the aid of Jommy's atomics, the tendrilless slan attack from Mars can be turned away.  Those slans who are in the know will " 'make a big noise with a small force' " that should send the invaders back to Mars until the tendrils of their children grow in.  Then, with the hypnotism crystals that Jommy has developed, it will be possible to soothe the hysteria, jealousy and fear of man-as-he-has-been, and make his passing painless and happy.

    With this solution worked out, Slan concludes with a dramatic entrance, and a final recognition scene.  A young woman comes into Gray's private study -- and it is Kathleen.  Kathleen resurrected!  Kier Gray then introduces her to Jommy. . . .

    "It was at that moment that Kier Gray's voice cut across the silence with the rich tone of one who had secretly relished this instant for years:

    " 'Jommy Cross, I want you to meet Kathleen Layton -- my daughter!' "

    And so the story ends, leaving us all aglow.  But also with a thousand rational questions that we might ask if we were of a mind to:

    If Kathleen Layton really is Kier Gray's daughter, why should he have endangered both her and himself by keeping her near him as she grows up?  And if Gray is such a sentimentalist that he must have her close by, why is it that when Kathleen first meets Jommy, she doesn't yet have the slightest suspicion that Kier Gray might really be a slan, let alone her own father?

    It only takes Jommy a matter of moments to find out from the tendrilless slans' electric filing cabinets that there never was a mutation machine.  Why is it that the tendrilless slans don't know this fundamental fact?  And if the tendrilless slans suspect him of being their most feared adversary, Jommy Cross, why do they so casually allow him free access to their data banks without anyone even bothering to take a peek over his shoulder just to see what he might be up to?

    And, in its own way, perhaps the greatest oddity of all: What in the world is a Studebaker car with a protruding rear bumper in the style of the 1930s doing on the streets six hundred and thirty, or eight hundred, or fifteen hundred years in the future?  (The figures for how much time has passed between now and then keep shifting, like so much else in this story.)

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Background by Eos Development