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The world of null-A

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posted on Jan, 1 2016 @ 09:51 AM
Here is one of my fav science-fiction book, written by A.E. van Vogt in 1948, It's the first tome of a trilogy. I just read it again but for the first time in English. Here is some sort of a summary that will maybe make you want to read it.


The year is 2650. Gilbert Gosseyn just lost his wife, and it is with sorrow that he decides that he needs a change in his life. His goal : to go to Venus. But not anyone can go to Venus, and any candidate must first go through the trials of the Machine of the games, in the city of the Machine.

"Gosseyn stared somberly out of the curving corner window of his hotel room. From its thirty-story vantage point, he could see the city of the Machine spread out below him."

There he is, in his hotel. People willing to participate in the Games must organized their protection themselves because for the duration of the Games, which is one month, there is no police.

"In spite of himself, in spite of his dark mood, Gosseyn experienced a sense of wonder. Here he was, at long last, to participate in the games of the Machine-the games which meant wealth and position for those who were partially successful, and the trip to Venus for the special group that won top honors. For years he had wanted to come, but it had taken her death to make it possible. Everything, Gosseyn thought bleakly, had its price."

But there is a problem. His identity seems not to be his own, and even the lie detector confirms it. His now deceased wife - or so he thought, Patricia Hardie, seems to be alive. He is kicked out of his hotel.

"I can only suggest an early visit to a psychiatrist, Mr. Gosseyn. Certainly you cannot remain here. During the policeless month, we can take no chances with suspicious individuals."

The night was about to fall, and he was on the streets, for a policeless month.

"He was apparently suffering from semi-amnesia, and he must try to comprehend that in the largest sense of meaning. Only thus would he be able to free himself from the emotional effects of his condition. Gosseyn attempted to visualize the freeing as an event in the null-A interpretation. The event that was himself, as he was, his body and mind as a whole, amnesia and all, as of this moment on this day and in this city.

Behind that conscious integration were thousands of hours of personal training. Behind the training was the non-Aristotelian technique of automatic extensional thinking, the unique development of the twentieth century which, after four hundred years, had become the dynamic philosophy of the human race. 'The map is not the territory. . . . The word is not the thing itself.'

The belief that he had been married did not make it fact. The hallucinations which his unconscious mind had inflicted on his nervous system had to be counteracted. As always, it worked. Like water draining from an overturned basin, the doubts and fears spilled out of him. The weight of false grief, false because it had so obviously been imposed on his mind for someone else's purpose, lifted. He was free."

During that night, he meets a woman, Teresa Clark, who seems lost and without protection. They decide to stick together for the time being. But Gosseyn is suspicious of her. It is also her who informs him that the president of the world government is called Michael Hardie, and he realises why his claim that he had been married with Patricia Hardie was met with incredulity.

"So that was what Nordegg and the others at the hotel had meant. His story must have sounded like the ravings of a lunatic. President Hardie, Patricia Hardie, a palatial summer home at Cress Village-and every bit of information in his brain about that absolutely untrue.

Who could have planted it there? The Hardies?"

The woman asks Gosseyn to help her get through the first stages of the games so she could get a comfortable position is society, but she claims to know next to nothing to null-A philosophy, and null-A philosophy is exactly what the trials of the Machine are about. Gosseyn accepts to tell her a bit about it.

"Gosseyn hesitated. He felt foolish again at the thought of talking to her on the subject. He began reluctantly, "The human brain is roughly divided into two sections, the cortex and the thalamus. The cortex is the center of discrimination, the thalamus the center of the emotional reactions of the nervous system.

Both the cortex and the thalamus have wonderful potentialities. Both should be trained to the highest degree, but particularly they should be organized so that they will work in co-ordination. Wherever such co-ordination, or integration, does not occur, you have a tangled personality-over-emotionalism and, in fact, all variations of neuroticism. On the other hand, where cortical-thalamic integration has been established, the nervous system can withstand almost any shock."

[To be continued...]

posted on Jan, 1 2016 @ 12:24 PM
I have been reading Sci/fi now for over 50 years and A.E. van Vogt remains close to the top of my list of speculative authors. Not only did he write well enough to entertain, he filled his novels with thought provoking speculation on humanities trip through the ages.

I suppose that young people now might easily consider writers of his time to be cornball but I have found that much of the more modern stuff that we find filling our airwaves is based on the conceptual ideas of van Vogt and others like him.

posted on Jan, 1 2016 @ 03:46 PM
a reply to: TerryMcGuire

If you go far enough back, many would find that there is little new in the genre. Not that many aren't wonderful reads, but the premises aren't all that original.

Does that mean I'm old? Or have no life...

He's one of my favorite authors.

posted on Jan, 2 2016 @ 02:27 PM
After some chapters, it becomes obvious that the null-A philosophy is the true leading role of the story and that Gilbert Gosseyn is just its avatar, its incarnation. Van Vogt was inspired by General Semantics, which is a real world scientific field of study founded by Alfred Korzybski. The name "Gosseyn" was chosen by van Vogt because it is a homophone of "go sane", and it illustrates how Gilbert Gosseyn goes progressively from a situation in which he is a mere pawn, a situation where his brain is full of lies and false information, to a situation where he is in control, where he gains sanity of mind. And sanity of mind is exactly what General Semantics is about.


Gilbert Gosseyn and Teresa Clark decide it is time to move towards the Machine to participate in the first day of the games.

"The Machine was at the far end of a broad avenue. Mountaintops had been levelled so that it could have space and gardens around it. It was a full half mile from the tree-sheltered gates. It reared up and up in a shining metal splendor. It was a cone pointing into the lower heavens and crowned by a star of atomic light, brighter than the noonday sun above.

Aloof and impregnable, the Machine towered above the human beings it was about to sort according to their semantic training. No one now living knew exactly in what part of its structure its electron-magnetic brain was located. Like many men before him, Gosseyn speculated about that.

"Where would I have put it?" he wondered, "if I had been one of the scientist-architects?" It didn't matter, of course. The Machine was already older than any known living human being. Self-renewing, conscious of its life and of its purpose, it remained greater than any individual, immune to bribery and corruption and theoretically capable of preventing its own destruction."

They are separated and Gosseyn finds himself alone in a room and the Machine asks him easy questions about the null-A philosophy. But Gosseyn is more interested about what the Machine has to say about him. If he is not Gilbert Gosseyn, then who is he ?

"Your name? And please grasp the nodes."

"Gilbert Gosseyn," said Gosseyn quietly.

There was silence. Some of the cherry-red tubes flickered unsteadily. Then: "For the time being," said the Machine in a casual tone, "I'll accept that name." Gosseyn sank back deeper into the chair. His skin warmed with excitement. He felt himself on the verge of discovery. He said, "You know my true name?"

There was another pause. Gosseyn had time to think of a machine that was at this very moment conducting tens of thousands of easygoing conversations with the individuals in every cubbyhole in its base. Then: "No record in your mind of another name," said the Machine. "But let's leave that for now. Ready for your test?"

[To be continued...]

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