The Secret Galactics – AE van Vogt (1974)
‘EARTH FACTOR X
Reality twisted… slightly. Earth shivered. For a split second the Solar System wasn’t. And then was again. Less than a billionth of a second – but a time shift had nonetheless happened.
As the shadow ship started to emerge from the time jump, men and aliens were locked in a secret, undeclared war for control of the Earth. Genetically altered, the aliens looked exactly like humans. And they were in positions of power everywhere. Opposing them were two humans and one isolated brain in a mechanical body. But between them they held the one secret that the aliens had never learned about the people of Earth…’
Blurb from the 1977 Sphere paperback edition
Three alien races, the Deeans, the Luinds and the Sleeles, have been living on Earth disguised as human males. Now it appears, the Deeans have plans to take over the Earth. A year previously, Dr Carl Hazzard was killed in a hit and run accident, but his brain was saved and housed in a robotic mobile body with six wheels and extensor arms. He also has a van which he can operate and drive around in.
One should point out from the outset that the plot makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, or rather, it does in a convoluted Van Vogtian way which is vaguely entertaining but ultimately irritating.
The majority of the book is taken up with the alienoids (as they are termed) and Carl’s obsession with the nature of the female psyche.
Women always seemed to baffle van Vogt, despite the fact that he was married to fellow writer E Mayne Hull for a goodly length of time. His female characters tend to be cold femme-fatales or wishy-washy women who scream or faint. They crave good strong men and have to be protected from terrible news in case they can’t cope with it and have a funny turn.
This seems to be van Vogt’s attempt to pin down the bare bones of the evolved male and female brains.
Dr Carl Hazzard, before he was nearly killed, was writing a book entitled ‘Women are Doomed’.
The alienoids, having taken on male human bodies and all that that entails, are just as baffled and enthralled by Earth women as Earth men are.
The novel begins when Carl gets a call from an ex-mistress (who is unaware that he is now just a brain on wheels).
She gives him an address and tells him there is a body there that he must examine. Carl duly drives his brain-van to the location and manages to get in. He discovers the body, along with a letter in the dead man’s jacket.
Just then, a group of men arrive. The body is searched and the letter is found. Carl, pretending to be a bit of machinery sitting in an alcove, overhears their evil alienoid plans and so gets himself and his wife embroiled in a cunning galactic plan. van Vogt seemed to be employing his usual stream-of-consciousness approach to the plot. Carl gets taken on board a Deean spaceship for instance, for no reason whatsoever and even rings his wife to tell her to pack her things as they will both be going to Deean to start a new life together.
The denouement is quite ridiculous and relies on the fact that Carl’s brain somehow made friends with the Deean warship’s computer and persuaded it to turn around and go home.
van Vogt’s final thoughts on the male/female issue is that women have four-ply brains and each woman can inhabit four different personalities, flowing from one to the other without herself realising.
If this had been written twenty years previously it would at least have been in context with current attitudes. By the time of publication we’d been through the Sixties and left van Vogt’s nervous women behind. One suspects that this might have been something van Vogt had found tucked in a bottom drawer and sent on to his publisher on a whim.