My life in outer space

The War Against The Rull – AE van Vogt (1959)

The War Against The Rull

‘Man has conquered Space and spread throughout the galaxy. Many civilisations on several thousand planets are joined in a vast confederation whose very existence is now threatened by The Rull – a paranoid, murderous race from beyond the frontiers of human territory.
Equal to Man in intelligence, The Rull have a technology that may even be superior. Their spaceships have already captured several hundred planets. The final titanic showdown that will decide Man’s fate and the fate of the whole galaxy is imminent.’

This is one of Van Vogt’s more successful fix-up novels. Earlier published stories – Repetition (1940), Cooperate or Else (1942), The Second Solution (1942), The Rull (1948) and The Sound (1950) – have been re-edited and combined with fresh material into a novel-length narrative.
David Pringle, former editor of Interzone, describes Van Vogt as a ‘slapdash’ writer, and in some cases, one can’t argue with this. Van Vogt’s hastily-written work can be easily spotted and examples of it can be found here.
Van Vogt has other flaws also. The innate sexism in this novel in particular jars somewhat. The hero, Trevor Jamieson, when trapped (with a woman intent on killing him) on a moon teeming with predators, manages to overpower her. The woman accedes to his male superiority and Jamieson who ‘knows women’, is sure that she won’t try to kill him again, and indeed she doesn’t.
Later, Jamieson’s son is kidnapped by the alien Rull. He keeps the news to himself, sure that his ‘very feminine’ wife will not be strong enough to handle such news.
Of course, this is not a flaw exclusive to Van Vogt. Such misrepresentation of women was more or less the norm and in many cases was presumably endorsed or policed by editors with such views. Radical portrayals of women may well have been frowned upon.
Jamieson of course, is the hero, and despite the aforesaid flaws in the writing he is an unusual hero in that the solutions to his problems come from logic and reason.
It is logic and deduction which convinces him that the monstrous three eyed six-thousand pound six-limbed Ezwals of Carson’s Planet are not just dangerous beasts, but are highly intelligent and telepathic.
The human race is at war with The Rull, a shape-shifting insectoid race from another galaxy, and Carson’s Planet plays a key defensive role.
Jamieson’s character is very much in the mould of Gilbert Gosseyn (The Pawns of Null-A) in that he refuses to allow emotions to sway his judgement.
He moves from one adventure to another from the outset where he is stranded on a hostile planet with a hostile Ezwal – wanting to kill Jamieson to preserve the secret of Ezwal intelligence, but forced into an alliance with him in order to survive.
The best section is probably ‘The Sound’ set in The City of The Ship where for decades the people of the city – including Jamieson and his family – have been hard at work on a vast spaceship on which they will all eventually leave.
A rite-of-passage ritual has developed where once a year younger children are allowed to stay out all night to hunt for the source of the sound which permeates their lives.
This stands out from the rest of the novel for the attention paid to both the background and the detail.
The final section sadly, is the weakest and provides a far from satisfactory denouement, certainly not the ‘titanic showdown’ promised in the blurb.
The end depends far too much on unbelievable coincidence, a ‘Deus Ex Machina’ alien composed of electrical charges and little else.
Before you know it, the century long war is over, Jamieson has saved the galaxy and The Rull are pulling their forces back.
Having said that, this isn’t a bad novel. The disparate stories have been conflated cleverly into a single narrative, one of the bonuses of which is that we are given glimpses of various parts of Van Vogt’s huge Universe. They are tantalisingly brief and – particularly in the case of ‘The Sound’ – add an unexpected touch of realism to events.
The development of the Ezwal sub-plot is handled well but suffers from any conclusion in that we never get to discover how Jamieson’s Ezwal ally fares in negotiating with his own people.
Looking at this book from another perspective it does also show once more a view of diplomacy which is intrinsically American.
The Ezwals want the humans off their planet and so launch guerrilla attacks, killing many humans. Jamieson, after eventually befriending an orphaned Ezwal child, tells him that that if the Ezwals (who have a purely pastoral civilisation) develop a machine civilisation and can defend themselves from the Rull, then the humans will leave. No negotiation. No leeway. Essentially, the ‘American’ view is that if you develop your culture to be just like us, we’ll go away.

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