Lest we think of ourselves as too sophisticated and pooh-pooh out of hand some old (1950) science fiction with a somewhat clunky name, perhaps we should reconsider. A. E. Van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle is a collection of four short stories cobbled together. From this unlikely source came the idea for Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek and all its spin-offs and movies. From the third story came the idea for the movie Alien.
You remember the words that started the show: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Van Vogt got his idea from Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, which, curiously, lasted five years. While the five years did not figure in Van Vogt’s book, it assumed new importance when Roddenberry lifted the general idea. And he never paid a penny to Van Vogt nor credited him with the idea for the series.
The producers of the film Alien did not get off so easily. Van Vogt sued the producers and came to an arrangement with them that was monetarily satisfactory to both sides. Needless to say, the character of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver (above), was not part of The Voyage of the Space Beagle, as all its crew were chemically castrated males.
There are many treasures from the Golden Age of Science Fiction (mostly the 1950s) that are worth re-examining. I would submit that the works of A. E. Van Vogt deserve a closer look. I have re-read three of his books recently and found them well worth the effort.
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