More than any other writers, A. E. van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein supplied John Campbell, Jr.’s Astounding Science-Fiction with the steady stream of stories that allowed the magazine to find its market, flourish, and leave the “Golden Age” in its wake. Pulp fiction readers of the 1930’s, however, were not known for their high literary expectations, and van Vogt wrote to his market’s demands. His characters are stock and his science dubious, and he was never known for letting credibility interfere with a story line. His plot contrivances and implausible coincidences have been responsible for the most vociferous criticism of van Vogt’s work (see Damon Knight’s “Cosmic Jerry-builder,” in In Search of Wonder, 1956). Slan proves the rule for this unfortunate trait rather than providing the exception. In the book’s closing pages, Kier Gray, mass-murdering scourge of the mutants, is revealed to be a slan, and despite an untimely bullet into her brain midway through the book, Kathleen Layton reappears as Gray’s daughter to resume her romance with Jommy.

Although critics may be alternately amused and dismayed by much of the novel, Slan remains a favorite among rank-and-file science-fiction readers; it has gone through at least ten editions since its first serialization and can even be heard in a dramatized, audiocassette form.

Despite certain flaws that were endemic to the entire...

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