The Plot

Slan opens with nine-year-old Jommy Cross and his mother being hunted by government forces with orders to systematically kill slans, a mutant race identified by tendrils growing in their hair. Slans are telepathic and possess strength and intelligence superior to most humans. Their genetic advantages, compounded with long life spans, give them claim to being the new dominant life-form on Earth and have led to the human policy of genocide against the mutants. Jommy’s mother is killed, but he escapes the mob and is taken into hiding by a drunken old woman, Granny, who coerces him into a life of petty thievery.

Humans are governed by Kier Gray, an absolute dictator who ruthlessly enforces his will on the people, even to the extent of having his entire inner council murdered and pinning the action on his chief of security, John Petty. Gray routinely kills thousands of slans each year but has an apparent affection for a young slan girl, Kathleen Layton, who was captured as an infant and allowed to grow up in his palace, a monumental jewel of slan architecture that has been taken over by humans.

The novel parallels the lives of the two slan children. Jommy’s quest for the elusive slans takes many twists and turns before he inevitably becomes involved with Kathleen. Through a hypnotically planted suggestion, he uncovers his father’s ultimate weapon, an atomic ray gun so devastating that the elder Cross preferred to die rather than...

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In the time before Slan begins, there was a world war that destroyed civilization around the world, leaving humanity in misery. Out of...

(The entire section is 377 words.)

Literary Qualities

Van Vogt's plots are frequently intricate and often confusing. Readers often complain that his transitions from one scene to the next are...

(The entire section is 812 words.)

Social Sensitivity

Van Vogt's fiction nearly always criticizes society to some degree. What set him apart from most social critics is that he did not merely...

(The entire section is 443 words.)

Topics for Discussion

1. Is the development of Jommy Cross's character fully depicted? Is anything missing? Is the person he becomes as attractive as the person he...

(The entire section is 341 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. What is future shock? How might it apply to the plot of Slan?

2. What are the different views scientists have of how natural...

(The entire section is 389 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

The ideas in Slan continued to interest van Vogt throughout his career. In The World of Null-A (1948; also published as The World...

(The entire section is 280 words.)

For Further Reference

Clute, John. "Van Vogt, A(lfred) E(lton)." In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffen, 1995. This is a...

(The entire section is 356 words.)