(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Voyage of the Space Beagle clearly shows why van Vogt has failed to achieve the same critical recognition as the other members of the “big four” of the Golden Age of science fiction—Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Theodore Sturgeon. Coming toward the end of van Vogt’s most productive decade (1940-1950) but including his first two published science-fiction stories, The Voyage of the Space Beagle in many ways reflects the main issues as well as the major problems that run throughout van Vogt’s work. Those problems include inconsistencies in both plotting and technology as well as nebulous resolutions to conflicts.

In this elaborate space opera, as in his major novels Slan (1946), The Weapon Makers (1946), and The World of Null-A (1948), van Vogt posits humankind’s ability to evolve and notes the internal obstacles, such as egotism (a major aspect of his Right Man theory) and overemotionalism, that have kept humanity from attaining perfection. Although some critics attribute any success that The Voyage of the Space Beagle has as a science-fiction novel to its rapid succession of BEMs (big-eyed monsters), each of which is more hideous and powerful than the previous one, the philosophy of the novel also draws the reader in, as it is enmeshed in the tension van Vogt establishes among the human characters. Van Vogt likewise enhances interest in the BEMs by entering their minds, thereby...

(The entire section is 425 words.)