Saturday, 15 June 2013

Supermind, by A E Van Vogt

Supermind was published in 1977, towards the end of Van Vogt’s long writing career, and is a fix-up of three linked novellas featuring a common cast of characters, written with some assistance from James H. Schmitz and Edna Mayne Hull (his first wife). It is set in a future in which humanity has spread throughout the Solar System but is unaware of the existence of a vast galactic civilisation that has quarantined humanity as being too primitive to allow contact. This civilisation consists of various forms of humanoids who are physically indistinguishable from human beings but vary greatly in their intelligence and capabilities. Humanity is at the bottom of the intellectual pecking order, while the legendary and immortal Great Galactics are supermen at the top. Somewhere in between come the Dreeghs, a race of vampire outlaws who survive on the fringes of the galactic civilisation.

William Leigh is a reporter on Earth who stumbles across a strange crime in which the victims have been drained of both their blood and their electrical life force. Coupled with reports from the edge of the Solar System of an unidentified spacecraft observed travelling towards the Earth at an unheard of velocity, this suggests to him that some very unwelcome visitors have arrived. Humanity seems helpless in the face of the far superior Dreeghs, but can the galactic civilisation do anything to help?

The second episode follows on, this time focusing on Steve Hanardy, an apparently dull-witted transport pilot operating in the outer reaches of the Solar System, who unwillingly becomes mixed up with Dreeghs and other aliens, and finds some very odd things happening to him.

The final episode returns to Earth and follows the results of an experiment in which people are unknowingly injected with a serum designed to accelerate evolution within their minds and bodies. The unexpected result of this poses challenges with which even the galactic observers struggle to cope.

The story is classic Van Vogt; short, exciting and full of mysteries concerning people with immensely superior abilities, so if you like his other work you’ll probably enjoy this one. I was particularly intrigued by the concept of a suppressed mind; of people who have far more capabilities than even they realise, until the right trigger occurs – a notion picked up in a different way by Piers Anthony in Macroscope, reviewed here recently.

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