Authors: John C. Wright
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â CONTINUUM
JOHN C. WRIGHT
Continuing A. E. van Vogt's
THE WORLD OF NULL-A
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
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To the grandmaster of imagination
I never wrote you a letter
For those hours
And there were many
When the world did not welcome me
And your worlds
And there were many
Let this writing stand in the stead
Of that unsent letter.
For Lydia, with love. Without your courage and cheer, this work would have been stillborn.
To the memory of Dan Hooker, with respect, who made this novel possible.
To Isaac Wilcott, whose work and research were invaluable.
The occupants of each floor of the hotel must as usual during the games form their own protective groupsâ¦.
With these words,
The World of Null-A
opens, and we are introduced to one Gilbert Gosseyn, who believes himself to be a widowed farmer from Cress Village, Florida, presenting himself during the games to the City of the Machine. And yet Gosseyn's beliefs are false, implanted in his mind by an unknown agency for a hidden purpose.
Reader, the volume you hold in your hands is meant to serve as an homage and continuation of the celebrated Null-A books of A. E. van Vogt.
The World of Null-A
was first published in 1945 in
magazine, and arrested the attention of the science fiction readership as few books before or since. For sheer invention, breathless pace, and glimpses of the amazing potential of the human individual, the tale is unequaled. That A. E. van Vogt also introduces a concept as esoteric as non-Aristotelian multivalued logic (abbreviated Null-A) while telling a tale of adventure, intrigue, and war is a testament to his powers.
The theory of general semantics postulates that through a proper understanding of the relationship between words and the reality words allegedly represent a mind can be trained to avoid disorientation. On an emotional level, a lack of disorientation means the absence of neurotic and self-destructive behavior. It entails an integration of the cortex, the seat of reason, with the thalamus, the seat of emotion.
By A.D. 2560, Earth is a world of Null-A. The games select candidates on the basis of their cortical-thalamic integration, their sanity, for various high positions in business or government, including the presidency of Earth. Candidates of the very highest qualification are selected by the Games Machine for emigration to Venus, where men live without laws or the need of laws.
On Earth, police protection is suspended only for one month, and only in the City of the Machine. A man named Nordegg, a neighbor from his home village, claims Gosseyn is an impostor. When Gosseyn protests that he is the widower of Patricia, the daughter of Michael Hardie, his statement is greeted with derision, and the protective group of the hotel where he is staying casts him out into the streets to fend for himself.
He then encounters a young woman calling herself Teresa Clark, apparently unprotected during the policeless month, who leads him into a trap. Gosseyn discovers Michael Hardie is the President of Earth. “Teresa” is his daughter Patricia, a member of a gang led by a sardonic giant of a man named Thorson. Thorson and his gang have been using a device called a distorter to paralyze certain circuits in the Games Machine, falsifying the outcome of the games, and allowing Hardie, an ambitious gangster in no way qualified for the presidency, to assume power.
One member of the gang is a bald and earless cripple with prosthetic limbs, whose horrible disfigurations are covered by a medicinal plastic, but he has a strangely magnetic personality. He introduces himself with these words: “Consider me the âX' quantity. And let âX' equal any infinite value.” He arranges to have Gosseyn's cortex photographed: Gosseyn possesses, in embryonic form, a secondary brain.
Patricia reveals that Thorson is an agent of an interstellar power called the Greatest Empire, ruled by a tyrant named Enro the Red. Enro intends to massacre Earth and Venus as the quickest way of provoking a galactic war
with his neighbors, the Interstellar League. X is none other than Lavoisseur, the head of the General Semantics Institute of Earth.
Gosseyn makes a foolish escape attempt and is shot to death in the street. He wakes up on Venus, apparently the same individual, but actually Gosseyn Two, the same memories lodged in a duplicate body. A robotic plane under orders from the Games Machine forces Gosseyn to surrender himself to Eldred Crang, apparently another member of the gang and Patricia's sweetheart. During what appears to be an escape attempt, a member of the gang named Prescott shoots and kills X and Hardie.
While free, Gosseyn is convinced by the Games Machine to attempt suicide in order that he will wake up in the final Gosseyn body, one with a fully trained superhuman double brain. Dosing himself with a hypnotic drug, he programs his subconscious with the defeat and despair needed to carry through with the desperate act of self-destruction: He is saved by the intervention of a hotel clerk, but later recaptured by the galactic agents.
Venus and Earth are invaded, but the invaders are thrown back by the resilience and tenacity of the Null-A resistance. Thorson hides the failure from his superiors, and instead concentrates on training Gosseyn's embryonic double brain, with the help of Dr. Lauren Kair, a Null-A psychiatrist. Thorson's hope is that Gosseyn, if fully trained, will be able to lead him to “the Chessplayer” manipulating Gosseyn and the events around him. Thorson wants to find the man who made Gilbert Gosseyn, for Gosseyn is obviously an artificial being, and wrest the secret of eternal life from him.
During this period, Patricia is placed in the same comfortable cell with Gosseyn. Apparently their captors hope that Gosseyn will be reluctant to escape if it means harm to the girl. He asks her what her status is. “I'm your wife,” she says, and Gosseyn is irritated that she should joke at such a time.
She reveals that Eldred Crang is a Venusian Null-A
detective, who, discovering the secret base of galactic invaders many years ago, infiltrated them, rose to prominence in the Greatest Empire military command, and returned with the Venusian invasion force as a fifth columnist. It was Crang who persuaded Thorson to study rather than kill Gosseyn, Crang who will convince Thorson to leave the safety of his well-protected galactic base.
Gosseyn's secondary brain is developed through training to act as an organic distorter. On a practical level, it gives Gosseyn awareness of and control over the energy patterns and forces in his environment.
Thorson, unwilling that any other man find the secret of eternal life, returns with Gosseyn and a battalion of soldiers to Earth. Due to the fighting, the city is a burnt-out ruin and the Games Machine is destroyed. Thorson follows Gosseyn to the now-deserted Institute of General Semantics, where a telepathic signal leads Gosseyn to someone who seems to be an older and uncrippled version of X, Lavoisseur, head of the Institute. Lavoisseur, who has similar control over space and energy as Gosseyn, electrocutes Thorson; Gosseyn remorselessly slaughters the soldiers of the Greatest Empire who had been guarding him.
Lavoisseur is severely wounded in the firefight but lives long enough to briefly answer Gosseyn's questions. He explains the process by which duplicate bodies can be created and nourished in a sensory-deprivation environment, with a twin brain linked by a distorter circuit, so the thoughts of one are reflected in the other, who can wake when the first duplicate dies. Lavoisseur says he created X by means of his cellular duplication process and damaged him to speed up the life process, making X the greater, so that his thoughts would be telepathically “similarized” back to an identical brain in Lavoisseur. By this means Lavoisseur spied out the plans of the gang and, working through Crang and the Games Machine, thwarted them.
Lavoisseur dies. Gosseyn is able to pick up from the fading energy of his nervous system certain fragments of
thought and memories. These thoughts reveal to Gosseyn that for centuries, under many names, Lavoisseur has been the secret patron of Null-A, having built the first Games Machine on Earth. When all men are trained to the levels of sanity and moral maturity promised by the Null-A sciences, they will be ready for the secret of immortality.
Lavoisseur has often wondered if there is a Chessplayer behind him, manipulating his life for some unknown purpose, but concludes that there is not one. Life itself is the mystery and the source of mystery: “Once more, the cycle is completed, and we are no further ahead.” After he dies, Gosseyn realizes the implication of Lavoisseur's last thought.
He removes the beard from the face of the old man and looks into his own features.