Reviewed by Ted Gioia

During the period in which A.E. van Vogt was
writing this novel, electric pinball machines were
showing up in drugstores, taverns and arcades
throughout America, and the pinball flipper was
introduced.  Now players
with fast flipper fingers could
keep the action going, with
lights blinking and bells ringing.

I like to think of van Vogt's
stories as the literary equivalent
of those postwar pinball
machines.   The science fiction
writers of the Golden Age wrote
for an audience of teenage males
—or for those of older years
who still retained an adolescent's
fascination with the strange and  fantastic.  These
readers weren't looking for psychological insights
or Proustian prose.  They wanted action and more
action, and van Vogt was the kind of writer who
delivered exactly that.   In 1947, the same year the
first flipper appeared on a pinball machine, readers
polled by Gerry de la Ree picked van Vogt as their
favorite science fiction author.   No one who
understood the tastes of the pulp fiction sci-fi
audience could have been the least bit surprised.

Like so many of A.E. van Vogt's novels,
The Mixed
Men
takes place in a time of political upheaval.  
Interest groups vie for power.  Age-old tensions
rise to the fore.  The exploited minority aims to
turn the tables and seize control of government.  
Alliances and counter-alliances tilt the balance,
and—invariably with this author—advanced
weapon systems eventually enter into the equation,
and tilt it some more.

That said, van Vogt's own political allegiances
usually come across as a helpless muddle, a
mixture of populist demagoguery and elitist
authoritarianism.  In
The Mixed Man, as in van
Vogt's better known novel
Slan, he wants to have it
both ways.  His heroes belong to an ostracized and
downtrodden group of outsiders—who are also
presented as a master race with grand ambitions of
conquest and dominance of its own. When it comes
to political ideology, most people either side with
winners or the losers—but leave it to van Vogt to
refuse to acknowledge that these two groups might
be different.  If forced to summarize his own
allegiances, I would say that van Vogt sympathizes
with the underdog who dreams of becoming the
übermensch.

These superior outsiders, in this novel, are the so-
called 'mixed men'—a group who are the offspring
of normal humans and a group of robots
constructed from organic materials (known
respectively as non-Dellians and Dellians in van
Vogt's typically grandiose terminology).  The mixed
men combine the best of these two species,
incorporating the advanced physical and mental
skills of the robots with the imagination and
creativity of humans.   Yet their failed attempt to
seize power has led to reprisals, and the mixed men
have gone into hiding—although their hereditary
leader Peter Maltby leads a double life as a captain
in the space navy of the ruling power, known as the
government of the Fifty Suns.  

The arrival of a huge spaceship from Earth
heightens the conflict between these groups.  The
mixed men realize that they may gain some political
advantage by siding with the visitors, while the
Dellian and non-Dellian citizens hope to preserve
the status quo.  Maltby has torn allegiances, and his
ties are further complicated when he falls in love
with the female commander of the terrestrial
mission, the imperious Lady Laurr.  

As with so many of van Vogt's book,
The Mixed
Men
was what the author called a 'fix-up'—a novel
constructed from previously published shorter
works.  The opening section of
The Mixed Men
draws on "Concealment," a 1943 short story about
a starship on an intergalactic exploratory mission.  
The next section of the book incorporates new
material written for the novel, but also published
separately as "Lost: Fifty Suns."  The middle
portion of the novel recycles "The Storm," a
novelette from 1943, while the concluding section
was originally published as the 1945 novelette "The
Mixed Men" in
Astounding Science Fiction.

These separate plot lines cohere, just barely.  Along
the way, readers encounter the recurring obsessions
that are trademarks of van Vogt's work.  He wrote
a
guide to hypnotism in 1956—but even if you
didn't know that, you might guess his interest in the
subject, based on the constant use of various
techniques of mind control that figure in his
stories.  In
The Mixed Men, Peter Maltby uses his
skill in hypnotism to get himself out of several
predicaments, but is, in turn, subjected to
brainwashing.   In these pages, you also run into
van Vogt's obsession with weaponry and space
combatants, which are invariably presented as the
biggest and baddest in the universe.   The Star
Cluster, the earth starship, is reminiscent of the
Space Beagle in van Vogt's
The Voyage of the Space
Beagle—both of them anticipating the U.S.S.
Enterprise of the
Star Trek television series.   

In the final analysis, this book never rises above
escapist literature.  But with Van Vogt, it's always
a great escape, and no one takes you farther—in
this instance, to the ends of the universe.  His
characters may be hollow, and the dialogue straight
out a Roy Lichenstein cartoon balloon ("The fools!  
They almost deserve death!"), but no author
maintains more relentless pacing, with new conflicts
and complications emerging every few paragraphs.  

Yes, the pinball machine has been replaced by the
video game and the flipper superseded by the
mouse and the game controller.  Even so, the zeal
of young readers for action and adventure remains
unsated in our own time, and the desire for fast-
paced stories has, if anything, increased in the age of
virtual entertainment.   In such an environment, van
Vogt’s "too-much-ain't-enough" approach to
storytelling can hardly fall out of fashion, and I
would hardly be surprised if this book, and its
author, experience a revival at some point. Certainly
this is one pinball wizard who deserves a replay.  
conceptual fiction
The Mixed Men

By A. E. van Vogt
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Related article:
Fix-Up Artist: The Chaotic SF of A.E. van Vogt
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Conceptual Fiction:
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Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

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Hothouse

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Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

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The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

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The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal



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Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
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The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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