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
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

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
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
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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Abbott, Edwin A.

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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Barefoot in the Head

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Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

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The House of the Spirits

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Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

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Time's Arrow

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The Foundation Trilogy

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I, Robot

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2001: A Space Odyssey

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Little, Big

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Delany, Samuel R.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

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The Man in the High Castle

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Camp Concentration

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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

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I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

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Like Water for Chocolate

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American Gods

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Winter's Tale

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Gods Without Men

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Conjure Wife

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The Wanderer

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His Master's Voice

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The Fortress of Solitude

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Magic for Beginners

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Herovit's World

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Doctor Faustus

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100 Years of Solitude

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Wittgenstein's Mistress

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Cloud Atlas

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Gravity's Rainbow

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Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

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Dying  Inside

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The Mixed Men

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The World of Null A

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Around the Moon

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Cat's Cradle

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Lord of Light

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This Immortal

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Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
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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