Book Review: SLAN
Many years ago, when I attended science fiction conventions as regularly as I do anarcho-conferences today, I’d often see fans sporting buttons that read “Fans are slans.” We all knew what that meant: sci-fi fans were, well, mutants — and damn proud of it, too. “Slan” referred to A.E. Van Vogt’s 1946 novel Slan, which was, even 30 years later, required reading for serious fans. Just as you were expected to have read Asimov’s Foundation novels, or Dune, or umpteen Heinlein tomes, it was taken for granted that everyone had read Slan. Times have changed. Slan has become one of the “lost classics,” a novel that only those interested in science fiction’s Golden Age ever read.
Confession: I never read Slan until this past week, when I dug it out of a stack of books that I’ve been meaning to read for the past 20 years. And now I finally “get it.” Now I know why I probably should have read Van Vogt’s book back in high school. Sure, the novel’s old, and its characters drive around in traditional cars and talk to each other on rotary phones. But Slan holds up. And its political message still rings loud and clear. New readers will see parallels with the X-Men, which came two decades later.
Slan is, in a way, a “coming of age” novel, much like the old juveniles of the 1940s. Its focus is young Jommy Cross, one of a genetically bred race of super-intelligent, mind-reading humans (or “slans”) now hated and outlawed by the “normal” humans. The novel follows Jommy’s life from age nine to about 23, and his story is a tale of survival, tragedy, hope, and of one young man’s dream to unite the norms and slans in peaceful coexistence. It’s entertaining as hell, and it leaves a philosophic aftertaste that lingers pleasantly.
Maybe 30 years too late (but better late than never, I suppose), I recommend Slan enthusiastically.