Early Scientology Supporter A.E. van Vogt Dies at 87

News Services, February 2, 2000

LOS ANGELES-A.E. van Vogt, 87, the science fiction writer whose telepathic mutants, superhuman races and dangerous creatures from outer space blazed a trail for the "Alien" films, died Jan. 26 in a nursing home in here. He had Alzheimer's disease.

He wrote 38 novels and 47 short-story collections, including such postwar science fiction classics as "Slan," "The Voyage of the Space Beagle," the "World of Null-A" trilogy and "The Weapon Shops of Isher." He was an early proponent of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics theory of self-healing, though he was not a follower of Scientology itself. Both men had been science fiction writers working for the field's leading magazine in the 1940s, Astounding Science Fiction, which created a stir by publishing a Hubbard essay on Dianetics.

Paul Levinson, president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which named Mr. van Vogt a grandmaster of the genre -- its highest honor -- in 1997, said:

"A.E. van Vogt helped define science fiction by taking it from the Flash Gordon and bug-eyed monster . . . genre it was in the 1930s to the more profound level it is on today, where it considers and debates such issues as the meaning of life.

"His classic short story 'Black Destroyer' is considered to be the source or inspiration for the 'Alien' film series because it is not only about an alien threatening to destroy humanity but how the threat triggers a Conradian darkness in our own souls."

The story pays homage to Joseph Conrad's classic tale of evil in 19th-century Africa, "Heart of Darkness."

Critics say that for the decade after the publication of "Black Destroyer" in 1939, Mr. van Vogt was the defining voice of science fiction. He followed up his initial success with other out-of-this-world tales like "Asylum," "The Search" and "The Dreams of the Sorceress."

One of his best-known novels, "Slan," tells of a telepathic mutant trying to escape being killed by humans who can identify him by the little gold tendrils that come off his forehead and sweep into his hair. Alfred Elton van Vogt was born of Dutch parents on a farm south of Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was a 1928 graduate of the University of Ottawa in Canada. His first writing efforts were for True Confessions magazine, where he honed his descriptive arts.

"You don't say, 'I lived at 323 Grand Street.' You say something like, 'Tears came to my eyes as I thought of my little room at 323 Grand Street,' " he once told an interviewer. He began submitting stories and serials to Astounding Science Fiction in 1939.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1944.

Mr. van Vogt headed Hubbard's California Dianetics operation in 1950. It proved a short-term appointment. "The organization spent $500,000 in nine months and went broke, because at that time there were a tremendous number of attacks on Dianetics," Mr. van Vogt told an interviewer.

Dianetics was incorporated into the framework of Scientology, but Mr. van Vogt said he was not interested in Scientology because of its mystical and religious aspects.

He and a partner opened their own Dianetics Center in Los Angeles, which he helped support with collections of his short stories. The venture lasted about eight years.

His first wife, the former Edna Hull, died in 1975.

Survivors include his wife, Lydia Brayman.

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