The World of Null-A

The World of Null-A, sometimes written The World of Ā, is a 1948 science fiction novel by Canadian American writer A. E. van Vogt. It was originally published as a three-part serial in 1945 in Astounding Stories. It incorporates concepts from the General Semantics of Alfred Korzybski. The name Ā refers to non-Aristotelian logic.

The World of Null-A
World A
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
AuthorA. E. van Vogt
Cover artistLeo Manso
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback)
Followed byThe Pawns of Null-A 

Plot summary

Gilbert Gosseyn (pronounced go sane), a man living in an apparent utopia where those with superior understanding and mental control rule the rest of humanity, wants to be tested by the giant Machine that determines such superiority. However, he finds that his memories are false. In his search for his real identity, he discovers that he has extra bodies that are activated when he dies (so that, in a sense, he cannot be killed), that a galactic society of humans exists outside the Solar system, a large interstellar empire wishes to conquer both the Earth and Venus (inhabited by masters of non-Aristotelian logic), and he has extra brain matter that, when properly trained, can allow him to move matter with his mind.

Publication history

The novel originally appeared as a serial entitled "The World of Ā" in the August 1945 to October 1945 issues of the magazine Astounding Science Fiction, which was edited by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Van Vogt significantly revised and shortened the tale for the 1948 novel release. Like the serial, the 1948 hardcover (Simon & Schuster) and the 1950 hardcover (Grosset & Dunlap) editions were entitled The World of Ā. To reduce printing costs, the 1953 and 1964 Ace Books paperback editions were entitled The World of Null-A, and the symbol Ā was replaced with "null-A" throughout the text.

For the 1970 revision, entitled The World of Null-A, the symbol Ā was permanently replaced with "null-A" throughout the text. Van Vogt added some brief new passages to chapters 10, 24, and 35. The 1970 revision also included a new introduction in which van Vogt defended the controversial work, but also admitted that the original serial had been flawed.

Critical reception

The World of Null-A was the first hardcover science fiction novel published after World War II (Simon & Schuster, 1948). It won the Manuscripters Club Award. It was listed by the New York area library association among the hundred best novels of 1948. World of Null-A has been translated into 9 languages, and when first published, created the French Science Fiction Market all by itself - according to Jacques Sadoul, editor of Editions OPTA. The World of Null-A finished second in the Retro Hugo award voting for Best Novel of 1945 presented in 1996 at L.A.con III.

For many years, two quotes appeared on the paperback editions of this novel. "Without doubt one of the most exciting, continuously complex and richly patterned science fiction novels ever written!" - Groff Conklin; and "One of those once-in-a-decade classics!" - John Campbell.

The novel was the subject of an extended critical essay by fellow author and critic Damon Knight. In "Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. van Vogt",[1] Knight writes that "far from being a 'classic' by any reasonable standard, The World of Ā is one of the worst allegedly-adult science fiction stories ever published." Knight criticizes the novel on four main levels:

  1. Plot: "The World of Ā abounds in contradictions, misleading clues and irrelevant action...It is [van Vogt's] habit to introduce a monster, or a gadget, or an extra-terrestrial culture, simply by naming it, without any explanation of its nature...By this means, and by means of his writing style, which is discursive and hard to follow, van Vogt also obscures his plot to such an extent that when it falls to pieces at the end, the event passes without remark."
  2. Characterization: "Van Vogt's characters repeatedly commit the error known as the double-take. This phenomenon is funny because it represents a mental failure...Its cause is inability to absorb a new fact until a ridiculously long time has elapsed. In The World of Ā there are twelve examples in all."
  3. Background: "In van Vogt's world, the advancement over 1945...amounts to no more than (a) a world government; (b) a handful of gadgets...van Vogt has not bothered to integrate the gadgets into the technological background of his story, and he has no clear idea of their nature."
  4. Style: "Examples of bad writing in The World of Ā could be multiplied endlessly. It is my personal opinion that the whole of it is written badly, with only minor exceptions."

In his author's introduction to the 1970 revised edition, van Vogt acknowledges that he has taken Knight's criticisms seriously, thus the reason for his revising the novel so many years after its original publication.


The World of Null-A was followed by the sequel, The Pawns of Null-A (also known as The Players of Null-A) (1956), and much later by a follow-up, Null-A Three (1984).

In 2008 John C. Wright wrote a new chapter to the story of Gilbert Gosseyn, Null-A Continuum, in the style of van Vogt.


  1. ^ Knight, Damon (1967). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent. pp. 47–62.

External links

A. E. van Vogt

Alfred Elton van Vogt (; April 26, 1912 – January 26, 2000) was a Canadian-born science fiction author. His narrative style was compelling and stimulating, and in this way, influenced later science fiction writers, notably Philip K. Dick. He is regarded as one of the most popular, influential and complex practitioners of the mid-twentieth century, the genre's so-called Golden Age.

Children of Tomorrow

Children of Tomorrow is a 1970 science fiction novel by Canadian-American author A. E. van Vogt.

General semantics

General semantics is a self improvement and therapy program begun in the 1920s that seeks to regulate human mental habits and behaviors. After partial launches under the names human engineering and humanology, Polish-American originator Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950) fully launched the program as general semantics in 1933 with the publication of Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.

In Science and Sanity, general semantics is presented as both a theoretical and a practical system whose adoption can reliably alter human behavior in the direction of greater sanity. In the 1947 preface to the third edition of Science and Sanity, Korzybski wrote: "We need not blind ourselves with the old dogma that 'human nature cannot be changed', for we find that it can be changed." However, in the opinion of a majority of psychiatrists, the tenets and practices of general semantics are not an effective way of treating patients with psychological or mental illnesses. While Korzybski considered his program to be empirically based and to strictly follow the scientific method, general semantics has been described as veering into the domain of pseudoscience.Starting around 1940, university English professor S. I. Hayakawa (1906–1992), speech professor Wendell Johnson, speech professor Irving J. Lee, and others assembled elements of general semantics into a package suitable for incorporation into mainstream communications curricula. The Institute of General Semantics, which Korzybski and co-workers founded in 1938, continues today. General semantics as a movement has waned considerably since the 1950s, although many of its ideas live on in other movements, such as neuro-linguistic programming and rational emotive behavior therapy.

In Search of Wonder

In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction is a collection of critical essays by American writer Damon Knight. Most of the material in the original version of the book was originally published between 1952 and 1955 in various science fiction magazines including Infinity Science Fiction, Original SF Stories, and Future SF. The essays were highly influential, and contributed to Knight's stature as the foremost critic of science fiction of his generation. The book also constitutes an informal record of the "Boom Years" of science fiction from 1950-1955.

In the opening chapter, Knight states his "credos", two of which are:

That science fiction is a field of literature worth taking seriously, and that ordinary critical standards can be meaningfully applied to it: e.g., originality, sincerity, style, construction, logic, coherence, sanity, garden-variety grammar.

That a bad book hurts science fiction more than ten bad notices.

One essay in the book is "Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. van Vogt", a review of the 1945 magazine serialization of A.E. Van Vogt's The World of Null-A, in which Knight "exposed the profound irrationality lying at the heart of much traditional science fiction".In 1956 Knight was awarded a Hugo as "Best Book Reviewer" based largely on the essays reprinted in this book.

M33 in Andromeda

M33 in Andromeda is a collection of six science fiction stories by Canadian-American writer A. E. van Vogt, first published in April 1971.

Masters of Time

Masters of Time is a collection of two science fiction novellas by author A. E. van Vogt. It was first published in 1950 by Fantasy Press in an edition of 4,034 copies. The novellas originally appeared in the magazine Astounding.

Monsters (collection)

Monsters is a collection of eight science fiction short stories by Canadian-American writer A.E. van Vogt; written during 1940 and 1950, they were assembled by Forrest J. Ackerman in 1965.

More Than Superhuman

More Than Superhuman is a collection of science fiction short stories by Canadian-American writer A.E. van Vogt, published in 1971.

Null-A Three

Null-A Three, usually written Ā Three, is a 1985 science fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt. It incorporates concepts from the General semantics of Alfred Korzybski and refers to non-Aristotelian logic.

The novel is a continuation of the adventures of Gilbert Gosseyn from The World of Null-A (1945) and The Pawns of Null-A (1948).

Out of the Unknown (collection)

Out of the Unknown is a collection of fantasy short stories by Canadian writers A. E. van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull. It was first published in 1948 by Fantasy Publishing Company, Inc. in an edition of 1,000 copies. The stories originally appeared in the magazine Unknown.

S. I. Hayakawa

Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa (July 18, 1906 – February 27, 1992) was a Canadian-born American academic and politician of Japanese ancestry. A professor of English, he served as president of San Francisco State University, and then as U.S. Senator from California from 1977 to 1983.

Sphere Books

Sphere Books is the name of two British paperback publishers.

Supermind (novel)

Supermind is a science fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt first published in complete form in 1977 by publisher DAW Books. It is a fix-up of "Asylum," a short story first published in Astounding Science Fiction in May 1942.

The Mind Cage

The Mind Cage is a 1957 science fiction novel by Canadian-American writer A. E. Van Vogt, adapted from the short story "The Great Judge" (1948).

The Pawns of Null-A

The Pawns of Null-A is a 1956 science fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt originally published as a four-part serial in Astounding Stories from October 1948 to January 1949 as The Players of Null-A. It incorporates concepts from the General semantics of Alfred Korzybski and refers to non-Aristotelian logic. It was published in the UK with the original name.

The novel is a continuation of the story of Gilbert Gosseyn from The World of Null-A, expanding on the galactic events which drove the interplanetary invasion of the earlier story.

The Universe Maker

The Universe Maker is a science fiction novel by American author A.E. van Vogt, published in 1953 by Ace Books as an Ace Double with The World of Null-A. It is based on the author's "The Shadow Men" (Startling Stories, 1950).Set 400 years into the future, the main character is Morton Cargill, a U.S. Army officer who served in the Korean War.

The World of Narue

The World of Narue (Japanese: 成恵の世界, Hepburn: Narue no Sekai) is an Sci-Fi anime and manga series about Kazuto Izuka, a fourteen-year-old boy who meets a somewhat weird but cute and independent girl named Narue Nanase, who claims she is an alien. The show is about the trials and tribulations of the young couple as they get to know each other. The title is taken from A. E. van Vogt's The World of Null-A (Japanese title: 非Aの世界 Naru ē no Sekai).

The manga, spanning 12 volumes as of August 2011, is authored by Tomohiro Marukawa and published by Kadokawa Shoten since 2000. The manga was licensed in North America by the now-defunct CPM Manga. In 2014, the manga received the Seiun Award for Best Comic.The anime series ran on MBS between April 4, 2003 and June 28, 2003 and is 12 episodes long. Central Park Media licensed and released it in a four-disc DVD collection in 2004 under their US Manga Corps label. Following the 2009 bankruptcy and liquidation of Central Park Media, ADV Films picked up the anime series for release on July 21, 2009. Following the closure of A.D. Vision, the series is now distributed by successors Section23 Films and Æsir Holdings.


For A. E. van Vogt's novel, see The World of Null-A.

Ā, lowercase ā, is a grapheme, a Latin A with a macron, used in several orthographies.

In some languages Ā is used to denote a long A. Examples are the Baltic languages, Polynesian languages, some romanizations of Japanese, Persian, Pashto, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (which represgents a long A sound) and Arabic, and some Latin texts (especially for learners). In Romanised Mandarin Chinese (pinyin) it is used to represent A spoken with a level high tone (first tone). It is used in some orthography-based transcriptions of English to represent the diphthong (see Vowel length § Traditional long and short vowels in English orthography), and also in commercial names such as Drāno and Powerāde.

In the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration, Ā represents the open back unrounded vowel, आ, not to be confused with the similar Devanagari character for the mid central vowel, अ.

In the languages other than Sanskrit, Ā is sorted with other A's and is not considered a separate letter. The macron is only considered when sorting words that are otherwise identical. For example, in Māori, tāu (meaning your) comes after tau (meaning year), but before taumata (hill).

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