by A.E. Van Vogt & Kevin J. Anderson
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765316752
Date: 10 July 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Having exhausted the supply of unfinished Frank Herbert manuscripts and notes, Kevin Anderson has turned his attention to A.E. van Vogt's unfinished sequel to his classic novel Slan. Published in 1940, Slan was the first novel about good super-powered mutants and had a huge impact on fandom. The book remains in print today (see review). By contrast, Anderson's novel does not have the same enthusiastic innocence that propelled Slan. Though he labors mightily to produce a golden age feel, even to the extent of developing a plausible reason why technology has regressed so much, ultimately this sequel fails to capture the flavor of the original.
The novel Slan ends with slan Jommy Cross discovering that the tendrilless slans, who lack the ability to read minds, are about to make war on Earth. After realizing that the true slans are not the secret rulers of the tendrilless ones, he reasons that they would be ruling the humans instead. He infiltrates the palace, discovers that the slans are in charge, and is reunited with his love--who has been restored to life by slan technology. But in the sequel, this situation is immediately reversed. John Petty, the head of the secret police, discovers that Earth President Kier Gray is a secret slan and has disarmed and locked him up along with Jommy. So the government is already in a crisis when the tendrilless slans attack. The palace is destroyed and Jommy, his love Kathleen, Kier, and John all flee together, with the goal of finding a way to fight back. Meanwhile, in a second plotline, a human woman with a slan baby finds refuge in a library with a secret archive that tells the true history of the slans.
A basic problem is that much of Slan Hunter contradicts what was said in the original Slan. In that book it is clear that Kier Gray is the leader of an organized group of slans ruling the humans. Gray even says that there are seldom less than 100 slans around the palace. But in the sequel, Gray is by himself and has no connection to a slan organization. In the first book, Jommy understood the principles of his father's atomic disintegrator gun well enough to create a miniature version in a ring. But in Slan Hunter, a major plot point is that Jommy can't duplicate the gun and so risks his life to return to the capital to recover it. Another problem is the deus ex machine solution isn't even triggered by anything Jommy, Kier, or Kathleen do. And a third problem is that Jommy does not behave like the character in Slan. In that book, Jommy is a super-genius who made long-range plans and had the patience to see them through. In Slan Hunter, he acts impulsively, most notably in his return to Centropolis.
The novel Slan has survived 67 years without needing a sequel. Slan Hunter, though based on Van Vogt's "ideas, characters, and dialogue", according to the introduction, and in many respects flowing directly out of the first novel, still seems to lack the intangible spark that makes Slan a true classic of science fiction. Readers for whom Slan was just another action story will find Slan Hunter serviceably continues the adventure. However, readers looking for a sequel that matches the original will be disappointed.