A.E. van Vogt: Asylum (1942)


A vampire story. Reminded me of The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson (1976). Looking at Wilson’s introduction that turned out to be no coincidence at all. His book was directly inspired by “Asylum,” and in fact Wilson was a friend of van Vogt and discussed it with him.

Amazingly, “Asylum” is set in the future (with regard to 1942).

The first murders on the North American continent in twenty-seven years. And it was only another job. By Heaven, he was tougher than he’d ever believed.

Would you believe, mr. Van Vogt, that in 2017 the North American continent would have 47 murders in the US alone, on average on a single day?¹

Then there is this:

“ —normally, when the electric embalmers are applied, there is resistance from the static electricity of the body. Curiously, that resistance was not present in either body.”

Somebody said: “Just what does that mean?”

“This static force is actually a form of life force, which usually trickles out of a corpse over a period of a month. We know of no way to hasten the process, but the bruises on the lips show distinct burns, which are suggestive.”

This supposed “life force” is essential to the story. My question is: did Van Vogt knowingly depart from the scientific knowledge of his day? Or was there still an amount of uncertainty about what being alive meant? I’m inclined to doubt that Van Vogt himself thought that there could be such a thing. Mabye he expected that a lot of his readers would assume that it could be a real thing. However, as of now, I don’t know what he, or most educated people in 1942, would have thought about a hypothetical “life force”.

“I thought,” Leigh called distinctly, “there were no more perverts since Professor Ungarn persuaded the government to institute his brand of mechanical psychology in all schools, thus ending murder, theft, war and all unsocial perversions.”

Sounds like a Van Vogtian theme. One guy inventing a method to end all unsocial perversions—including war. Only on the North American continent? Or are we talking world government already? Couldn’t this guy have cured our temptation to use toxic drugs like cigarettes as well?

And you warn that, in these days of interplanetary speeds, he could be anywhere tonight for his next murder.

“interplanetary speeds”—Yeah, I wish. Again, I wonder about what people in 1942 thought was likely to happen really, with regard to technological progress. And if for Van Vogt these things were just deliberate literary devices, not in any sense predictions of what was to come.

1. For 2017, 17,284 reported murder and non-negligent manslaughter cases in the U.S. [source]