Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A E van Vogt's "Empire of the Atom" (collection, free): Annotated table of contents & review

Cover image of the short story collection titled Empire of the Atom by A E van Vogt. Cover shows Lord Clane of Linn in his temple garb to hide his mutation, symbolically managing the Atom Gods.Two things make the generally sub-par series of stories collected here noteworthy:

  1. It probably inspired Lois McMaster Bujold's "Miles Vorkosigan" series. I've read only one Vorkosigan story - "The Mountains of Mourning", but there is too much similarity in the fictional universes: feudal but space traveling society that is a remnant of old glory days of humanity, & a severely handicapped hero from ruling dynasty who must make a place for himself in a society that is unreasonably prejudiced against his handicap. But "The Mountains of Mourning" is infinitely more interesting than anything in this van Vogt original.
  2. In some sense, this series can probably be considered a precursor to steampunk. At least I'm not aware of anything older that qualifies.
This book collects all stories in "Lord Clane of Linn" series (aka "Atom Gods" series?) of author, except the novel "The Wizard of Linn" that logically follows the last story in this collection.


Humanity once traveled the stars, but those days are long gone. There was a devastating war with aliens - so now we have small human societies on many worlds of the solar system - including earth (population a few million), Mars, Venus, & "Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter". And a lot of ruins of old cities - though radioactivity on those sites is now on the wane.

Earth is now a feudal society ruled by the mean Linn family whose members are constantly assassinating or otherwise pulling down each other in never ending power struggles. But the society also has access to the remnants of ancient technology like advanced spaceships & some weapons. This old technology is used with ritual rather then understanding; priests that serve the temples dedicated to four Atom Gods handle the ancient technology.

This series is the developing story of Lord Clane, a mutant born into the Linn family. Stories describe his transformation from being a definite case for infanticide for shaming the aristocratic family by being a mutant to the ruler of the universe.

Table of contents.

List below is in order of logical progression of stories. I had a tough time going through first two stories; rest were easier - either because they're better, or because I was getting used to the curious universe of the stories.
  1. [ss] "A Son is Born"; download; Astounding, May 1946: Even Lady Tania, the mother of newborn & daughter-in-law of the current ruler ("Lord Leader"), doesn't expect her mutant son to live, & is puzzled why Scientist Joquin, a priest, is intent on saving him. Child will remain unnamed in this story; first use of his name - Clane - happens only in the next story.
  2. [novelette] "Child of the Gods"; download; Astounding, August 1946: Creg, Clane's father, is commanding the earth army raiding Mars & has been losing so far - thanks to back stabbing of Lydia, his step mother who wants her son Tews to be the next Lord Leader.

    Brilliant teenager Clane, protected & educated so far by Joquin, will help his father win the losing war by offering a valuable advise. Though his father will be later assassinated by hired killers of Tews, who will then run to exile fearing Lord Leader's punishment.
  3. [novelette] "Hand of the Gods"; download; Astounding, December 1946: Lydia manages to convince her husband Lord Leader to name her son Tews, in exile since his part in assassination of Creg, the successor before Lord Leader's death. Tews will assume the title of "Lord Adviser".

    But she has also learnt of the growing power of Clane, & will go to any length to have him assassinated. Only Clane is way too powerful, & Lydia will eventually be humbled.
  4. [novelette] "Home of the Gods"; download; Astounding, April 1947: Jerrin, Clane's elder brother, is about to win his military campaign against Venusian rebels but is being thwarted by "Lord Adviser" Tews, the current ruler of Linn. Clane will play the diplomat & military leader, & will have each of the 3 parties to war eventually obliged to him - his brother, Tews, & rebels.
  5. [novelette] "The Barbarian"; download; Astounding, December 1947: Czinczar, leader of the barbarian hoard from Europa, is finding earth easy to conquer. Lord Adviser Tews has been beheaded, & there is little resistance to Czinczar. Of course, Clane will eventually humble Czinczar, & reclaim the empire for Linn family.

Fact sheet.

First published in book form: 1957.
Stories here are also listed among the stories from John Campbell's Astounding/Analog.
Related: Stories of A E van Vogt; mutants in fiction.
Legend: ss = short story.


Paul said...

Cool cover!

Chuck Rothman said...

You realize that Empire of the Atom was a direct steal from Robert Grave's I, Claudius and the history of Imperial Rome