Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: The House That Stood Still

I picked up this book because of the author. He's not one I've fallen for, but so many classic sci-fi authors that I do respect talk about A.E. Van Vogt. So far I'm still trying to figure out if there's any reason for that other than them being friends.

This book has a promising idea. It has some interesting ways that it could have developed but didn't. I can see enjoying it if it were rewritten or adapted for TV. Instead I read this.

Many thousands of years ago a space ship crashed into what is now southern California. The ship had a telepathic interface that it used to influence the primitive natives to dig it out and tried to get them to fix it. Of course, they couldn't. It got them to build a big Incan... or possibly Mayan temple around it. But it treated the stones in such a way that they made those who lived in the building effectively immortal. In this way it could continue to guide the development of those under it's influence until they had the technical savvy to fix the ship.

Centuries passed. A lost ship of explorers crashed on the California coast. They were welcomed into the house/temple by the master of the house who was never seen again. He welcomed them because he knew he couldn't hold them off.

Realizing the ship was exerting some control the telepathic interface was smashed. I forget by who.

The house is under the control of a man named Tannahill. He was captain of the ship that crashed. He and his crew and some native women whose husbands were killed so his men could marry them still live in the house or at least spend enough time in it to keep getting made young again. They have all gotten educations and taken jobs that gives the group effective control of the area. There are also some people who were once kicked out of the house/temple who still live in the area and want back in. I'm not clear how that worked. But at this point they seem to be happy to do janitorial work in the house.

The story starts around 1950. At least I assume it does. That's when the original book came out. A man by the name of Stevens, an outsider to the group, has been hired to oversee legal matters attached to the property. He's taken over from another outsider. The group does this every time Mr Tannenhill fakes his death and starts pretending to be his own nephew or something. But this time he's been poisoned to cause amnesia. He thinks he really is his own nephew. It's a play for control of the property triggered partially because they're convinced an atomic war is coming. Some want to take the ship to Mars and wait it out. Some want to try to stop the war. It's not clear why they think atomic war is coming. Maybe they're gonna start it. It's one of those things about the book that is terribly vague and is stated as fact with no apparent cause. Who is likely to make the decision is based partially on who controls Tannenhill and thus the house.

The most interesting parts of the book were the ones that told about the house's history. It seems well thought out. The rest... meh. Stevens has too much knowledge that apparently jumps into his head fully formed. A strange woman shows up at his house. He knows her full name. And he knows the names of the thugs that are chasing her. The fact of the impending nuclear crisis is touched on but largely ignored. Oh, and they have a ship that they can use to take into space or to Mars without disturb anyone in the surrounding countryside. No big deal. They prevent the war by buzzing some country I've never heard of in their shuttles. The country blames the Americans for attacking them. HOW DOES THIS PREVENT WAR!?!

All the problems I have with this book are in the telling. A different author could do much better. I could also see this working as a struggle between the people in control of the house now and the people who were booted 500-600 years ago trying to get it back.

Don't bother with this book.

No comments: