The Silkie — A.E. Van Vogt (1964–1969)


Publisher: Ace Books

First Ace Edition, 1969. Beginning in 1964, The Silkie was originally published as a series of novelettes by several different publishers, Ace Books among them, but it is here that the novel first appears as a single work.

Cover Art: Jack Gaughan

Plot Synopsis (of cover): The great detective Sherlock Holmes tamped tobacco into his pipe as he leaned against the fireplace’s ornate mantle. He scanned the room, deliberately taking his time, making the three nervous occupants of the opulent furniture more nervous still. As his match was half-struck, one such occupant, Colonel M. Horseradish, could contain himself no longer. “Holmes!” he exclaimed. “Out with it! Enough theatrics! Who has stolen the Prince Albert Emerald? Are they in this room?” Another, Mrs. Blau, was confused. “The Prince Albert Emerald? I thought we were here to discuss the disappearance of my pearl necklace,” she said. Sherlock lit his pipe and replied, “Colonel, Madame, the solutions to your pitiful mysteries are so elementary that I choose not to involve myself in the revelation of their solutions.” As he puffed, the third guest, the bumbling Professor Puce, demanded, “Well, we’re all gathered here for some damned reason! Has there been a murder? Is there a piece of art missing from the British Museum? What?” Sherlock smiled and replied, “No. Nothing is missing at all. I have gathered you all here today because I have come to suspect one of your number to be a fraud. Not in your chosen profession, but in your humanity itself! To wit, I am here to accuse one of you of being a giant louse in disguise!” Colonel Horseradish harrumphed, showing his distaste for what was obvious to him to be a bad joke. Mrs. Blau, having feared the great detective would rightly accuse her of selling her necklace on the sly, sighed in relief. Professor Puce nervously eyed the exit whilst nibbling on some discarded skin cells.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: First, there are parts of this novel that definitely betray its origins as a series of independent publishings. Repeated explanations and uncomfortable transitions are more easily spotted here than in many other novels of piecemeal assemblage. While it does weaken the flow of narrative to a manageably irritating degree, the narrative itself is satisfying enough to power through. It’s pretty bizarre, and unique. At times it’s confusing, but in an artistic way—rather than hold your hand though its telling, it assumes that you can fill in a finite number of gaps, and allows your own reason to become part of its story (**Warning: Novel assumes reader can read. May contain words. Do not administer internally.**). The setting is pretty wild, the range of significance varies from personal to extracosmic in the span of 190 pages, and it introduces some pretty neato concepts that affix it well to the tapestry of revolutionary 1960s sci fi novels. It also has a giant bug on the cover, making it perfect for grossing out girls on the playground.

Rating: 9.4 Sexy Fish-Men

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Is this why you’re supposed to cook hamburger to 160 F?
  • Why aren’t more self-help books urging us to seek The Tick Within?
  • Is it creepier to imagine one of these, huge, in your chest, or thousands of them, microscopic, in your eyebrows? Note: One of these things is true. Sweet dreams.

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