5. Different Versions


All revisions made to Slan over the years can be categorized as minor, and the overall story is substantially the same regardless of which version you read. However, study of these other versions is still fascinating and rewarding, as van Vogt's continuous development as a writer — even well into his career! — is vividly demonstrated.

No fewer than five different versions of the novel have seen print over the decades. However, although there are distinct differences between each of these five versions, to think of the novel as consisting of five unique versions tends to needlessly overcomplicate things. Roughly speaking, there are only two main versions of the novel: the 1940/46 version, and the 1951/68 version. Within these two main groups, there are minor variations between the 1940 and 1946 versions, and between the 1951 and 1968 versions.

(You'll notice that I've left out one of the five versions from either of these main groups. This "loner" version of Slan, which appeared in the Summer 1952 issue of Fantastic Story, can honestly be described as insignificant, and is not worth studying or discussing. For more on the reasons why this is so, see below.)

The major changes made to the novel can be summed up fairly easily:

Litmus Test

How can you tell which version of the novel you have? There are a few easy tests you can perform to find out. Unfortunately, as far as I have been able to determine, there is no single passage that differs in every version. So, to be absolutely certain, you're going to have to take a look at a handful of different passages. I've tried to make all of these passages as quick and easy to locate as possible — most are at the beginning of key chapters.

List of Different Versions
1940 Astounding SF Original version

(Magazine serial)
1946 Arkham Slightly revised 1940 text

(Hardback book,
first book publication)
1951 Simon & Schuster Further revisions to 1946 text

(Hardback book)
1952 Fantastic Story Abridged 1940 text

(Magazine reprint)
1968 Berkley Medallion Further revisions to 1951 text

(Paperback book)

Chapter Divisions

The chapter divisions for the serial are different than all of the book versions of the novel. This chart shows which chapter divisions correspond with which. Roman numerals are used for the chapter numbers in the serial; arabic numerals are used for the book versions.

The chapters in the 1940 serial were often split in half between installments, so that the first half would appear at the end of one installment and be resumed in the next. This was an unusual procedure. The usual method with serials was that the end of an installment was always also the end of a chapter. In the 1946 book version, all of the installment breaks were later made into a regular chapter breaks.

(The abridged 1952 reprint found in Fantastic Story Magazine is not included here — since a fair amount of material was removed from the novel, its chapter divisions do not correspond to any other version. But since this text is a "blind alley" of sorts, and of limited interest, I've decided to exclude its chapter divisions from the chart.)

1940 Serial 1946 Onward
Part I Chapter I Chapter 1
Chapter II Chapter 2
Chapter III Chapter 3
Chapter IV Chapter 4
Chapter V Chapter 5
Part II Chapter 6
Chapter VI Chapter 7
Chapter VII Chapter 8
Chapter VIII Chapter 9
Part III Chapter IX Chapter 10
Chapter X Chapter 11
Chapter XI Chapter 12
Chapter XII Chapter 13
Chapter XIII Chapter 14
Part IV Chapter 15
Chapter XIV Chapter 16
Chapter XV Chapter 17
Chapter XVI Chapter 18

1940 — Astounding Serial

First appearance of Slan.
Serialized in Astounding Science Fiction magazine from September through December 1940.

The original 1940 text had many of the characteristics of Van's early magazine work. It comes across as "first draft" material, written very quickly with very little looking back, streamlining, ironing out inconsistencies, or cutting out unnecessary detail. This was undoubtedly because these were written on a tight deadline, and he did not have the luxury of going back over previously written material as meticulously as he would have liked. The fact that he spent much of his career revising the magazine versions of his novels and stories indicates that he never really considered these serials to be the ideal version, and it was only after becoming an established and financially secure author that he was finally afforded the time to go back and "finish" his novels properly for book publication.

As discussed above, the later chapter divisions in this 1940 version differ from the book versions.

Each part of the serial contained the same full-page illustration for the title page, and two illustrations within the text. All were done by Charles Schneeman.



Chapter 18

The final chapter of the novel is markedly different in the 1940s versions, and was revised considerably in 1951. The original version, I feel, is stronger and more lucid, and I think it's a shame that he changed it. The differences are too many to enumerate individually, but here are the major differences:

1946 — Arkham Hardback

First book publication.
A minor revision to the 1940 serial.

This was very similar to the contents of the 1940 serial. Some of the rougher aspects of the "first draft" feel of the serial were done away with, with most of the changes being stylistic rather than story content. These stylistic changes were carried over into the 1951 version (which also added many further changes).

The text of the Arkham edition was reprinted once, as a hardback by the Science Fiction Book Club in 1978. Since the Arkham version is so similar to the original Astounding version, buying this book club edition is an affordable alternative to the more expensive issues of Astounding (to say nothing of the rare Arkham edition!).

Major Differences

1951 — Simon & Schuster Hardback

Second book publication.
Substantial revisions to the 1946 text.

This edition marks the first time that Slan was available from a major publisher, and was something of a major event in the SF community at the time, even warranting a full-page ad in the January 1952 issue of Astounding. Prior to that, fans had had to pay outrages sums of money for the ultra-rare Arkham edition.



Chapter 18

As noted above, Chapter 18 underwent radical changes in the 1951 version. The ten paragraphs following "He reached toward a buzzer button on his desk, and pressed it." near the end of Chapter 18 are new to this edition, and were carried over into the 1968 version. Information presented in this new section include:

1952 — Fantastic Story

Magazine reprint.
An abridged and slightly-rewritten version of the 1940 serial.

The Summer 1952 issue of Fantastic Story magazine featured an abridged version of the 1940 serial. (As such, from a technical standpoint, it should be grouped together with the 1940/46 version.)

Minor scenes are eliminated, and numerous descriptions are tightened up by discarding the occasional word or phrase. There are some sentences that have been altered or newly added by the editor to better bridge the gaps where material has been removed. Bizarrely, there are also numerous other arbitrary changes throughout the text that seem to be nothing more than minor tweaks with the writing style. And to further muddy the waters, the chapter divisions here are different than any other version. All of these factors make comparison with the other versions of Slan an incredibly tedious and difficult task.

This abridgement only appeared once, in this issue of the magazine, and never again. When we consider that this magazine must have seen relatively limited circulation, and that the original serial of Slan had already been superceded by no fewer than two different book editions of the novel, and that this version of the serial has been distorted almost beyond recognition anyway, I believe this version can honestly be described as an insignificant curiosity and not worth studying or discussing.

This abridgement was undoubtedly the work of Samuel Mines, the editor of the magazine at the time. As far as I know van Vogt had no creative input into this version; it was just a routine reprint of a classic SF story, in a magazine whose primary purpose was to provide cheap pulp reprints of SF classics.

The only noteworthy thing about this version is some nice illustrations by Virgil Finlay:

1968 — Berkley Paperback

Paperback, new edition.
Further revisions to 1951 version.

Apart from some specific scenes, this is essentially the 1951 version of the novel. Its main difference is some further, very specific revisions to two of the minor characters. Van Vogt may have decided to make these alterations as late as 1968 because of his study of Dianetics that took up much of his time from 1950 to 1970. His deeper interest in people and their motivations may have inspired him to work on his characterization techniques.


Two minor characters, Davy Dinsmore and Jem Lorry, are given substantial overhauls. While they remain minor players in the story, they are given fuller back stories and more interesting roles.

Terraforming Mars

A lengthy footnote about the terraforming of Mars using ice asteroids was added to Chapter 16 (page 153). When the novel first appeared in 1940 it was thought that Mars and Venus had naturally breathable atmospheres. During the early 1960s more was learned about these two planets during the Cold War Space Race, and van Vogt inserted this new information to bring the story more in line with the latest discoveries about the actual nature of Mars.

Interestingly, just two years later when van Vogt revised The World of Null-A, the same technique was used in the story to terraform Venus. Reading these sections from the two novels, one after the other, gives one a strange feeling of déjà vu!

The same legend that had portrayed man or slan as once having spaceships whispered the myth that huge ice or oxygen meteorites from Jupiter and Saturn — comprising thousands of cubic miles of frozen water and frozen air — had been guided toward all the potentially habitable planets, and exploded. This immense debris, falling onto the barren worlds of Mars, Venus, and some of the moons of Jupiter, created — it was said — oceans and vast atmospheres where none, or at least nothing worthwhile, had been before.

—Slan (1968), Chapter 16 (Berkley edition page 153)

[Gosseyn] picked up the volume on Venusian history. It told the story of the first men to walk on Venus late in the twentieth century. It described how the boiling hell of that atmosphere was tamed as early as the first quarter of the twenty-first century, of how ice meteorites from Jupiter were coasted into a close orbit around Venus, and of how as a result it rained for thousands of days and nights.
The ice meteorites ranged in size from ten to a hundred cubic miles; and when they had melted their huge volume of water down on the surface, and into the atmosphere, Venus had oceans and oxygen in its atmosphere.

—The World of Null-A (1970 version), Chapter 10 (Berkley edition page 73)