I can now put my finger on it…
Something was bugging me while reading Cosmic Engineers. I couldn’t work out what it really was, but during the course of reading it and then doing the Review I felt there was something missing in the book. Something lacking that I didn’t have the experience to identify and bring to the light of day.
I’m reading The Mixed Men at present. While reading (I’m about half-way through) it suddenly occurred to me what that something was. It was something that was present in The Mixed Men and shone out so distinctly when I thought about Cosmic Engineers. In a word: Character. Or rather Characters. Real ones.
Author of The Mixed Men, A.E. van Vogt dwells a lot in the minds of the principle characters. We learn what they are thinking and why, a little of their history as people and what makes them tick. This is totally absent in Cosmic Engineers. With the possible exception of the revived female character whom we do learn a little about, the other characters are cardboard cut-outs. No back story, we never learn what they are really thinking and as a result, I at least didn’t really care about them, or the story. And this, I think, was also part of the reason I was so critical of it. I imagine if the characters involved were more substantial, if we got some more insight into their personalities and thoughts, then some of the more outlandish stuff may not have mattered so much.