Plot Summary:

by A.E. van Vogt

Chapters 1-5 of Renaissance were published in the June/July 1979 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction under the title "Femworld: Before the Revolution" with slight alterations to the last few sentences of chapter 5 to make it seem more like a complete story. It was published as a preview to the novel.

Chapter 1

On a future Earth conquered — without a single shot being fired — by the alien Utt, men have been determined to be the cause of all social ills and are rendered near-sighted and forced to wear specially treated glasses with a chemical that makes them docile. Women are dominant and have taken on the roles of men in most professions, except science which women are forbidden to study.

Dr. Peter Grayson is the chief physicist at Haskett Manufacturing Laboratories. One day at work, both lenses of his treated glasses break within moments of each other. He hastily repairs them with a tape made by Haskett Laboratories and which he designed. His boss, an attractive and prim young lady named Miss Haskett, comes in seconds later and because his glasses are damaged, he has an affect on her and they have a conversation the begins relating to his appointment with an optometrist for new glasses, but leads into some innuendo which leaves no doubt that she wishes to have an affair with him. Somewhat alarmed by what has happened, he forgets the time for the appointment and has to ask Miss Haskett's secretary.

Chapter 2

He goes home early, where he lives with his distant wife Mila and their servant, Rosie. Finding Mila to not be home, he retires to his room which is on the opposite side of the house from his wife's room. Later than day, Mila comes in and is seemingly overwhelmed by his male attractiveness. She offers to let him make love to her, which they haven't done in well over twenty years except when she was drunk. He realizes that her offer is made primarily out of fear because she recognized he wasn't wearing the glasses that keep men in a docile, non-violent state. He doesn't make love to her, but instead inquires if Rosie has made dinner yet and chooses that as an excuse to leave the room.

Chapter 3

During dinner he thinks over all that has happened. He tries to discuss what happened with Mila, but she pretends that she never offered him anything.

After dinner, he intends to leave the house to go visit Miss Haskett, but he needs a pretext to leave the house. He asks Mila if she would like to go for a walk with him, but she declines. He takes a public transport (men are not allowed to drive) to Miss Haskett's house and they have coffee. She then gives him a tour of his house, which ends up in the bedroom.

Chapter 4

They end up having sex. He returns to his house and considers the repercussions of what he has done.

Chapter 5

The next morning he eats breakfast alone, and is about to take his usual public transport to work when a car pulls up and a woman inside announces herself as Miss Haskett's secretary, and that she was sent to fetch him. Although he considers this to be very indiscreet, he hops in and they drive off. The woman reveals herself to be a man, a member of the Revolution, and that they witnessed what had happened after his glasses were damaged and rendered useless. He says that if Grayson refuses to help them in their efforts to re-take the world for men, or if he proves to be a worthless cog of the Revolution, that they will have to kill him. After handing him a card with a phone number where he can be reached in an emergency, he drops Grayson off at work, leaving him in a momentarily daze of elation. But throughout the morning he returns to a more-or-less normal state. Regular business proceeds until eleven o'clock comes around and he goes for his appointment with the optometrist, Dr. Burr.

Chapter 6

He and Dr. Burr discuss the nature of short-sightedness while the optometrist prepares an order for his new glasses. Dr. Burr tells him that the broken glasses will have to be reported to an Utt Commissioner as a suspicious occurrence, since the lenses are made of an unbreakable material. This strikes a chord of terror in Grayson. After leaving, he goes to a pay phone and calls the number on the card. He reaches the same man who picked him up for work that morning and describes his situation with Dr. Burr. The man replies "we'll see what we can do" and hangs up. Grayson is rather disappointed that so far he knows of only one member of the Revolution who seems to be its entirety. He returns home, hoping that Dr. Burr hasn't sent his report yet.

Chapter 7

In his room he reminisces about his teenage years — before the Utt came — when his vision was 20-20. The full scale of what is happening to him sinks in. To face an Utt Commissioner is something that he has never heard of anyone else having to undergo. He sleeps poorly that night.

Chapter 8

The next morning at work, he finds a note on his desk from Miss Haskett that his prescription with Dr. Burr has been turned over to Dr. Flendon due to Dr. Burr's sudden death in an accident the previous day, shortly after Grayson called the Revolution. Encouraged by this sign of the Revolution's abilities, he leaves work shortly after noon and goes to Dr. Burr's office to check if he had sent a report to the Utt Commissioner before his death. The secretary there hands him a paper containing Grayson's file, and he sees no note on his broken lenses or about the Utt Commissioner. He leaves, elated, and returns home.

Chapter 9

When Rosie is asked by Grayson where Mila is she responds that Mila isn't home. Grayson is struck by curiosity as to where she goes each afternoon. He asks Rosie where, and she replies that it's none of his business. He looses his temper and shouts at Rosie, demanding she answer his question. Terrified, she tells him, but in his rage he doesn't hear. Rosie locks herself in her room. When Mila returns home she and Rosie have a talk, and during dinner Grayson talks with Mila, pretending he knows everything Rosie said. He subtly manipulates her, trying to get her to get on the same subject so he can truly learn where she goes each afternoon. He gets no information, but continues pretending to be knowledgeable.

He retires to bed, joined minutes later by Mila. They have sex, and he afterwards decides to eliminate the Revolution from his life since he is content with his new lifestyle and doesn't want to be caught up in their crazy, hopeless schemes to re-take the earth.

Chapter 10

The next morning he receives his new glasses, but keeps them in their case, wearing the old pair, once he determines that the damage to his broken ones is well enough disguised by the tape. In the afternoon he assembles a machine and uses it when he phones the Revolution. A new man answers, and Grayson uses the device to induce hypnotic hallucinations in the man's mind, and also traces the call to the Revolution's base of operations. He arrives at an ordinary house and the operator on duty greets him as his brother due to the hypnotic influence of Grayson's device. Grayson is free to explore the house while the operator continues his shift. Beyond a strange room whose purpose is apparently religious in nature, he finds a way into a library. He finds a few things in a desk and pockets them, and then explores the second floor. There are a few bedrooms, each obviously occupied by a male. He leaves the house and returns to his office, satisfied that he now has the upper hand.

Chapter 11

At the office, he gets to thinking about how his glasses broke. He deduces that somewhere within the building, probably very near his office, is a sonic device designed to crack the unbreakable lenses, and that the Revolution were actively seeking out to recruit him. After everyone leaves for the night, he explores the immediate area and finds a door to a storeroom locked with a key Grayson does not but should have. He contacts the night watchman, who explains that the new lock was installed the week prior at someone's request, which was approved by Miss Haskett. Grayson phones Haskett and thereafter visits her. He makes love to her to get her to tell him about the lock. She gives him a key, and after a brief deliberation he returns to his office.

Chapter 12

When he enters the building he is attacked in the dark, and his assailant drags him through the locked storeroom door. After a brief scuffle, the man runs off. Grayson returns to the storeroom and turns on the lights, revealing what remains of the machine used to crack his lenses. The man had returned to destroy the machine, mere minutes before Grayson would have seen it. Realizing that his relations with the Revolution is far deeper and sinister than he first thought, he takes precautions for future confrontations. He inserts in himself several tiny objects that can release gases of various kinds onto attackers or release antidotes and chemicals into his bloodstream. He returns home and after a short but good night's sleep, he returns to work.

Chapter 13

He receives a tremendous shock upon entering his office. On his desk is a summons for 10 o'clock that morning to meet with an Utt Commissioner for a severe investigation. Evidently Dr. Burr had reported the cracked glasses to the Utt before being murdered. Panicked, he tries to phone the Revolution for help, only to get a message that the number is no longer is service. Having no other choice, he goes to the Commissioner's building at the appointed time, expecting the worst.

Chapter 14

Once inside, he is escorted to the "basement" level which proves to be more than a mile underground. The lady receptionist is for a short while by his masculinity because his glasses are faulty, and she pleads with him to help her get out; she has been working there, underground, without seeing the surface for eighteen years. He tries to turn this situation to his advantage, but she soon regains composure and instructs him to proceed through a door, where he will meet with the Utt Commissioner.

Chapter 15

He awakens — a mere sixteen minutes later — in a tiny cell with no exit, having no memory of what happened after he opened the door. The cell is equipped with the necessities, but nothing else. He notices that he still has the implants inside him, so he reasons they must not consider them a threat. He is filled with momentary admiration for the Utt, for so expertly rendering him unconscious and presumably interrogating him under hypnosis, and doing it all so speedily. Bent on escape, he lies down and waits for something to happen, to give him an idea of what life is like in this prison so he can plan accordingly.

Chapter 16

Around noon, a sumptuous meal is slipped into his cell. He dines heartily, and lies back down. That evening, a bell sounds and an announcement comes that those who wish to participate in the community meeting may do so now. A hatch opens in the ceiling, and a stepladder comes down. He exits, and gets an impression of his surroundings while he follows the crowd of other prisoners to what he presumes is the community room. He is in a massive underground prison, for males only. There are corridor after corridor full of cell-hatches on the floors. The community room is a huge area, and Grayson's best guess is that it is a theater. On one part of the "stage" there is a doorway beyond which is a tremendously bright clustering of strange fires. The glass of the door proves to be transparent metal, and a sign on the door proclaims it to be the "Entrance to Hell." Astonished, Grayson realizes it is the center of a blazing sun. A man nearby, a fellow prisoner who has taken it upon himself to be the guard of the door to prevent newcomers going on, explains that it is used to perform executions of disobedient human servants of the Utt. He leaves the community room, and makes his way towards the entryway where he first arrived and stepped through the door.

Chapter 17

On his way out of the room, three men rush forward and grab him. They tie him up and take him to a room, where he meets the leader of the Revolution — the same man who had disguised himself as a woman. The man reveals that the repairing tape Grayson invented for Haskett Laboratories is the means by which the Utt glasses are rendered useless. He also expresses his disappointment in Grayson for not being able to overpower the man who attacked him in his office — an agent of the Revolution — when he was on the verge of discovering the machine that cracked his lenses. The Revolution has been looking for a leader who has sufficient scientific knowledge and intelligence to refine their efforts into a cohesive and potent force. Grayson is given an ultimatum: either free himself from his bonds (thereby proving he is worthy to be their leader) or die.

Chapter 18

Grayson uses one of his gas implants to render them unconscious, and then frees himself using a knife from one of the men's pockets. He finds the reception area where he met the woman, who is no longer there. He enters a door near the one he went in before. It is nothing more than a cell, similar to his own but larger and better furnished. The young woman receptionist (Miss Patton) lives there, and she is terrified by Grayson when he enters. He takes her with him up the mile-long elevator, and they exit the Utt building totally unhindered. He is slightly unsettled by any kind of security to prevent him leaving, but assumes that they will know he escaped soon enough, and that both the Utt's human agents and the Revolution will be after him.

Chapter 19

He gets some cash from his bank, and then goes to a restaurant with Miss Patton and phones his wife and asks if he has any messages for him. A man named Stan Brogie had called, who Grayson figures to be the head of the Revolution, and left a phone number where he can be reached. After returning to the table, he is spotted by a woman police officer named Doris Lesser, who is obviously there to apprehend him. He uses another one of his implant devices to exude a chemical that in effect brings her under his control. Lesser drives Grayson and Miss Patton in her patrol car to a bus stop, where he leaves Lesser in charge of Miss Patton, gives her a key and instructs her to go to a hotel where several suites are rented on a permanent basis by Haskett Laboratories for visiting customer representatives.

Chapter 20

He drives around for a short while, then stops at the side of a road where he goes to sleep, waiting for the Utt human agents or the Revolution to find him. He awakens some time later with a man hovering over him, explaining that he could have killed Grayson at any time. The man is with the Utt group of humans who were left to rule for them when their invasion force left. They realize that Grayson is the sort of person they wanted as a leader to help overthrow the Utt. Grayson is amazed that the Utt's servants on earth, who he assumes have privileges that the main population do not, would want to overthrow their masters. The man asks him if he knows what the place is beyond the door in the prison that says "Entrance to Hell." Grayson does not tell him, knowing now that that link with the sun's nucleus was placed on Earth mainly as a way the Utt could instantly annihilate the planet if a revolt occurred. He bluffs his way into the man's confidence by saying that given time he can control that force.

Chapter 21

Grayson, Miss Haskett, the Revolution, and the Utt's Human Establishment hold a large conference where they plan to return the world to its pre-Utt state as much as possible, while keeping surface appearances the same in case the Utt return to check up on Earth. Miss Patton, Officer Lesser, and Miss Haskett becomes his mistresses, and they provide him with vital information from their various places of work, functioning as spies for the new council. Months later, everything seems to be going well when Miss Haskett calls Grayson through the intercom while he is in his office, and tells him an Utt is waiting to see him. Realizing the incredible danger he is in, he asks her to show him in, and he escapes immediately through his secret exit.

Chapter 22

Rather than just run, he decides to finally investigate for himself where his wife Mila goes each afternoon. Officer Lesser picks him up, and he dresses in women's clothing to disguise himself. Apparently, every afternoon millions of women around the world report to local car-garages connected to large buildings. Lesser drives him to the nearest one that afternoon. They park, and enter the building, and with hundreds of other women put on special overshoes. Bewildered, he and Lesser ascend the building to the thirty-fifth floor.

Chapter 23

All the women pass through a strange door-panel that proves to be a transmat link to an orbital space-station.

Chapter 24

For several minutes, time is spent by the women adapting to the zero-g environment in what Grayson can see to be a well-practiced manner. They soon begin "diving" to the metal floor where they stabilize themselves with their magnetized overshoes. For a brief moment, Grayson's implants detect that he is being scanned. He disables the scanning device, but later is scanned again.

Chapter 25

He is unable to locate and destroy it, so he permits it to scan him. There seems to be no follow-up, so he calms down and likewise affixes himself to the floor. Fold-out chairs are provided and all the women seat themselves. Shortly thereafter, a religious ceremony begins, none of which Grayson can hear because he is in the very rear of the auditorium. However, he learns that these orbital stations are referred to as "Heaven" and, since women are not allowed to study science, many women truly believe that it is Heaven. They are taught to be "pure" on Earth and not to engage in sex after bearing one or two children. Grayson realizes this is all fits in with the Utt's plans to reshape males into the Utt ideal of being civilized. Grayson locates the area in the ceiling where the scans originated, and propels himself upward knowing that "ceiling" is really another floor.

Chapter 26

He descends a staircase on the "ceiling" floor, where he comes to a room with the machinery that had scanned him. He also finds a door-panel of the same type that led to this station. He goes through, hoping it returns to Earth.

Chapter 27

He ends up in a room similar to the one he left, only this room contains a dozen transmat doorways as well as an exit to the outside. He exits the building, and before him extends for miles a yellowish plastic material, and a red sky overhead. He is not on Earth, but an alien world. He enters a state of shock, and realizes he's probably lost forever and will never be able to return to Earth. After a few minutes, a figure appears in the distance. As it approaches, Grayson realizes with mild alarm that it is not human. The creature, an Orsolite, converses with Grayson using a simple but adequate language translation machine. During their conversation it is revealed that the Orsolites have conquered most of the galaxy, and centuries ago had encountered the Utt. The Orsolites were amazed at the Utt's seeming perfection, both moral and physical, and invited them to rule over the worlds they had conquered. The Utt's, being just as convinced of their own perfection, agreed to take the duty upon themselves to mold the civilizations of the galaxy into their image of perfection. Each Utt chose a planet to rule over, backed up by the services of 120,000 Orsolite super-scientist technicians. It was they who built the invasion fleets and invented the glasses. The Orsolite tells Grayson that he has been in contact with the Utt master of Earth since Grayson appearance, and that the Utt master would like to meet with Grayson. Hurriedly, Grayson tries to convince the Orsolite that he is not a servant but a slave of the Utt and that slaves should be free; but the Orsolite does not see himself as a slave. Growing impatient with Grayson, the Orsolite opens a transmat panel near Grayson and instructs him to enter. He goes through.

Chapter 28

He ends up in his office, seated at his desk, with the Utt across the room seated at a transparent desk. After a frightening and hopeless conversation, a desperate Grayson tries to kill the Utt with one of his implant weapons. It fails, and the Utt explains that when he was scanned on the orbital station, all his weapons were studied and the Utt was prepared for such attacks. As a last, blind attempt Grayson utilizes one of his hypnosis implants and makes a long and sycophantic "suggestion" to the Utt as to what should be done for the Earth: put Grayson in charge of this new Utt-perfected planet, that the Utt no longer need to constantly and personally supervise the Earth but merely return every twenty-five years or so, and finally to dismantle the many "gateways" to the sun nucleus on Earth since that precaution is no longer needed. The Utt, hypnotized, agrees, and after recovering finds itself having to come up with logical reasons for what he's just agreed to. It leaves power in Grayson's and the council's hands, to return twenty-five years later. Mankind has time to prepare for their return.


This is certainly the single worst encapsulation of van Vogt's idiotic Dianetics-influenced musings on gender relations, a topic he seemed obsessed with throughout the 1970s. Renaissance is a monstrously bad novel that is embarrassing to read.

But no matter how dreadful the book as a whole may be, Chapter 27 is a masterpiece, conveying the powerful impression of the sheer alienness of the Orsolite's homeworld. Gerald Grace did a fantastic painting of this scene on the cover of the 1980 New English Library edition.