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Empire of the Atom is a science fiction novel by Canadian American writer A. E. van Vogt. It was first published in 1957 by Shasta Publishers in an edition of 2,000 copies. The novel is a fix-up of the first five of van Vogt's Gods stories which originally appeared in the magazine Astounding. The remaining Gods stories are collected in The Wizard of Linn. Author and critic James Blish observed that the plot of the Gods stories resembled that of Robert Graves' Claudius novels.[1] Author and critic Damon Knight said that the plot was "lifted almost bodily" from the plot of I, Claudius.[2] A genealogy chart of the ruling family of the Empire of Linn is included.

Empire of the Atom
Empire of the atom.jpg
Dust-jacket of the first edition
AuthorA. E. van Vogt
Cover artistMalcolm Smith
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Atom Gods/Clane
GenreScience fiction
PublisherShasta Publishers
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Followed byThe Wizard of Linn 



Van Vogt based Empire of the Atom largely on the plot of I, Claudius by Robert Graves, putting it into a science-fictional setting. The work was originally presented as five novelettes published in Astounding Science Fiction between May 1946 and December 1947.

  • "A Son Is Born" (May 1946)
  • "Child of the Gods" (August 1946)
  • "Hand of the Gods" (December 1946)
  • "Home of the Gods" (April 1947)
  • "The Barbarian" (December 1947)


Some time, a little over 10,000 years from now, a noblewoman gives birth to a deformed child, a consequence of having been accidentally exposed to radiation from one of the temples of the Atom Gods. The baby is kept alive because one of the atom priests wants to conduct an experiment to see what will happen if the boy, unlike other mutant children, is given the full education of an atom priest.

In his teens the mutant boy Clane helps his father win a war with Mars. He also continues his studies while his grandfather, who is Lord Leader, and his tutors protect him from the Machiavellian intrigues swirling around him, especially those of his grandmother Lydia.

Reaching his majority, Clane turns his estate into a laboratory where he can test new inventions and machines that he has retrieved from the ruins of ancient cities and reactivated. When his grandfather dies, Clane becomes a target for assassination, but shortly thereafter Lady Lydia receives a vase containing the assassin’s ashes. Even a direct frontal assault by a militia fails against Clane and Lady Lydia is compelled to cease her attacks on him.

A war between the Linnan Empire and rebels on Venus provides an opportunity for Clane to take an expedition to explore the ruins of an ancient city there. When the Venusians capture the Lord Advisor and thousands of his troops and prepare to hang them, Clane appears in their camp and displays the awesome power of the Atom Gods. With the war won, Clane returns to Earth with his findings.

In spite of Clane’s warnings, the Linnan Empire is taken by surprise by an invasion of barbarians from Europa, the largest of Jupiter’s moons. The invaders kill the Lord Advisor and Clane must take command of the imperial forces. Disguised as a slave, Clane sneaks into his townhouse in the city of Linn and touches an artifact that he found on Venus. With the power it gives him he compels the barbarian chieftain, Czinczar, to surrender, but not before Czinczar shows him the body of an alien, one of a species that Czinczar believes caused the cataclysm that devastated human civilization thousands of years before. The Europan threat is vanquished, but now Clane has a new worry.

The story continues and concludes in The Wizard of Linn.


In 1956 Kirkus Reviews had this to say about the novel:

The year is 12,000 A.D. with a culture which makes gods of Uranium, Plutonium, Radium and Ecks and has temple scientists to guard them. The birth of a mutant, Clane, to the ruling family is attended by a crisis and the child, allowed to live in seclusion develops into a supernormal. He is responsible for Martian and Venusian victories, salvages the empire after a barbarian invasion and is ready to protect the system against a possible attack from outer space. A fantasy of future frontiers.[3]

Galaxy reviewer Floyd C. Gale faulted the novel for its odd internal contradictions, in particular a scene where "a fleet of spaceships makes a strafing run over the enemy, loosing flights of arrows from point-blank range."[4]


  1. ^ Clute, John; Peter Nicholls (1995). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 1269. ISBN 0-312-13486-X.
  2. ^ Knight, Damon (March 1967) [First Edition 1956]. "Cosmic Jerrybuilder: A. E. Van Vogt". In Search of Wonder (2nd ed.). Advent. p. 62. ISBN 0-911682-15-5. OCLC 489853415. LCCN:67-4260. No serious effort has been made to efface the evidence – most of the names of principal characters are transparent disguises.... Van Vogt's Linn is Augustean Rome in almost every detail. (Even the coinage is in sesterces.)
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Galaxy's 5 Star Shelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, August 1957, p.116


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