By 1938, van Vogt decided to switch to writing science fiction, a genre he enjoyed reading. He was inspired by the August 1938 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, which he picked up at a newsstand. John W. Campbell's novelette "Who Goes There?" (later adapted into The Thing from Another World and The Thing) inspired van Vogt to write "Vault of the Beast", which he submitted to that same magazine. Campbell, who edited Astounding (and had written the story under a pseudonym), sent van Vogt a rejection letter, but one which encouraged van Vogt to try again. Van Vogt sent another story, entitled "Black Destroyer," which was accepted. A revised version of "Vault of the Beast" would be published in 1940.
Van Vogt's "Ship of Darkness" was the cover story in the second issue of Fantasy Book
Van Vogt's first SF publication was inspired by The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. "The Black Destroyer" was published in July 1939 by John W. Campbell in Astounding Science Fiction, the centennial year of Darwin's journal. It featured a fierce, carnivorous , the coeurl, stalking the crew of an exploration spaceship, and served as the inspiration for multiple science fiction movies, including Alien (1979).[a]
Also in 1939, still living in Winnipeg, van Vogt married Edna Mayne Hull, a fellow Manitoban. Hull, who had previously worked as a private secretary, would act as van Vogt's typist, and be credited with writing several SF stories of her own throughout the early 1940s.
The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 caused a change in van Vogt's circumstances. Ineligible for military service due to his poor eyesight, van Vogt accepted a clerking job with the Canadian Department of National Defence. This necessitated a move back to Ottawa, where he and his wife would stay for the next year-and-a-half.
Meanwhile, his writing career continued. "Discord in Scarlet" was van Vogt's second story to be published, also appearing as the cover story. It was accompanied by interior illustrations created by Frank Kramer[b] and Paul Orban. (Van Vogt and Kramer[b] thus debuted in the issue of Astounding that is sometimes identified as the start of the Golden Age of Science Fiction.)
Van Vogt's first completed novel, and one of his most famous, is Slan (Arkham House, 1946), which Campbell serialized in Astounding September to December 1940. Using what became one of van Vogt's recurring themes, it told the story of a nine-year-old superman living in a world in which his kind are slain by Homo sapiens.
Others saw van Vogt's talent and stardom from his first story, and in May 1941, van Vogt decided to become a full-time writer, quitting his job at the Canadian Department of National Defence. Freed from the necessity of living in Ottawa, he and his wife lived for a time in the Gatineau region of Quebec before moving to Toronto in the fall of 1941.
Prolific throughout this period, van Vogt wrote many of his more famous short stories and novels in the years from 1941 through 1944. The novels The Book of Ptath and The Weapon Makers both appeared in magazines in serial form during this era; they were later published in book form after World War II. As well, several (though not all) of the stories that were compiled to make up the novels The Weapon Shops of Isher, The Mixed Men and The War Against the Rull were also published during this time.
California and post-war writing (1944–1950)
In November 1944, van Vogt and Hull moved to Hollywood; van Vogt would spend the rest of his life in California. He had been using the name "A.E. van Vogt" in his public life for several years, and as part of the process of obtaining American citizenship in 1945 he finally and formally changed his legal name from Alfred Vogt to Alfred Elton van Vogt. To his friends in the California science fiction community, he was known as "Van".