I'm trying to remember a book where generalization of knowledge was mentioned in every chapter at least once.

The book contained either a series of short stories with the same protagonists, either a novel in which each chapter was devoted to a specific, stand-alone situation. There might have been an overarching plot, but the book had a distinct "Sherlock Holmes solves one case after another"-feel.

IIRC, the book was set on a spaceship, traveling between planets. It had a crew of scientists, each of whom was an expert in their respective field. Every time the crew would get in trouble, the protagonist would find a solution. The main identifying detail (and the leitmotif for the whole book) was that the protagonist was a polymath with an extensive knowledge in multiple, largely unrelated subjects. Despite other people being more knowledgeable or skillful in something, "Sherlock" would always be the one with the right answer, because he was able to integrate expertise from many domains. Synergy/Integration of knowledge was repeatedly hailed as the only way to survive in the future.

I read it in the mid- to late 90s, so I'm assuming it's from the early 1990s, but it might be actually older.


While it doesn't use the word synergy this sounds very like A. E. Van Vogt's book The Voyage of the Space Beagle.

The character you are remembering is Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, who is unique amongst the crew in being a generalist not a specialist. In the book he is described as a Nexialist, which I think stems from nexus as in a connection or series of connections linking two or more things.

The book is made up from four stories. In fact it is a fixup novel created by bolting together four stories Van Vogt had previously written. Grosvenor does resolve several of the stories using his knowledge of many area of science.

If it is this book you'll probably remember that the first story is about a cat like alien who kills crew members to extract the potassium from their flesh. See the question Novel where a group of scientists in a spaceship encounter various aliens for more about the book.

  • Arrrgh! You beat me by 52 seconds! Mar 2 '20 at 18:56
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    @M.A.Golding post anyway. The more answers the better and your answer would be different from mine in the detail. Mar 2 '20 at 19:00
  • Thank you so much! I don't remember any cat aliens, but evidently I don't remember anything about this book. Not even that it was about nexialism, not synergy. It's astonishing that you were able to recognize it.
    – I.M.
    Mar 2 '20 at 19:46
  • Ironically A. E. van Vogt invented the term "fixup novel" Mar 3 '20 at 3:57

I think this could be A.E. Van Vogt's The Voyage of the Space Beagle as John Rennie said.

In the four stories as originally published:

"Black Destroyer" (cover story of the July, 1939, issue of Astounding magazine—the first published SF by A. E. van Vogt) (chapters 1 to 6)

"War of Nerves" (May, 1950, Other Worlds magazine) (chapters 9 to 12)

"Discord in Scarlet" (cover story of the December, 1939, issue of Astounding magazine—the second published SF by A. E. van Vogt) (chapters 13 to 21)

"M33 in Andromeda" (August, 1943, Astounding magazine, later published as a story in the book M33 in Andromeda (1971)) (chapters 22 to 28)


The main character in the novel, Dr. Elliot Grosvenor, doesn't appear in the original stories and the other characters solve their problems without him.

Here is a link to every publication of The Voyage of the Space Beagle: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?84012

Clicking on the title of an edition of it will show an image of the cover of that book, and if The Voyage of the Space Beagle is the book you remember you might recognize the cover.

  • Thank you so much for all the details and links! I accepted @JohnRennie's answer, since it was posted earlier, but your ability to find the right book based on a few obscure details just blows my mind.
    – I.M.
    Mar 2 '20 at 19:51

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