Brian Aldiss

Brian Wilson Aldiss is hailed as a titan, an "Elder Statesman" of science fiction. He has been involved in many aspects of the genre, from writer to anthologist to critic, and is lauded for his contributions to historical documentation of SF with his Billion Year Spree (and subsequently, Trillion Year Spree). Widely respected, Aldiss has received many varied awards and honors for his contribution to literature including: being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1990), Awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to literature (2005), 18th SFWA Grand Master (2000) and Induction into the SFWA Hall of Fame (2004). In addition, Aldiss has won two Hugo Awards, one Nebula Award and one John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He is the Vice-President of the International H.G. Wells Society and Co-President of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group.

Aldiss was born on August 18, 1925 in East Dereham, Norfolk, England. He was a writer and story-teller from a very early age. In an interview with Amazing Stories from 2014, Aldiss writes:

"My parents sent me away to a boarding preparatory school. The preparatory was to prepare a pupil to enter the British system of public schools. These were essential crammers of a certain social class. No toys were allowed at the prep school. I took with me instead a microscope and a volume entitled 'The Treasury of Knowledge.' Age five! It's true and I marvel at it. So upset was I at leaving my parental home, I began to piss my bed. So that the other boys in the dormitory would not scorn me, at once after Lights Out I would tell them tales of horror and haunting. When a boy cried, "Shut up, Aldiss, you bastard!", I was delighted. Early applause."

"Apologies for this preamble. It is intended to show that writing was not something I took up. Story-telling was something I always did. At the age of possibly fourteen, I filled two hardbound exercise books with stories of 'Whip Donovan Among the Planets.' These I illustrated-liberally-by watercolour paintings. Painting was something also I always did. Fourteen? That was in WW2. It's a wonder that these two volumes survived. They were found recently by researchers in the Bodleian Library of Oxford. And now my cherished publisher, 'The Friday Project,' is about to publish Whip Donovan in facsimile."


Aldiss was apparently inspired to write the Whip Donovan stories by a solar eclipse he viewed in 1939 while attending Devon Boarding School. In an article published by the Telegraph by David Barnett and Patrick Saywer in July, 2016, Aldiss is quoted as saying, "We all gathered to watch it and when it came we could see this gigantic shadow rushing over the park towards us," he said. "You cannot imagine the thrill and excitement we felt but had it not been explained to me what was happening I would have been incredibly fearful. And right there you have an understanding of why I developed and wrote the Whip Donovan stories. I wanted people to understand there was such a thing as space that could be traveled and explored, that there were other worlds that could be found."

After school, Aldiss served in the Royal Signal Corps during WWII. In the 2014 interview with Amazing Stories Aldiss writes, "I volunteered for Army service at age seventeen. Instead of being sent to fight Hitler's third Reich, I was installed on a troopship and shipped out to India, and thence to Burma, to fight the Japanese invaders. That we did-and won. With the aid of Gurkas and other troops. I then visited Singapore, Malaya, Sumatra, Hong Kong, and China. China was wonderful, and so were lovely Chinese women. For four years I was away in the East, long after hostilities were over. It was a wonderful adventurous time. Good old British Army!"

In other interviews Aldiss tells stories of his time in the Army. On WebofStories.com, there are numerous segments where he discusses his experiences during this period. In the segment titled The Most Terrifying Day of My Life Aldiss states: " We had no communication; really, with the outside world..Communications probably weren't that good. Nevertheless, it was the American's who supported us all along. I mean at one time they flew us out of the jungles of Burma.Ah God, and that was a nightmare, because, there were three of us stationed in the midst of Burma, God knows why or where, and there was a great forest to the south of us, and it had caught fire, and it was burning, and with the wind to help us, it was burning very fast, and moreover there were two strands of wood, a forest with a gap in between. I guess in peaceful days, that had been a landing strip, but now it was full of weed about knee high. And so, these great belts of flame were coming out towards us and the two chaps I was with gave up and said 'Well this is it. We're finished. Let's just stay here.' But I had another idea, I said 'Look lets go stand in the middle of this landing strip ok? We should be ok there.' And they said 'Well that's on fire too.'"

"And it was true that the vegetation and the weeds there naturally they caught fire from this tremendous holocaust on either side. I can't - have I ever been more terrified than I was then? I don't think so. But nevertheless I did have my wits about me and I said 'Look guys let's stand in the middle here, yes, ok, these things are on fire but it dies out - ya know. We can step over these flames and its all ashes. It'll be ok, and so they did that. And we stood there while this vast conflagration roared after us and roared past and so that the trees were left as stumps. And of course we were a bit scorched but we were ok. We lived. We fucking well lived, by my initiative. So then, we tramped up to the top of the hill and there a Dakota landed and was going to take us.and was going to take us to Chittagong in India and it was, it had an American pilot, and so he directed the three of us to get into the back of the Dakota, and off we flew. And we could see, looking round we could see the scars of this terrible conflagration and so anyhow, eventually we go to Chittagong. We landed on a little landing strip, and the pilot, a friendly guy, came back and let us out and he said 'didn't none of you guys throw up?' And we said 'We've had nothing to eat for two days.' And he says 'if you'd been Americans you'd all have thrown up.' And yeah but you'd had something to eat didn't you so he shut up then. But it was true that we'd had nothing to eat for two days. Oh bloody hell, when I think of those days, I mean, well hmm, but of course you took it all for granted. Ya know you were still alive."


After Aldiss was discharged from military service, he returned to Oxford where he worked at Sanders' Bookseller's. He worked for Frank Sanders for two years but finally left after a dispute over wages. Aldiss then went to work for Parker's in the Antiquarian department. While working for Parker's, Aldiss wrote to the editor of The Bookseller mentioning that there was no comic column in the magazine and offering to provide that. He wrote six columns titled The Brightfount Dairies and submitted them to the editor for approval. The editor approved the column and put Brian to work. Aldiss says this was "an easy way to slip into being a published writer." After working for the magazine for around a year, Faber & Faber contacted Aldiss asking him to make these columns into a book. This was published first published in 1955 by Faber & Faber and was illustrated by Pearl Falconer, who was chosen personally by Aldiss to do the artwork. In an interview on this subject Aldiss states, "I could now think of myself as a writer. It was only a fortnight before publication that I got the equivalent of stage fright and I thought oh God, what if they don't laugh. Thank God they did laugh. And it did very well and so I became a Faber author. And that really was, well, the beginning of something or other that still goes on now."

Aldiss published short stories in popular speculative magazines of the day, Science and Fantasy and New Worlds, both edited by John Carnell. Aldiss left the bookselling business and went on to become the literary editor of the Oxford Mail. He won a prize for a short story set in the year 2500, Not for An Age. This allowed him to stay home more and pursue writing as a career, something that did not play well with his first marriage. His wife, Olive, eventually took his two children and moved to the Isle of Wright. This put Aldiss in an extremely depressed, but productive, state of mind. Of this incident he says, "She was marvelous, but she was unstable, a tortured person, because her mother was such a shit. When we got engaged, Olive wrote to her saying she was going to be married, and the mother sent her back a cutting from the Telegraph, about rising divorce rates. I was so miserable [when they left] that the only thing I could think of to write was the story of an England where there were no more children being born, and how desolation would set in. But it sold like mad. It still sells. Why does it still sell? Because there are many people whose sorrows rival mine. I was by no means unique."

Of course, Aldiss is referring to the novel Greybeard, published by Harcourt, Brace & World in 1964. Eventually, Aldiss remarried, to Margaret Manson. They had two children, a boy and a girl and remained for 32 years, until Margaret's death from pancreatic cancer on November 6, 1997. Margaret's death prompted Aldiss to publish When the Feast is Finished: Reflections on Terminal Illness in 1999. In one interview Aldiss, with clear distress, discusses the passing of his wife. He states, "So, but Margaret became more and more ill and eventually she went into Sobell House. I would go and see her every evening. And there the poor darling died. I cannot tell you - I cannot tell you - I knew she was going to die. And I, said farewell to her, and went out into the car and could not stop crying. And it was a night of terrible storm, rainstorm - lightning. And there I - I was going to lose my wife. And, indeed I did. And I was very shattered despite the difficulties we had had all along. And she was buried in the cemetery down the road. And every day I would go and see here and stand by the grave. But then! There came the time when I decided I ought to sort out her clothing drawers. And in her clothing drawer I found, wrapped in blue tissue paper, something as large as a novel and manuscript; her objections to me. Her finding fault with me that she carefully preserved - every one of these rejections. Now meanwhile I had written my book about Margaret, which was called When the Feast is Finished. It was serialized in the 'Daily Mail' and then I found this waiting for me, there like a man trap. I - I didn't go to her grave anymore."

While Aldiss had some publications under his belt during his first marriage to Olive, and subsequently through their divorce, it was while he was married to Margaret that he really began to blossom as a major figure in speculative literature. In 1962, he won the Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction for his Hothouse series. This was a series of short stories, originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1961. It was released in the UK by Faber & Faber as a novel in 1962 and an abridged version was released in the US as The Long Afternoon on Earth. A full release was not accomplished in the United States until 1976.

Hothouse was inspired by Aldiss' visit to "the biggest tree in the world." Aldiss states, "I took a trip in the ferry boat across the river Hooghly to the Calcutta Botanical Gardens. And there it was that I saw something billed as the biggest tree in the world. And it was big, not as a sequoia is big that goes up that way. It was big because it kept growing - rather lowly, not much taller than a man, but spreading outward all the time. And it was very carefully looked after so that goats couldn't come and eat it as they did with many banyans and many of the branches were painted white to keep off insects. And so this was a very fine sight to see you could walk around this and yes, the biggest tree in the world. And of course it came to me this idea what happens when it covers the world because at the rate it was growing it seemed a distinct possibility. When I finally - finally got back to England I looked up this banyan tree and found there was an article in possibly the Cornhill, by Aldus Huxley's brother, Julian Huxley about the banyan. Yes, very interesting it was encased within a discussion about life and death, I think, and how some things with care could live forever, like the banyan tree. And so I was very pleased to see it had a kind of authentication by Julian Huxley and I suppose it must have been shortly after that that I wrote a short story called Hothouse which I sold to the Americans. And it was very popular and the editors said to me Brian this was so popular couldn't you continue this story and so I continued it and it became more and more popular and I continued it more and more and so that eventually I was forced around the dark side of the planet. And all of those stories were a great success particularly I think in America where, on the whole, they are more indulgent to science fiction than the British were, despite Mr. H.G. Wells, and so I made them all into a coherent novel. And that sold very well and still sells well and I believe now it is a penguin modern classic. So that's how long after that? Well half a century at least. Funny how things turn out." Having been influenced by the work of H. G. Wells, Aldiss created The Saliva Tree in imitation of Well's style to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Well's birth. This ultimately won Aldiss one of the first Nebula Awards for Best Novella in 1965 (awarded in 1966).

After a chance meeting with Harry Harrison at a convention, Brian and Harry were to become lifelong friends and colleagues. Together they detected a void in the field of critical review of science fiction and launched SF Horizons. This was intended to be an ongoing journal covering critical reviews and general discussion of science fiction works. The magazine only lasted 2 issues, but it did leave a great impression on those "in the know" in the science fiction genre. It set a bar for science fiction criticism which has rarely been met since.

Aldiss has been highly influential to the science fiction genre, amalgamating praise and honors throughout his career. He has continued to produce in his elderly years, publishing five novels since 2005: Sanity and the Lady, Jocasta, HARM, Walcot and Finches of Mars. Aldiss will leave a legacy which arguably outstrips any other author in the genre.

The Long Afternoon of Earth

"Millions of years from now, the Earth stops spinning. One half of thw world is in shadow, while the other suffers under an endless afternoon sun. Humans have devolved into small creatures struggling for survival in a savage jungle where plants prey upon living flesh, while huge spider analogs spin their webs between the Earth and the moon. In this deadly land a young boy in the brink of manhood is cast off by his tribe for the crime of curiosity - and embarks on a perilous journey far beyond the borders of his people's land in search of a better world."

Original Publication: Signet, January 1962
This Edition: Nelson Doubleday/Science Fiction Book Club, August 1985
Cover Art: Tony Fiyalko
Format: Hardback

Notes:

Variant title of Hothouse

Review:


Report on Probability A

"The Watchers - G was the first for two years he had lived in the bungalow that stood in the back of the house. S was the second. He was the careful one, the slow one - except that they were all slow and careful. C was the third. Together they watched Mr. and Mrs. Mary who lived in the house and who spent their time watching G, S, and C...but even as they held patient guard over one another, there were others...those who sought the key to other worlds, other probabilities."

Original Publication: Faber & Faber, 1968
This Edition: Lancer, September 1970
Cover Art: Steele Savage
Format: Paperback

Notes:

This work represents Aldiss' experimentation with post-modern anti-novels. It is a story of parallel universes "who watches the watchers?" The authors of the report are Domoladossa and Midlakemela who are watching characters G, C, and A. G, C, and A are watching the activities of Mrs. Mary, who in turn is doing watching of her own. It seems as if time has lapsed in the observed universe as the same activities happen again and again. Report on Probability A seems to draw either praise or criticism from fans without any middle ground. It is necessarily sterile and repetitive as Aldiss seems to want the readers to concentrate on the banal constancy that exists across all worlds. Whether or not one loves or hates this work, it is certainly a tale that stays with you, and a must-read science-fiction experience. Completed in 1962, this work was consistently rejected and misunderstood by publishers until it first saw print in New Worlds in 1967.

Review:


Cryptozoic!

"Edward Bush is a young artist sketching the desolate landscapes of the Devonian age millions of years from home. There he meets Ann, another mind traveller, and they decide to travel together to the later Jurassic age - where they materialize beside a 20-foot stegosaurus. Thus begins an extraordinary adventure across aeons of time, from Bush's home time, 2093 A.D., to the utterly alien experience of time uncreated - the Cryptozoic!"

Original Publication: Avon, June 1969
This Edition: Avon, March 1977
Cover Art: Don Punchatz
Format: Paperback

Notes:

First published in the United Kingdom as An Age in 1967.

Review:


Starship

"Forbidden Quest - In the savage world of the Greene tribe, losing a woman was unforgivable, and Roy had lost his while hunting in the jungle called "the ponics." Disgraced, isolated, he joined the disreputable priest Marapper on a forbidden expedition through Deadways to find the legendary land of Forwards. They were to meet mutants, and giants, regimented rats and telepathic rabbits, and the fabled Outsiders. Finally they would confront a secret kept hidden for 23 generations - a secret whose discovery would reveal their origins and destiny even as it destroyed their world."

Original Publication: Faber & Faber, 1969
This Edition: Avon, November 1969
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Starship is the American title of Aldiss' first published novel Non-Stop. It concerns events surrounding a generational spaceship. It is the primary inspiration for the Role-playing game Metamorphosis Alpha by James Ward. The generational spaceship theme is used repeatedly in science fiction, notably before Aldiss was Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein, which inspired Aldiss to write this story because he was dissatisfied with Heinlein's resolution.

Review:


Neanderthal Planet

"On Neanderthal Planet, in a time flung far into the future, the world is run by hi-tech automatons - and man is on the terrifying verge of obsolescence. The past, present and future are woven into a gigantic puzzle. If you fall into the wrong matrix, beware of the choices you face. The sign is clear: Danger - Religion! Intangibles Inc can not be seen, but it rules the lives and deaths of a quirky husband, a practical wife and their strange family. Since the assassination: a drug granting immortality is conceived, a president is killed, and moon visitors find that time is distorted. What is happening to planet Earth?"

Original Publication: Avon, January 1970
This Edition: Avon, March 1981
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

Notes:

A compilation of 4 novellas: Neanderthal Planet, 1958; Danger: Religion!, 1960; Intangibles, Inc., 1962; Since the Assassination, 1969.

Review:


No Time Like Tomorrow

"Out of this World! A monster travels back in time to destroy a race called man on a planet called Earth - A mild mannered husband is stranded centuries ahead in a world of peep-show barbarianism a jaded sportsman returns to the prehistoric past to hunt a gigantic brontosaurus...The governor of a penal space settlement makes the supreme sacrifice for the colony he loves...Here are startling stories - adventures that soar beyond the barriers of time and space, yet remain perilously close to the boundaries of reality."

Original Publication: Signet, July 1959
This Edition: Signet, April 1971
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

Notes:

This work is a collection of 12 short stories by Aldiss all dating between 1955 and 1958. This anthology contains: T, Not for an Age, Poor Little Warrior, The Failed Men, Carrion Country, Judas Danced (originally published as Judas Dancing), Psyclops, Outside, Gesture of Farewell, The New Father Christmas, Blighted Profile and Our Kind of Knowledge. T is Aldiss' first published work. Damon Knight selected No Time Like Tomorrow as one of the best genre collections of 1959.

Review:


The Shape of Further Things

"Here, for the connoisseur, for the devotee of the SF genre, and for those who like their reading to combine excitement with good writing, is the Corgi SF Collector's Library - a series that brings, in uniform edition, many of the Greats of SF - standard classics, contemporary prizewinners, and controversial fiction, fantasy, and fact... The Shape of Further Things by Brian Aldiss is a profoundly original and thought-provoking book by one of the leading writers of science fiction. It is a critical appraisal of the way science fiction has evolved and the part it plays in society today. But more than that, it is an intelligent and highly credible glimpse into a future in which science fiction will rapidly become science fact..."

Original Publication: Faber and Faber, July 1970
This Edition: Corgi, 1974
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Review:


Billion Year Spree

Original Publication: Doubleday, 1973
This Edition: Schocken, 1975
Cover Art: Wendell Minor
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Considered a seminal work on the history of science fiction, Billion Year Spree covers the evolution of science fiction from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through the early 1970s, when this volume was published. Aldiss wrote it with no financial support and says that he hoped "by a little clarity of thought, to supersede some of the sillier theories of SF then floating about, and by so doing to focus on the intrinsic nature of the beast." It is definitely a good treatise on science fiction as literature, but can often show the extreme bias of the writer.

Review:


Galactic Empires Volume One

"Interstellar civilizations rise, flourish and fall in this unique collection of superb stories! Galactic Empires is more than an anthology: it is a vast two-volume novel of the future by some of the greatest science fiction writers alive, including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak, Cordwainer Smith, A.E. Van Vogt, Harry Harrison, and many others. Brian Aldiss has selected twenty-six stories and assembled them into a mammoth saga which explores many dimensions of the Galactic Empire: its origins, laws, mores, educational systems, not to mention its incredible variety of inhabitants, and their experience with the natural quirks of the universe in which they, and we, all live. ALdiss has created nothing less than the epic rise and fall of the Galactic Empire. Some of the stories have been undeservedly neglected since their publication in obscure and now defunct sci-fi magazines; others are acknowledged classics. All of them have been placed carefully so that they fit logically into the overall saga of man's conquest of the galaxy, the wars of empire, and the final dissolution and destruction of humanity's greatest endeavor. The result is a vast panorama which begins with the first quiverings of incipient Time and confined only by the limits of the world's most daring and creative imaginations."

Original Publication: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, July 1976
This Edition: St. Martin's Press, October 1977
Cover Art: Karel Thole
Format: Hardback

Notes:

Contents: A Sense of Perspective by Brian W. Aldiss, Been a Long, Long Time by R. A. Lafferty, The Possessed by Arthur C. Clarke, Protected Species by H. B. Fyfe, All the Way Back by Michael Shaara, 'Wider Still and Wider...' by Brian W. Aldiss, The Star Plunderer by Poul Anderson, Foundation by Isaac Asimov, We're Civilized by Mark Clifton and Alex Apostolides, Horses in the Starship Hold by Brian W. Aldiss, The Crime and Glory of COmmander Suzdal by Cordwainer Smith, The Rebel of Valkyr by Alfred Coppel, Brightness Falls from the Air by Margaret St. Clair (as by Idris Seabright), Immigrant by Clifford D. Simak, The Health Service in the Skies by Brian W. Aldiss, Resident Physician by James White, Age of Retirement by Hal Lynch and Planting Time by Pete Adams and Charles Nightinggale.

Review:


Galactic Empires Volume Two

"Interstellar civilizations rise, flourish and fall in this unique collection of superb stories! Galactic Empires is more than an anthology: it is a vast teo-volume novel of the future by some of the greatest science fiction writers alive, including Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Poul Anderson, Clifford Simak, Cordwainer Smith, A. E. Van Vogt, Harry Harrison, and many others. Brian Aldiss has selected twenty-six stories and assembled them into a mammoth saga which explores many dimensions of the Galactic Empire: its origins, laws, mores, educational systems, not to mention its incredible variety of inhabitants, and their experience with the natural quirks of the universe in which they, and we, all live. Aldiss has created nothing less than the eipc rise and fall of the Galactic Empire. Some of the stories have been undeservedly neglected since their publication in obscure and now defunct sci-fi magazines; others are scknowledged classics. All of them have been placed carefully so that they fit logically into the overall saga of a man's conquest of the galaxy, the wars of empire, and the final dissolution and destruction of humanity's greatest endeavor. The result is a vast panorama which begins with the first quaverings of incipient Time and is confined only by the limits of the world's most daring and creative imaginations."

Original Publication: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, July 1976
This Edition: St. Martin's Press/Science Fiction Book Club, April 1978
Cover Art: Karel Thole
Format: Hardback

Notes:

Contents: Escape to Chaos by John D. MacDonald, Concealment A. E. Van Vogt, To Civilizeby Algis Budrys, Beep by James Blish, The Other End of the Stick by Brian W. Aldiss, Down the River by Mack Reynolds, The Bounty Hunter by Avram Davidson, Not Yet the End Fredric Brown, All Things are Cyclic by Brian W. Aldiss, Tonight the Stars Revolt! by Gardner F. Fox, Final Encounter by Harry Harrison, Big Ancestors and Descendants by Brian W. Aldiss, Lord of a Thousand Suns by Poul Anderson, Big Ancestor by F. L. Wallace and The Interlopers by Roger Dee

Review:


The Malacia Tapestry

"Renaissance man in an alternate reality."

Original Publication: Jonathan Cape, July 1976
This Edition: Ace, May 1978
Cover Art: Rowena Morrill
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Interior artwork by Giocanni Battista Tiepolo and Francesco Maggiotto.

Review:


Starswarm

"10,000 Brave New Worlds - One million years have passed since ancient man first launched his frail metal crafts into the great darkness named "outer space." Now, distant galactic clusters are home to the myriad descendants of the inhabitants of Old Earth. Now, each world, light years separate from the others, forms part of an island universe called "Starswarm." Yet each island remains uneasily bound to all others, for the creatures that people Starswarm were once of the race called Human, and among these 10,000 brave new worlds, man's brutal, timeless struggle for conquest still goes on..."

Original Publication: Signet, 1964
This Edition: Signet, 1971
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Called The Airs of Earth when it was released in the UK in 1963, Starswarm is a collection of eight short stories knitted together for this volume with a framework placing all stories in a great galactic civilization.

Review:


The Book of Brian Aldiss

"You know of the SF readers' HUGO Award.BRIAN ALDISS won it. You know of the SF writers' NEBULA Award.BRIAN ALDISS won it. And now there is the DITMAR Award naming THE WORLD'S BEST CONTEMPORARY SCIENCE FICTION AUTHOR, BRIAN ALDISS won it. At his own request, Brian Aldiss has gathered together for DAW BOOKS a new selection of his latest science fiction and fantasy novelettes and short stories. Here are great tales in the old style and the new, of the future and of the satirical SF present, guaranteed to be the best reading bargain on the science fiction counters."

Original Publication: DAW, November 1972
This Edition: DAW, November 1972
Cover Art: Karel Thole
Format: Paperback

Notes:

Review:


Helliconia Spring

"Imagine a world in a system of twin sons. Where Winter is 600 ice-locked years and every Spring is the first remembered. Imagine a People finding ruined cities beneath the melting snows. Never dreaming they had built them. And would again.Imagine Helliconia. And begin the most magnificent epic since DUNE..."

Original Publication: Atheneum, Februrary 1982
This Edition: Berkley, November 1983
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Trade Paperback

Notes:

Review:

This story takes place in a distant galaxy, in a binary star system with Freyr at its center. Around Freyr orbits the star Batalix, which has the planet Helliconia in its orbit. Outside this is an orbiting space station, the Avernus, from which scientists of Earth origin survey the planet, its population and its changes. Avernus has orbited Helliconia for centuries and sends its information and analysis back to Earth, where is viewed by the populous, almost like a television show.

This massive orbit that Helliconia follows around the hotter star, Freyr, results in major climatic changes to the planet and fierce adaptation from its population. The planet is in habited by a wide range of creatures and species, some very similar to those on Earth. The sentient species are the "humans" and the Phagor. Phagor are a upright-standing goat like creature; the primordial enemies of the humans. These two groups seem to take turn-about as the dominant species on the planet as the climate shifts from Summer, when the humans are in power, to winter, the season of the Phagor.

Of course, the life spans of these beings contrasted with the seasonal shifts (it takes the equivalent of 2592 Earth years for Helliconia to orbit Freyr) means that the humans don't even remember the last time it was a different season and thus the concept becomes part of their mythology. The phagors seem to fare better in this regard, carrying the wisdom of their ancestors with them and believing that cultures and seasons do change, with distinct effects.

Helliconia is, of course a trilogy. In book one, the plot, or what could be considered the plot I suppose, mainly centers on the characters of the town of Oldorando and their knowledge that the climate is indeed starting to change. The women of the village adapt to this by embracing knowledge and trying to relearn the old ways. The problem is this is a male-dominated society, hunter-gatherers, and they have denied the women access to ancient information and records. Laintal Ay is the heir apparent leader of this town, but he is very young when his parents died. As a result he was unsure of himself and did not seize the authority. Aoz Roon instead becomes village leader and subsequently makes many poor decisions.

As an additional consideration, there exists on Helliconia a virus, carried by ticks, which in turn are carried by Phagors. This virus works upon the population differently depending on the season Helliconia is experiencing at the time. When summer approaches, the virus induces what is referred to as Bone Fever; in the winter, it is called the Fat Death. This virus temporarily affects the appetite of the infected host, causing them waste away or gain massive weight. It has a very high mortality rate, but those who survive are prepared to survive the upcoming climatic changes.

Here's the thing about this novel (and series in general). The characters only barely matter. The real main character is the planet and its changes as it circles Freyr. This is very apparent in this book. It's a slog. You really have to push through it. I finally got interested in the characters and their experiences about 50 pages from the end of the book. By that point, I was like cool, ok, I know who they are, I'm vested in their story and I'm ready to see what happens. Yeahhhhhhh..no, that didn't happen.

Aldiss did a beautiful job of creating a world; a world where basically nothing of consequence ever happens. I have to say that given the critical response to this work and its lauded greatness, mostly I found it disappointing and uninteresting.

There's no real need to review the other books in this trilogy. They basically have the same circumstances. Yes, the various characters change. In Helliconia Spring the world is afflicted by the bone fever and in Helliconia Winter its infected with The Fat Death. We do get other glimpses into the religions practiced the planet. We get more and more ridiculous looks at the humans on Avernus and on Earth. The reader even gets to see what happens when a resident of Avernus comes down to the planet and how that can influence a primitive population. In general though, the stories are rather tedious. It's not that there's nothing good here.its more than the world-building isn't really enough. There's nothing to drive you through this and nothing to provide a feeling of satisfaction when it's over.. ya know, other than you managed to actually get through 1200 pages of pure world-building with no real plot or continuity.


Helliconia Summer

"Imagine a world a thousand light years from our Earth, where each season lasts for generations, and each generation knows only one season. Where twin suns warm the icy winds of the Sibornal, the forests blaze and kingdoms turn to ashes.once every 2500 years. Where it is summer again, on Helliconia."

Original Publication: Jonathan Cape, November 1983
This Edition: Berkley, October 1984
Cover Art: Oliviero Berni
Format: Trade Paperback

Notes:

Review:


Helliconia Winter

"Imagine Helliconia - a world at the end of a reign that has lasted nearly two thousand years. The glorious civilization that blossomed during spring and summer has faded, and the dismal wasteland of winter is rapidly destroying the human race. For it is the chill end of the Great Year, the 2500 year cycle in which each season gives way to a new oppressor. And now, as winter approaches and the numbers of mankind dwindle, the barbaric phagors prepare to seize their chance to rule again. And they will succeed. Unless mankind can be united to stop them."

Original Publication: Jonathan Cape, April 1985
This Edition: Berkley, May 1986
Cover Art: Oliviero Berni
Format: Trade Paperback

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The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction

"From China to Chile, Africa to North America - science fiction from all four corners of the globe, and beyond. Each story in this volume is dramatically different, vividly "other." The mystery of the disappearing lunatics, a clever computer crime, a semi-anthropological legend from Japan, erotic fancy...the choice is yours: spoil yourself with this galactic confection - as delicious as it is diverse. "

Original Publication: Penguin, July 1986
This Edition: Penguin, October 1987
Cover Art: Unknown
Format: Paperback

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Contents: A Meeting in Georgestown by Jon Bing, A Perfect Christmas Evening by Konrad Fialkowski, A Perfect Marriage by Andre Carneiro, Alter Ego by Hugo Correa, An Imaginary Journey to the Moon by Victor Sabah, BCO Equipment by Karl Michael Armer, Cost of Living by Robert Sheckley, Equality by Quah Kung Yu, Forward, Mankind! by Lyuben Dilov, Myxomatosis Forte by Bertil Martensson, Progenitor by Philppe Curval, Quo Vadis, Francisco? by Lino Aldani, Rising Sun by Lengyel Peter, Six Matches by Arkady Strugatsky, Small World by Bob Shaw, The Cage by A. Bertram Chandler, The Half-wit of Xeenemuende by Josef Nedvadba, The Legend of the Paper Spaceship by Tetsu Yano, The Lens by Annemarie van Ewijck, The Mirror Image of the Earth by Zheng Wenguang, The New Prehistory by Rene Rebetez-Cortes, The Ring by Goran Hudec, The Whore of Babylon by Leon Zeldis, Victims of Time by B. Sridhar Rao, M.D., and 'Oh, Lenore!' Came the Echo by Carlos Maria Federici

Review:


Somewhere East of Life

"Somewhere East of Life is a rambunctious black comedy for the nineties. Burnell is a retiring guy who operates out of Germany, attempting to hold the world together culturally. He moves around the more outrageous parts of the globe, listing the architectural gems threatened by war, history, and human awfulness. Such is man's ingenuity to man, that Burnell is also threatened. Someone has stolen a chunck of his memory - ten years, in fact. This chunck, including the more salacious bits, such as Burnell's marriage to Stephanie, has been chopped up and sold to lovers of soft porn everywhere. Trying both to continue work and recover his missing years, Burnell is sent to long lost parts of the old Soviet Empire, such as a corner of Georgia, where civil war rages, and Turkmenistan in Central Asia, which proves stranger than we had any right to expect. Along the way, the unfortunate Burnell tangles with a number of odd characters, a valuable icon, bargain-price sex, and a worthless bridge. Of a recent collection of Aldiss stories, the critic Gary K. Wolfe said, "Aldiss seems to be showing off his mastery of technique, his ability to take a story wherever he wants to, despite our expectations, and to convince us that it ends up where it belongs. Not very many writers ought to try this, but Aldiss knows how, and never fails to provoke or enlighten." It's a comment that can very definitely be applied to the fun and surprises in Somewhere East of Life."

Original Publication: Carroll & Graff, August 1994
This Edition: Carroll & Graff, August 1994
Cover Art: Tony Greco
Format: Hardback

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Review:

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