Aldiss, Brian W. 1925–
Aldiss, Brian W. 1925–
(Brian Wilson Aldiss, C.C. Shackleton)
Born August 18, 1925, in East Dereham, Norfolk, England; son of Stanley (an outfitter) and Elizabeth May Aldiss; married second wife, Margaret Christie Manson, December 11, 1965 (died of pancreatic cancer, 1997); children: (first marriage) Clive, Caroline Wendy; (second marriage) Timothy Nicholas, Charlotte May. Education: Attended Framlingham College, 1936-39; West Buckland School, 1939-42. Hobbies and other interests: Amateur theatricals.
Home—Old Headington, Oxford, England. Agent—Michael Shaw, Curtis Brown, Haymarket House, 28/29 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4SP, England; and Robin Straus, 229 E. 79th St., New York, NY 10021. E-mail—[email protected]
Bookseller, writer, editor, actor, and critic. Oxford Mail, Oxford, England, literary editor, 1957-69; Penguin Books, Ltd., London, England, editor of science fiction novels, 1961-64; Guardian, London, art correspondent, 1971-78; Avernus Publishing, London, managing director, 1988—. Judge for Booker-McConnell Prize, 1981. Military service: British Army, five years; served with Royal Corps of Signals; attached to Indian Army, 1945-46; received Burma Star.
Royal Society of Literature, International Institute for the Study of Time, International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (permanent special guest), World Science Fiction Society (president, 1982-84), British Science Fiction Association (president, 1960-64), Science Fiction Writers of America, Science Fiction Research Association, Society of Authors (chair, 1977-78), PEN, Arts Council of Great Britain (literature panelist, 1978-80), Cultural Exchanges Committee (chair).
London Observer short story prize, 1955, for Not for an Age, 1956, for Tradesman's Exit; named most promising new author of the year at the World Science Fiction Convention, 1958; Hugo Award for best short fiction, World Science Fiction Convention, 1962, for Hothouse; special British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award as Most Popular Science-Fiction Author, 1964; Nebula Award for best novella, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1965, for The Saliva Tree, and Other Strange Growths; Ditmar Award for world's best contemporary science fiction author, 1970; BSFA Award, 1972, for The Moment of Eclipse; British Science Fiction Association Special Award, 1972, for Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction; Eurocon III Merit Award, 1976, for Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction; James Blish Award for excellence in science fiction criticism, 1977; Ferrara Silver Comet, 1977, for Science Fiction Art; Prix Jules Verne, 1977, for Non-Stop; Science Fiction Research Association Pilgrim Award, 1978; John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel, and BSFA Award for best fiction, both 1982, and Kurd Lasswitz Award for best foreign novel, 1984, all for Helliconia Spring; first International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts distinguished scholarship award, 1986; BSFA Award for best novel, 1986, for Helliconia Winter; Hugo Award for Best Nonfiction, and Locus Award for Best Nonfiction, both 1987, and J. Lloyd Eaton Award, 1988, all for Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction; World SF President's Award, 1988; fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1990; Kafka Award, 1991; Grand Master Award, Science Fiction Writers of America, 2000; D.Litt., University of Reading, 2000; Vision Award, Science Fiction Writers of Macedonia, 2001; named to Order of the British Empire, 2005.
The Brightfount Diaries, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1955.
Non-Stop, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1958, published as Starship, Criterion (New York, NY), 1959, published as Non-stop, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Equator, Digit Books (London, England), 1958, published as Vanguard from Alpha, Ace (New York, NY), 1959.
Bow down to Nul, Ace (New York, NY), 1960, published as The Interpreter, Digit Books (London, England), 1961.
The Male Response, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1961.
The Primal Urge, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1961.
Long Afternoon of Earth, Signet (New York, NY), 1962, published as Hothouse, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1962, with new introduction by Joseph Milicia, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1976.
The Dark Light Years, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1964.
Greybeard, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1964.
Earthworks, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1965, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.
An Age, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1967, published as Cryptozoic!, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1968.
Report on Probability A, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1968, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1969.
A Brian Aldiss Omnibus, Sidgwick & Jackson (London, England), 1969.
Barefoot in the Head: A European Fantasia, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1969, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970.
The Hand-reared Boy (also see below), Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1969, McCall (New York, NY), 1970.
A Soldier Erect (also see below), Coward (New York, NY), 1971, published as A Soldier Erect; or, Further Adventures of the Hand-reared Boy, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1971.
Brian Aldiss Omnibus 2, Sidgwick & Jackson (London, England), 1971.
Frankenstein Unbound (also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
The Eighty-Minute Hour: A Space Opera, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1974.
The Malacia Tapestry, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1976, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1977.
Brothers of the Head, illustrated by Ian Pollock, Pierrot (New York, NY), 1977.
A Rude Awakening (also see below), Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1978, Random House (New York, NY), 1979.
Enemies of the System: A Tale of Homo Uniformis, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
Life in the West, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1980, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 1990.
Moreau's Other Island, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1980, published as An Island Called Moreau, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
Helliconia Spring (also see below), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982.
Helliconia Summer (also see below), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
Helliconia Winter (also see below), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985.
The Helliconia Trilogy (contains Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer, and Helliconia Winter), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985.
The Horatio Stubbs Saga (contains The Hand-reared Boy, A Soldier Erect, and A Rude Awakening), Panther (London, England), 1985.
The Year before Yesterday: A Novel in Three Acts, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1987.
Ruins, Century Hutchinson (London, England), 1987.
Forgotten Life, Gollancz (London, England), 1988, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
Dracula Unbound, Grafton (London, England), 1991, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Remembrance Day, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Somewhere East of Life: Another European Fantasia, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Roger Penrose) White Mars; or, The Mind Set Free, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
The Cretan Teat, House of Stratus, 2002.
The Super-State, Orbit (London, England), 2002.
Jocasta: Wife and Mother, Rose Press (Pinner, England), 2004.
Affairs at Hampden Ferrers, Little, Brown (London, England), 2004.
Sanity and the Lady, introduction by Ian R. MacLeod, PS Publishing (Hornsea, England), 2005.
Harm, Del Rey/Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Cities and Stones: A Traveller's Yugoslavia, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1965.
The Shape of Further Things, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970.
Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973.
Science Fiction Art, New English Library (London, England), 1975.
Science Fiction As Science Fiction, Bran's Head (Frome, Somerset, England), 1978.
This World and Nearer Ones: Essays Exploring the Familiar, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1979, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1981.
Pile: Petals from St. Klaed's Computer, illustrations by Mike Wilkis, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1979, Holt (New York, NY), 1980.
The Pale Shadow of Science, Serconia (Seattle, WA), 1985.
… And the Lurid Glare of the Comet, Serconia (Seattle, WA), 1986.
(With David Wingrove) Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.
Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's: A Writing Life (autobiography), Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1990.
The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1995.
The Twinkling of an Eye: My Life as an Englishman, Little, Brown (London, England), 1998, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
When the Feast Is Finished, Little, Brown (London, England), 1999.
Space, Time, and Nathaniel, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1957.
The Canopy of Time, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1959.
No Time like Tomorrow, Signet (New York, NY), 1959.
Galaxies like Grains of Sand, Signet (New York, NY), 1960, reprinted with new introduction by Norman Spinrad, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1977.
The Airs of Earth, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1963.
Starswarm, Signet (New York, NY), 1964, reprinted with new introduction by Joseph Milicia, Gregg Press (Boston, MA), 1978.
Best Science Fiction Stories of Brian Aldiss, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1965, revised edition, 1971, published as Who Can Replace a Man?, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1966.
The Saliva Tree, and Other Strange Growths, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1966.
The Future Makers: A Selection of Science Fiction from Brian Aldiss [and others], Sidgwick & Johnson (London, England), 1968.
Intangibles Inc., and Other Stories: Five Novellas, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1969.
Neanderthal Planet, Avon (New York, NY), 1969.
(Contributor) The Inner Landscape, Allison & Busby (London, England), 1969.
The Moment of Eclipse, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1971, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972.
The Book of Brian Aldiss, DAW Books (New York, NY), 1972, published as Comic Inferno, New English Library (London, England), 1973.
Last Orders and Other Stories, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1977.
New Arrivals, Old Encounters, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1979.
Foreign Bodies, Chopman (Singapore), 1981.
Seasons in Flight, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1984, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.
The Magic of the Past, Kerosina Books (Worcester Park, Surrey, England), 1987.
Best SF Stories of Brian W. Aldiss, Gollancz (London, England), 1988, published as Man in His Time: The Best Science Fiction Stories of Brian W. Aldiss, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
Science Fiction Blues: The Show That Brian Aldiss Took on the Road, Avernus Publishing (London, England), 1988.
A Romance of the Equator: The Best Fantasy Stories of Brian W. Aldiss, Gollancz (London, England), 1989, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1990.
(With others) Pulphouse Science-Fiction Short Stories, Pulphouse (Eugene, OR), 1991.
A Tupolev Too Far: And Other Stories, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
The Secret of This Book: Twenty Odd Stories, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Common Clay: Twenty Odd Stories, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Supertoys Last All Summer Long: And Other Stories of the Future, Orbit (London, England), 2001.
Cultural Breaks, Tachyon Publications (San Francisco, CA), 2005.
Penguin Science Fiction, Penguin (New York, NY), 1961.
More Penguin Science Fiction: An Anthology, Penguin (New York, NY), 1962.
Best Fantasy Stories, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1962.
Science Fiction Horizons, Numbers 1-2, Arno Press, 1964-65.
Yet More Penguin Science Fiction, Penguin (New York, NY), 1964.
Introducing Science Fiction: A Science Fiction Anthology, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1964.
(With Harry Harrison) Nebula Award Stories II, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.
(With Harry Harrison) All about Venus: A Revelation of the Planet Venus in Fact and Fiction, Dell (New York, NY), 1968, published as Farewell Fantastic Venus! A History of the Planet Venus in Fact and Fiction, Macdonald (London, England), 1968.
(With Harry Harrison) The Astounding Analog Reader, two volumes, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973.
Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus: An Anthology, Penguin (New York, NY), 1973.
Space Opera: An Anthology of Way-Back-When Futures, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1974, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
(With Harry Harrison) Hell's Cartographers: Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
Space Odysseys, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1975, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.
Evil Earths, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1975, Avon (New York, NY), 1979.
Galactic Empires, two volumes, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1976, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1977.
(With Harry Harrison) Decade: The 1940s, Macmillan (London, England), 1977, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978.
(With Harry Harrison) Decade: The 1950s, Macmillan (London, England), 1977, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978.
(With Harry Harrison) Decade: The 1960s, Macmillan (London, England), 1977.
Perilous Planets, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1978, Avon (New York, NY), 1980.
Mary Shelley: The Last Man, Hogarth Press, 1985.
The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1986.
My Madness: The Selected Writings of Anna Kavan, Picador (New York, NY), 1990.
H.G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau, C.E. Tuttle, 1993.
Mini Sagas from the Daily Telegraph Competition, Sutton, 1997.
Editor, with Harry Harrison, of "Best Science Fiction" annuals, 1967-76; coeditor of "SF Master" series, New English Library, 1976-79; editor of three books of mini-sagas by Alan Sutton, 1985, 1988, and 1997.
Frankenstein Unbound (radio play based on the novel of the same title), British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC Radio), 1974, abridged version released as a sound recording by Alternate World Recordings, 1976, produced as Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound, Warner Brothers, 1990.
Pile: Petals from St. Klaed's Computer (poetry), illustrated by Mike Wilks, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 1979, Holt, 1980.
Farewell to a Child (poetry), Priapus Press (Berkhamsted, England), 1982.
(Author of foreword) Robert Crossley, Olaf Stapledon: Speaking for the Future, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1994.
At the Caligula Hotel and Other Poems, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995.
(Versifier) Makhtumkuli, Songs from the Steppes of Central Asia: The Collected Poems of Makhtumkuli: Eighteenth Century Poet-Hero of Turkmenistan (based on translations by Youssef Azemoun), Society of Friends of Makhtumkuli, 1995.
Author of plays SF Blues, Drinks with the Spider King, and Monsters of Everyday. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals under pseudonym C.C. Shackleton.
The title story and its two sequels collected in Supertoys Last All Summer Long: And Other Stories of the Future were adapted for film by Steven Spielberg and released in 2001 as A.I., directed by Spielberg and starring Haley Joel Osment.
Brian W. Aldiss is a prolific British author who has published criticism, essays, travelogues, short stories, and traditional novels, but who remains best known for his science fiction writing. Since the appearance of his first science fiction novel, Non-Stop, in 1958, Aldiss has garnered virtually every major award in the field, including a Hugo Award for Hothouse, a Nebula Award for The Saliva Tree, and Other Strange Growths, a John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Helliconia Spring, and a James Blish Award for excellence in science fiction criticism.
Aldiss was born in 1925 in East Dereham, Norfolk, England, where his parents were shopkeepers. He attended what he called "an inadequate boarding school and an even more inadequate public school," according to Willis E. McNelly in Science Fiction Writers. He was drafted into the British Army to serve in India, Burma, and Indonesia during World War II. After being discharged, he married, had two children, and worked in a bookstore in Oxford. This employment allowed him to continue his education on his own, and gave him time to write. He has been a professional writer since his first book, The Brightfount Diaries, was published in 1955.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Aldiss approaches science fiction from a humanist point of view, focusing on character and theme rather than gadget-oriented technology. He demands an authorial autonomy that is rare in the field, and he typically discards worn-out formulas in favor of riskier, creative experiments. In the year 2000, his outstanding achievement in the field of science fiction was recognized by his fellows with the awarding of the title of 1999 Grand Master of Science Fiction.
As a critic, Aldiss campaigns for the acceptance of science fiction as a legitimate genre. He argues that science fiction is not just a fad, but will remain a permanent fixture in literature. According to Jonathan White in Publishers Weekly, Aldiss believes that science fiction has the potential to evolve, while other genres inevitably disappear after running their courses. The author explained to White: "I don't look upon science fiction as a genre at all; rather, it contains genres. For a bit it was the space opera that was in vogue. Then the catastrophe novel. For every kind of story that gets used up, another will always take its place." His comprehensive history of this genre, Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, written with David Wingrove, testifies to his vision of science fiction as a serious literary endeavor.
Aldiss has himself experimented with different types of science fiction. An Age, for example, deals with the theme of time travel, but it is also "an amalgam … of detective story, psychological thriller, and visionary fantasy," wrote a Times Literary Supplement reviewer. The Eighty-Minute Hour: A Space Opera, "joyously resurrects old SF stereotypes," but it does so with "an amused self-consciousness, stylistic flair and dexterity, and a double-edged humor based in the comic multiple meanings of language," declared Richard Mathews in his Aldiss Unbound: The Science Fiction of Brian W. Aldiss. Two of the author's books, Report on Probability A and Barefoot in the Head: A European Fantasia, are experimental works which are meant to challenge the reader intellectually, Aldiss told White. Barefoot in the Head describes a war fought with hallucinogenic drugs, while Report on Probability A is "a kind of fantasy nouveau roman of voyeurism," as a Chicago Tribune Book World reviewer called it. Aldiss once told CA that Report on Probability A marks his "commitment to bringing art and artistic concerns into SF." Neither novel was accepted with much critical or public enthusiasm upon publication, but both, especially the repeatedly reissued Report on Probability A, have enjoyed some success since then.
After exploring the many features of the genre in over a dozen books, Aldiss felt he had "written himself out of science fiction," related Mathews. He ventured into what he terms "ordinary fiction" with the novel The Hand-reared Boy and its two sequels, A Soldier Erect and A Rude Awakening. Mathews claimed that the adjective "ordinary," far from having any negative connotation, is "used in its best sense" because the book, which records the "male rites of passage before [World War II], is one with which any man can identify." It is, the reviewer suggested, far from ordinary in its ability to reach its audience. The Hand-reared Boy is the story of Horatio Stubbs's experiences at a private (or, in British usage, public) boarding school for boys in England. Its sequel, A Soldier Erect, follows Stubbs into military service. Mathews found that "these novels are significant in marking [Aldiss's] return to standard fiction devices, without the aid of stylistic inventions or SF gimmicks." The third volume, A Rude Awakening, follows Horatio Stubbs, the young central character, to conflict in Sumatra.
The frankness of Aldiss's approach to this trilogy, which strongly emphasizes Horatio's sexual exploits, inspired strong reactions from critics, who found the characters either refreshing or vulgar. A Times Literary Supplement reviewer noted that The Hand-reared Boy may seem like "an erotic fantasy. Yet it rings true—however surprising to young readers educated at day-schools." And Valentine Cunningham remarked in the Times Literary Supplement that "even a taste for the tasteless has a way of sliding into tastefulness" in A Rude Awakening, the last Horatio book. She felt that the postwar wisdom Horatio expresses toward the end of the book is the most tasteful part, though in her opinion, Aldiss wades through too many "bodily fluids" before offering anything of literary substance to his text. New York Times Book Review critic Martin Levin also had mixed feelings about the Horatio Stubbs trilogy. Reviewing The Hand-reared Boy, Levin believed that the "disarming keynote" of an otherwise sexually preoccupied book is the "spirit of joyful exuberance" with which Horatio recalls his childhood memories. Levin expressed little tolerance for Horatio's "zest for whoring [which] declines only during bouts of dysentery," but he praised Aldiss's portrayal of war in the China-Burma-India theater. The vividness of this part of the book comes from the author's personal experiences in Asia during the Second World War. "Mr. Aldiss brings to life this long-dead war, with its vanished mystique and its forgiven and forgotten enemies," declared Levin. Balancing out the blunt corporeal language and situations of this trilogy, this aspect of the Horatio novels has helped mitigate criticism of these publicly well-received books. The first two novels topped Britain's best-seller lists. Paul Fussell, in his book Wartime, summed up the trilogy as collected in The Horatio Stubbs Saga: "Aldiss's trilogy is not the best writing to come out of the war but it does offer the most clear-sighted view, necessarily comic."
Aldiss's Forgotten Life, published in 1988, contains descriptions of life in wartime Burma and Sumatra which echo those of the Asian war theater in the Horatio books, but any similarities between this and those earlier works end there. Forgotten Life deals with the relationships between mature people, rather than with the maturation processes of a single character. It is concerned with three people, explained Glasgow Herald contributor Ian Bell: Clement Winter, an Oxford psychoanalyst who is struggling "for an emotional life of his own"; his wife Sheila, a successful science fiction/fantasy novelist, who is "living half her life in a fantasy world"; and Clement's brother Joseph, who is striving "to form a lasting relationship free from the rejection he endured at his mother's hands." Jonathan Keates claimed in an Observer review that "the true protagonist here is Joseph," whose tale is told when Clement reads his brother's journals after the latter's death. "Aldiss's skill," continued Keates, "lies in sustaining [Joseph] in a continuing duel with Clement." Contrary to this opinion, Punch critic Simon Brett wrote that "too great a percentage of the book is devoted to [Joseph]. And the author has created a self-regarding style for Joseph's writings which, while entirely appropriate for the character, does become a little wearing for the reader."
The organization of the book is complex, shifting in viewpoint as it involves the reader in Joseph's journal, Clement's life in North Oxford, the brothers' childhood lives, and the present-day relationships between Clement and his brother's mistress, and Sheila and her American editor. Times Literary Supplement contributor John Melmoth observed that this approach "fails to cohere," making it a "frustrating experience." But Isabel Quigley wrote in the London Financial Times that "all these shifts of viewpoint, method, sympathy, place and time … [form a] whole and achieves a pattern, likeable, solid and satisfying." Sophia Watson, a Literary Review critic, similarly remarked that Forgotten Life is "a good read," but she did not believe it should be considered a major work of fiction. Ian Bell felt more strongly about the novel's merits, however, maintaining that "this is a fine and satisfying novel of a type which Mr. Aldiss, masterly SF writer that he is, should try more often."
Despite praise for his mainstream fiction, the author has concentrated most of his efforts on science fiction. His most ambitious work in this genre is the much-praised Helliconia trilogy, which Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times Book Review "truly deserves the label ‘epic.’" The novels Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer, and Helliconia Winter, are set on a world in a binary star system. The 2,592-year orbit of Helliconia's sun Batalix around the larger sun Freyr "subjects Helliconia to a Great Year whose seasons last for centuries," summarized Colin Greenland in a Times Literary Supplement review of Helliconia Summer. The extremity of the weather on the planet dictates to a great extent the rise and fall of civilizations, the relationship between the humans and a-human "Phagors," and the biology of the planet's inhabitants (including humans).
Helliconia Spring starts at the end of Helliconia's 600-year-long barbaric ice age and follows the story of Yuli and his descendants as they begin to reestablish civilization in the town of Embruddock, which Yuli renames Oldorando. As the town grows, the men vie for power and battle the Phagors, while the women, led by the sorceress Shay Tal, establish an academy of science and discover how their planet behaves in its solar system. Aldiss fills his alien setting with descriptions of bizarre species of flora and fauna. In defense of this part of his trilogy, the author remarked that these details of life on Helliconia were "brought about by the joy of invention. The uses of strange species and alien planets were densely related; yet there is hardly a plant or animal which does not have its parallel on Earth."
In a review of Helliconia Spring, Greenland also raised the objection that the plot of the novel depends too much on coincidence and is "overburdened with slabs of undigested science." But these are complaints which critics like Carolyn See, writing in the Los Angeles Times believed to be outweighed by the book's strengths. "For use of climate as character, for making the very long view palatable to the reader, for creating an entire universe that pulses and hums and crackles with life, Aldiss deserves full marks," concluded See.
In the trilogy's second book, Helliconia Summer, the author focuses on a time period of only a few months. The Phagors have been subjugated (at least temporarily) and the story focuses on Jandal Anganol, King of Borlien, and the intrigue and politics between his country and neighboring Oldorando. It is a tale which, according to London Times critic Nicholas Shakespeare, "smacks less of science fiction than medieval romance," though the plot also follows the society's progress as the priesthood becomes more and more involved in scientific studies.
The concluding book of the series, Helliconia Winter, "combines the best of the Helliconia volumes—the breadth, scope, and historical sweep of [Helliconia Spring] with the finely crafted details and narrow focus" of Helliconia Summer, stated Fantasy Review contributor Michael R. Collins. In a review of Helliconia Winter, Greenland wrote that the trilogy signifies "fatalism, fundamentality, the brute biology of it all. Everything comes back to nature, which endures." As civilization struggles to survive the oncoming winter, the reader follows the adventures of Luterin Shokerandit as he goes to war, is imprisoned in the Great Wheel of Kharnabar, and survives the "Fat Death," a disease transmitted by ticks which infest the Phagors and cause the victim's body to change drastically. Strangely enough and unknown to the Helliconians, the virus actually has a beneficial side effect which allows humankind to survive the harsh winter.
While all this is taking place, the importance of the space station Avernus (which was also mentioned in the earlier books) is made more apparent to the reader in Helliconia Winter. The purpose of the station is to transmit messages back to Earth about every event that occurs on Helliconia's surface. Greenland felt that Aldiss's inclusion of the events on Avernus and Earth do not add to the story of Helliconia. This parallel story seems "like a dissonant dream, almost trivial beside the main drama," Greenland wrote. In contrast, an Extrapolation reviewer held that the stories of Earth and Helliconia present a unifying theme of hope for humanity which is finally brought together in the last book. "The endless pictures coming from Helliconia [are] an example from which humanity might learn," suggested the reviewer, concluding that as the people on Earth achieve a "new consciousness" which provides "humanity with a new unity instead of the old isolation," the highly technological station Avernus, which is also, in turn, a place of isolation for its caretakers, is replaced by higher, empathic communications. Humanity finds peace and understanding at last through the unification of the people of Earth with the Helliconians.
In a Los Angeles Times article, Sue Martin expressed her feeling that overall the trilogy is only "semicompelling" because there are "no real twists" in the plot.
However, many critics wrote that the Helliconia trilogy was a considerable achievement. "Though science fiction often has this scope," asserted Greenland, "it has never had this grandeur." Gerald Jonas felt these books comprised "a splendid work of imagination that weds grandeur of concept to a mastery of detail and a sense of style unmatched in modern science fiction." Aldiss told Jonathan White in Publishers Weekly that the importance of these books to him was that they signified his attempt "to get on my horse again and write a big, solid novel that no one could say wasn't SF." According to his own definition of science fiction quoted in the New York Times Book Review, this meant that he had written a work which attempted "to build some sort of philosophical and metaphysical framework around the immense changes of our times brought about by technological development." The trilogy addresses all these aspects by including a scope of time encompassing thousands of years, the description of technology and its effect on Avernus and Earth, and, in Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review contributor Willis E. McNelly's words, the "artistic, intellectual, theological, even teleological sustenance" which Helliconia offers to Earth.
The trilogy is thought of as the author's most ambitious effort to give science fiction credibility as a form of serious literature. Fantasy Review contributor Collins remarked that "only an author such as Aldiss, who has immersed himself in questions of stasis and change, entropy, ecological balance, and definitions of what it is to be human—and has explored their possibilities for almost three decades—could have completed such a vision" as the Helliconia trilogy.
Aldiss's 1994 novel Somewhere East of Life: Another European Fantasia was described by a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement as "a reckoning of accounts and an examination of conscience, both personal and political." The protagonist is Roy Burnell, an early twenty-first-century architectural historian who has had ten years of his memory stolen to be made into illicit tapes. The novel follows him as he searches throughout the East for his missing memories. Gerald Jonas wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "The story [Aldiss] has to tell is funny and disturbing, depressing and heartening by turns, and worth reading under any label." Somewhere East of Life is the fourth book in Aldiss's Squire Quartet.
In the novel White Mars; or The Mind Set Free, called "a paean to rationalism and scientific truth" by a Library Journal contributor, Aldiss explores the ramifications of attempts to construct a utopian society on the Martian colonies following a Terran economic collapse. "Led by the philosopher Tom Jeffries," explained a Publishers Weekly contributor, "the citizens of the colony … devote their time to debating ethical and political theory at enormous length." The colonists adopt the principles of communal property, group childcare, and rejection of gun violence and drug culture. The title is both a nod to the successful trilogy of Martian novels by Kim Stanley Robinson and a reference to the international treaties that have kept Antarctica an unspoiled wilderness. At one point the colonists debate the morality of transforming the Martian desert into a more earthlike environment. "Humankind has matured, Aldiss suggests," declared John Mort in Booklist, "so that, given a brand-new start, it would behave in a brand-new way."
Discussing Aldiss's science fiction work in general, critic Robert E. Colbert wrote in Extrapolation that Aldiss's "concern for the dearth of ordinary human feeling in so much genre science fiction, its lack of warmth and compassion, is clear. And the specific literary benefits of the reintroduction of such concerns are also clear: an art which renders situations, depicts characters, closer to the more immediate human concerns can only benefit artistically." A number of critics have written that for these reasons, Brian Aldiss's contributions to science fiction have done much to improve its respectability. According to Greenland, Aldiss "continues to represent the acceptable face of science fiction to those literati who still cannot bring themselves to acknowledging the genre."
Aldiss is also a prolific short story writer and has had many of his stories published in various collections. Publishers Weekly reviewer Sybil Steinberg called the stories in A Romance of the Equator: The Best Fantasy Stories of Brian W. Aldiss "carefully crafted word pictures that should be read slowly and savored." Jonas wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "despite some attempts at humor, which I found strained, the prevailing mood in these fictions is melancholy, a sadness that comes from contemplating the mess that human beings usually make of themselves."
Aldiss experiments with styles in the sinister A Tupolev Too Far: And Other Stories. According to Gary K. Wolfe of Locus, the "juxtaposition of the mundane with the exotic … may be the hallmark of the book. Aldiss repeatedly convinces us we're in a mainstream story, then sends us right over the edge." Times Literary Supplement critic Julian Ferraro said the stories in The Secret of This Book: Twenty Odd Stories "vary greatly in terms of tone, subject-matter and genre." He added, "Aldiss alternates between contemporary and fantastic settings, often combining elements of both to good effect." The strange, eclectic tales of Common Clay: Twenty Odd Stories have autobiographical elements and, observed a Kirkus Reviews critic, convey "the unnerving sense that there's always something else going on just beyond the reader's immediate apprehension."
Of Aldiss's 2001 collection, Supertoys Last All Summer Long: And Other Stories of the Future, Mark Greener of Vector wrote, "A new short-story collection from one of Europe's leading sf writers is always welcome—and [Supertoys Last All Summer Long] is no exception. It is, quite simply, stunning." The title story and two of its sequels, which tell the tale of David, an android who thinks he is a "real boy," have been adapted by Steven Spielberg into the film, A.I. Of the collection, Greener concluded, "This isn't a book to just read. It's a book to linger over, to savour, to relish."
Some insight on Aldiss is gained from his first autobiography, Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's: A Writing Life. In it he tells anecdotes about his writing career, friends, and travels. However, as David V. Barrett noted in New Statesman & Society, "This is less a book about Brian Aldiss than about what writing has meant to him throughout his life, and his love affair with words." Barrett concluded, "This is a salutary book for aspiring writers to read, whatever their chosen literary field." Aldiss has since published When the Feast Is Finished, in which he explores the life of his late wife Margaret, who died of pancreatic cancer, and The Twinkling of an Eye: My Life as an Englishman, which surveys his own varied life and career. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented of The Twinkling of an Eye, "The quirky blend of classical learning, poetic language and exotic landscapes that animate Aldiss's fiction … also suffuse this book, which eschews a linear chronology in favor of a more Proustian narrative." Roland Green, writing in Booklist concluded: "This is a large chronicle of large achievements, related with eloquence, wit, and a decent reticence about certain colleagues." He continued, "May Aldiss enjoy enough more years to justify a second volume."
After half a century of writing, Aldiss continues to produce new works. In the 2004 novel, Affairs at Hampden Ferrers, Aldiss presents a magical tale of a small English village. Hampden Ferrers lies close to Oxford, and its village church, St Clements, is over a thousand years old. When the villagers decide to hold a celebration, it attracts visitors from around the world and leads to magical happenings and sinister emanations from the church itself. In the novel Jocasta: Wife and Mother, Aldiss turns to historical fiction, bringing to life the world of Thebes in ancient Greece. Aldiss presents this world as sun-filled and dominated by sphinxes, furies, raging gods, and hermaphroditic philosophers. The novel explores the mind of ancients just beginning to come to terms with the natural world.
Aldiss returned to science fiction with his 2007 novel, Harm. Here he tells a story set in the very near future, featuring Paul Ali, a young science fiction writer of Muslim descent living in England. Ali is arrested by HARM, the Hostile Activities Research Ministry, for writing a satirical book in which the prime minister is assassinated. He slips into the nightmare world of prison, addressed only as prisoner B. Kept in isolation and beaten, in his moments of coherence Ali begins to write a science fiction novel in his head, one set on a distant planet Stygia in the far distant future. However, as Ali's isolation intensifies, the reality of his fictional invention deepens, and slowly his world and that of his fictional planet begin to merge. In a review for Readers Robot, Harriet Klausner called the book "thought provoking and emotionally disturbing."
Aldiss once commented: "I write every day and always have done—not invariably for publication…. To be able to write is a slice of great golden fortune."
Aldiss told CA: "As a solitary child, I found early amusement in writing little stories. At the age of four, my mother took these stories, many of which I had illustrated, and bound them in covers of wallpaper. So these were preserved, at least for a while. I never had to decide what I would be. I was always sure I would be a writer.
"I was sent to a boarding school when I was still only five. There in the dormitory after dark I would terrify the other boys by telling them ghost stories. At a later boarding school I continued the habit of telling stories after dark. I developed the idea by telling serial stories—about twenty minutes per night. One was not supposed to talk after lights out. The housemaster would frequently catch me talking. He then beat me with a cane on my pyjama-clad behind. I never made a sound—far too proud for that. So I became regarded as a hero. These beatings prepared me for the task of being a writer—and for being misunderstood.
"Early in life, I was reading the short stories of Saki (H.H. Monroe) and the more obscure Ernest Bramah (author of Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat, etc). I loved his sly humor. Of course I was also reading all the standards, such as [Daniel Defoe's] Robinson Crusoe and Alexander Pope's poems. Graham Green and Aldous Huxley came along later.
"I cannot clearly describe my writing process. Each novel is an adventure; you begin and make it grow in a mysterious organic process. Once a novel is written, then comes the enjoyable business of scrutinizing, adding, altering, gaining a better understanding of what you wish to say, and saying it more distinctly. Or obliquely.
"The most surprising thing is that I am able to write, and that fruitful ideas regularly rise to the surface. These ideas, or those I regard as important, seem to rise more often now I am in my eighties. There is something to be said for The Malacia Tapestry—a certain richness in description. Jocasta is a favourite. And of course there are those early creations, Non-Stop and Hothouse. I rejoice that you do not ask which is my least favorite novel!
"I hope that something I write might have the effect of opening young eyes to the world—and to the world of the imagination. I was once in pursuit of a charming but reluctant woman. She became much less reluctant when she discovered I was the author of a cutting she kept in her purse—a snatch of prose she found beautiful and containing an original thought. I am against dragons. I eschew magic. Such things have no place in our partly rational world. Laughter, though—that's another thing…. There is always a doubt about one's success: could it not be done better, in a more accomplished way? I was delighted when I was presented with an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace—I must have been doing something right."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Aldiss, Brian, Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's: A Writing Life, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1990.
Hatherley, Frank, Margaret Aldiss, and Malcolm Edwards, editors, A Is for Brian: A 65th Birthday Present for Brian W. Aldiss from His Family, Friends, Colleagues, and Admirers (limited edition), Avernus Publishing (London, England), 1990.
Aldiss, Brian, The Twinkling of an Eye: My Life as an Englishman, Little, Brown (London, England), 1998.
Aldiss, Brian, When the Feast Is Finished, Little, Brown (London, England), 1999.
Aldiss, Margaret, compiler, Brian W. Aldiss: A Bibliography, 1954-1988, Borgo (San Bernardino, CA), 1989.
Aldiss, Margaret, The Work of Brian W. Aldiss: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide, edited by Boden Clark, Borgo (San Bernardino, CA), 1992.
Bleiler, E.F., editor, Science Fiction Writers, Charles Scribner's (New York, NY), 1982.
Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 2, Thomson Gale, (Detroit, MI), 1985.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5, 1976, Volume 14, 1980, Volume 40, 1986.
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 14: British Novelists since 1960, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1983.
Fussell, Paul, Wartime, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Mathews, Richard, Aldiss Unbound: The Science Fiction of Brian W. Aldiss, Borgo (San Bernardino, CA), 1977.
Modern British Literature, Volume 1, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Platt, Charles, editor, Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley Publishing, 1980.
Short Story Criticism, Volume 36, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988.
Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 15, 1989, Tom Easton, review of Last Orders and Other Stories, p. 183; August, 1994, Tom Easton, review of A Tupolev Too Far: And Other Stories, p. 165; September, 2000, Tom Easton, review of White Mars; or The Mind Set Free, p. 135.
Booklist, March 15, 1996, Carl Hays, review of Common Clay: Twenty Odd Stories, p. 1244; April 15, 1999, Roland Green, review of The Twinkling of an Eye: My Life as an Englishman, p. 1501; March 15, 2000, John Mort, review of White Mars, p. 1334.
Chicago Tribune Book World, January 25, 1981, review of Report on Probability A.
Extrapolation, winter, 1982, review of Helliconia Spring; spring, 1986, Robert E. Colbert, review of Helliconia Winter; fall, 1996, Donald M. Hassler, review of The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy, p. 285.
Fantasy Review, April, 1985, Michael R. Collings, review of Helliconia Winter.
Financial Times (London, England), October 1, 1988, Isabel Quigley, review of Forgotten Life.
Glasgow Herald, October 8, 1988, Ian Bell, review of Forgotten Life.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1996, review of Common Clay, p. 30.
Library Journal, May 15, 1989, Marcia R. Hoffman, review of Forgotten Life, p. 87; May 15, 1993, Ann Donovan, review of Remembrance Day, p. 95; March 15, 1996, Sue Hamburger, review of Common Clay, p. 99; March 15, 2000, John Mort, review of White Mars, p. 1334; April 15, 2000, review of White Mars, p. 128; September 1, 2001, Michael Rogers, "Nebula Award Stories," p. 241; January, 2002, Michael Rogers, "Nebula Award Two," p. 160.
Literary Review, September, 1988, Sophia Watson, review of Forgotten Life.
Locus, October, 1993, Gary K. Wolfe, review of A Tupolev Too Far, p. 57.
Los Angeles Times, February 25, 1982, Carolyn See, review of Helliconia Spring; June 12, 1985, Sue Martin, review of Helliconia Winter.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 17, 1991, Sheery Gershon Gottlieb, review of Dracula Unbound.
New Statesman and Society, August 10, 1990, David V. Barrett, review of Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's: A Writing Life, p. 38; August 12, 1994, John Clute, review of Somewhere East of Life: Another European Fantasia, p. 36.
New York Times Book Review, April 19, 1970, Martin Levin, review of The Hand-reared Boy; August 22, 1971 Martin Levin, review of A Soldier Erect; September 12, 1976; February 26, 1984, Gerald Jonas, review of Helliconia Spring, section 7, p. 31; April 28, 1985, Gerald Jonas, review of Helliconia Winter; April 30, 1989, Samuel Hynes, review of Forgotten Life, p. 10; July 15, 1990, Gerald Jonas, review of A Romance of the Equator: The BestFantasy Stories of Brian W. Aldiss, p. 13; March 17, 1991, Gerald Jonas, review of Dracula Unbound, p. 22; September 11, 1994, Gerald Jonas, review of Somewhere East of Life, p. 46; May 9, 1999, Gerald Jonas, review of The Twinkling of an Eye, p. 27.
Observer, September 25, 1988, Jonathan Keates, review of Forgotten Life; December 17, 1989, p. 46.
People, February 11, 1991, David Hiltbrand, review of Dracula Unbound, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, April 19, 1985, Jonathan White, review of Helliconia Winter, and interview with author; February 15, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of A Romance of the Equator, p. 71; April 6, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Life in the West, p. 102; December 7, 1990, review of Dracula Unbound, p. 76; May 10, 1993, review of Remembrance Day, p. 50; August 8, 1994, review of Somewhere East of Life, p. 392; February 12, 1996, review of Common Clay, p. 63; March 22, 1999, review of The Twinkling of an Eye, p. 81; February 14, 2000, review of White Mars, p. 177; June 11, 2001, review of Supertoys Last All Summer Long: And Other Stories of the Future, p. 67.
Punch, September 30, 1988, Simon Brett, review of Forgotten Life.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Review, June, 1982, Willis E. McNelly, review of Helliconia Spring.
Times (London, England), December 8, 1983, Nicholas Shakespeare, review of Helliconia Summer.
Times Literary Supplement, September 21, 1967, review of An Age; January 22, 1970, review of The Hand-reared Boy; May 19, 1978, Valentine Cunningham, review of A Rude Awakening; December 2, 1983, Colin Greenland, reviews of Helliconia Spring and Helliconia Winter; September 30, 1988, John Melmoth, review of Forgotten Life; September 23, 1994, review of Somewhere East of Life, p. 24; November 10, 1995, Julian Ferraro, review of The Secret of This Book: Twenty Odd Stories, p. 24.
Vector, March-April, 2001, Mark Greener, reviews of Non-Stop and Supertoys Last All Summer Long, and L.J. Hurst, review of White Mars.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (August 18, 2007), "Brian W. Aldiss."
Official Brian W. Aldiss Home Page, http://www.solarisbooks.co.uk/aldiss (August 18, 2007).
Readers Robot,http://www.tnrdlib.bc.ca/ (August 18, 2007), Harriet Klausner, review of Harm.