Aldiss, Brian (Wilson)

views updated

ALDISS, Brian (Wilson)

Nationality: British. Born: East Dereham, Norfolk, 18 August 1925. Education: Framlingham College, Suffolk, 1936-39; West Buckland School, 1939-42. Military Service: Served in the Royal Corps of Signals in the Far East, 1943-47. Family: Married Margaret Manson in 1965 (second marriage; divorced 1997); four children, two from previous marriage. Career: Bookseller, Oxford, 1947-56; literary editor, Oxford Mail, 1958-69; science-fiction editor, Penguin Books, London, 1961-64; art correspondent, Guardian, London, 1969-71. President, British Science Fiction Association, 1960-65; co-founder, 1972, and chair, 1976-78, John W. Campbell Memorial award; co-president, Eurocon Committee, 1975-79; chair, Society of Authors, London, 1978-79; member, Arts Council Literature Panel, 1978-80; president, World SF, 1982-84. Since 1975 vice-president, Stapledon Society; since 1977 founding trustee, World Science Fiction, Dublin; since 1983 vice-president, H.G. Wells Society; since 1988 vice-president, Society of Anglo-Chinese Understanding; since 1990 council member, Council for Posterity. Since 1991 managing director, Avernus Ltd. Awards: World Science Fiction Convention citation, 1959; Hugo award, 1962, 1987; Nebula award, 1965; Ditmar award (Australia), 1970; British Science Fiction Association award, 1972, 1982, 1986, and special award, 1974; Eurocon award, 1976; James Blish award, for non-fiction, 1977; Cometa d'Argento (Italy), 1977; Jules Verne prize, 1977; Pilgrim award, 1978; John W. Campbell Memorial award, 1983; International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts award, for scholarship, 1986; Eaton award, 1986; World SF President's award, 1988; Kafka award, 1991. Guest of Honour, World Science Fiction Convention, London, 1965, 1979. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1990. Agents: Robin Straus, 229 East 79th St., New York, New York 10021, USA; Michael Shaw, Curtis Brown, Haymarket House, 28/29 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4SP, England. Address: Hambelden, 39 St. Andrews Road, Old Headington, Oxford OX3 9DL, England.



The Brightfount Diaries. London, Faber, 1955.

Non-Stop. London, Faber, 1958; as Starship, New York, Criterion, 1959.

Vanguard from Alpha. New York, Ace, 1959; as Equator (includes"Segregation"), London, Digit, 1961.

Bow Down to Nul. New York, Ace, 1960; as The Interpreter, London, Digit, 1961.

The Male Response. New York, Galaxy, 1961; London, Dobson, 1963.

The Primal Urge. New York, Ballantine, 1961; London, Sphere, 1967.

The Long Afternoon of Earth. New York, New American Library, 1962; expanded edition, as Hothouse, London, Faber, 1962; Boston, Gregg Press, 1976.

The Dark Light Years. London, Faber, and New York, New AmericanLibrary, 1964.

Greybeard. London, Faber, and New York, Harcourt Brace, 1964.

Earthworks. London, Faber, 1965; New York, Doubleday, 1966.

An Age. London, Faber, 1967; as Cryptozoic!, New York, Doubleday, 1968.

Report on Probability A. London, Faber, 1968; New York, Doubleday, 1969.

Barefoot in the Head. London, Faber, 1969; New York, Doubleday, 1970.

The Hand-Reared Boy. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and NewYork, McCall, 1970.

A Soldier Erect; or, Further Adventures of the Hand-Reared Boy. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Coward McCann, 1971.

Frankenstein Unbound. London, Cape, 1973; New York, RandomHouse, 1974.

The Eighty-Minute Hour. London, Cape, and New York, Doubleday, 1974.

The Malacia Tapestry. London, Cape, 1976; New York, Harper, 1977.

Brothers of the Head. London, Pierrot, 1977; New York, TwoContinents, 1978.

Enemies of the System. London, Cape, and New York, Harper, 1978.

A Rude Awakening. London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1978; NewYork, Random House, 1979.

Brothers of the Head, and Where the Lines Converge. London, Panther, 1979.

Life in the West. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980; New York, Carroll and Graf, 1990.

Moreau's Other Island. London, Cape, 1980; as An Island Called Moreau, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1981.

The Helliconia Trilogy. New York, Atheneum, 1985.

Helliconia Spring. London, Cape, and New York, Atheneum1982.

Helliconia Summer. London, Cape, and New York, Atheneum, 1983.

Helliconia Winter. London, Cape, and New York, Atheneum1985.

The Horatio Stubbs Saga. London, Panther, 1985.

The Year Before Yesterday. New York, Watts, 1987; as Cracken at Critical, Worcester Park, Surrey, Kerosina, 1987.

Ruins. London, Hutchinson, 1987.

Forgotten Life. London, Gollancz, 1988; New York, Atheneum, 1989.

Dracula Unbound. London, Grafton, and New York, Harper Collins, 1991.

Remembrance Day. London, HarperCollins, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Somewhere East of Life. London, HarperCollins, and New York, Carroll and Graf, 1994.

Short Stories

Space, Time, and Nathaniel: Presciences. London, Faber, 1957; abridged edition, as No Time Like Tomorrow, New York, New American Library, 1959.

The Canopy of Time. London, Faber, 1959; revised edition, asGalaxies Like Grains of Sand, New York, New American Library, 1960.

The Airs of Earth. London, Faber, 1963.

Starswarm. New York, New American Library, 1964; London, Panther, 1979.

Best Science Fiction Stories of Brian Aldiss. London, Faber, 1965; asWho Can Replace a Man? New York, Harcourt Brace, 1966; revised edition, Faber, 1971.

The Saliva Tree and Other Strange Growths. London, Faber, 1966.

Intangibles Inc. London, Faber, 1969.

A Brian Aldiss Omnibus 1-2. London, Sidgwick and Jackson, 2 vols., 1969-1971.

Neanderthal Planet. New York, Avon, 1970.

The Moment of Eclipse. London, Faber, 1970; New York, Doubleday, 1972.

The Book of Brian Aldiss. New York, DAW, 1972; as The Comic Inferno, London, New English Library, 1973.

Excommunication. London, Post Card Partnership, 1975.

Last Orders and Other Stories. London, Cape 1977; New York, Carroll and Graf, 1989.

New Arrivals, Old Encounters: Twelve Stories. London, Cape, 1979;New York, Harper, 1980.

Foreign Bodies. Singapore, Chopmen, 1981.

Seasons in Flight. London, Cape, 1984; New York, Atheneum, 1986.

The Magic of the Past. Worcester Park, Surrey, Kerosina, 1987.

Best Science Fiction Stories of Brian W. Aldiss (not same as 1965 book). London, Gollancz, 1988; as Man in His Time, New York, Atheneum, 1989.

A Romance of the Equator: Best Fantasy Stories. London, Gollancz, 1989; New York, Atheneum, 1990.

A Tupolev Too Far. London, HarperCollins, 1993; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1994.

The Secret of This Book: 20 Odd Stories, illustrations by RosamundChorley and Brian Aldiss. New York, HarperCollins, 1995.


Distant Encounters, adaptation of his own stories (produced London, 1978).

SF Blues (produced London, 1987).

Television Play:

Life (4 Minutes series), 1986.


Pile: Petals from St. Klaed's Computer. London, Cape, and NewYork, Holt Rinehart, 1979.

Farewell to a Child. Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, Priapus, 1982.

At the Caligula Hotel. London, Sinclair Stevenson, 1995.

At the Caligula Hotel and Other Poems. London, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995.

Songs from the Steppes of Central Asia: The Collected Poems of Makhtumkuli: Eighteenth Century Poet-Hero of Turkmenistan (versified by Aldiss, based on translations by Youssef Azemoun). Caversham, Berkshire, England, Society of Friends of Makhtumkuli, 1995.


Cities and Stones: A Traveller's Jugoslavia. London, Faber, 1966.

The Shape of Further Things: Speculations on Change. London, Faber, 1970; New York, Doubleday, 1971.

Billion Year Spree: A History of Science Fiction. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Doubleday, 1973.

Science Fiction Art, illustrated by Chris Foss. New York, Bounty, 1975; London, Hart Davis, 1976.

Science Fiction as Science Fiction. Frome, Somerset, Bran's Head, 1978.

This World and Nearer Ones: Essays Exploring the Familiar. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979; Ohio, Kent State University Press, 1981.

Science Fiction Quiz. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983.

The Pale Shadow of Science (essays). Seattle, Serconia Press, 1985.

And the Lurid Glare of the Comet (essays). Seattle, Serconia Press, 1986.

Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, with DavidWingrove. London, Gollancz, and New York, Atheneum, 1986.

Science Fiction Blues (selections), edited by Frank Hatherley. London, Avernus, 1988.

Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's: A Writing Life. London, Hodder andStoughton, 1990.

The Detached Retina. Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1995.

Foreword, Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

The Twinkling of an Eye, or, My Life as an Englishman. New York, St. Martin's, 1999.

Foreword, Soft as Steel: The Art of Julie Bell by Nigel Suckling. NewYork, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1999.

Editor, Penguin Science Fiction. London, Penguin, 1961; More Penguin Science Fiction, 1963; Yet More Penguin Science Fiction, 1964; 3 vols. collected as The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus, 1973.

Editor, Best Fantasy Stories. London, Faber, 1962.

Editor, Last and First Men, by Olaf Stapledon. London, Penguin, 1963.

Editor, Introducing SF. London, Faber, 1964.

Editor, with Harry Harrison, Nebula Award Stories 2. New York, Doubleday, 1967; as Nebula Award Stories 1967, London, Gollancz, 1967.

Editor, with Harry Harrison, All about Venus. New York, Dell, 1968; enlarged edition, as Farewell, Fantastic Venus, London, Macdonald, 1968.

Editor, with Harry Harrison, Best SF 1967 [to 1975 ]. New York, Berkley and Putnam, 7 vols., and Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 2 vols., 1968-1975; as The Year's Best Science Fiction 1-9, London, Sphere, 8 vols., 1968-1976, and London, Futura, 1 vol., 1976.

Editor, with Harry Harrison, The Astounding-Analog Reader. NewYork, Doubleday, 2 vols., 1972-1973; London, Sphere, 2 vols., 1973.

Editor, Space Opera. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974; NewYork, Doubleday, 1975.

Editor, Space Odysseys. London, Futura, 1974; New York, Doubleday, 1976.

Editor, with Harry Harrison, SF Horizons (reprint of magazine). NewYork, Arno Press, 1975.

Editor, with Harry Harrison, Hell's Cartographers: Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Harper, 1975.

Editor, with Harry Harrison, Decade: The 1940's, The 1950's, The 1960's. London, Macmillan, 3 vols., 1975-1977; The 1940's and The 1950's, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2 vols., 1978.

Editor, Evil Earths. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975; NewYork, Avon, 1979.

Editor, Galactic Empires. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2 vols., 1976; New York, St. Martin's Press, 2 vols., 1977.

Editor, Perilous Planets. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978;New York, Avon, 1980.

Editor, with others, The Penguin Masterquiz Book. London, Penguin, 1985.

Editor, with Sam J. Lundwall, The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction. London, Penguin, 1986; New York, Penguin, 1987.

Editor, My Madness: The Selected Writings of Anna Kavan. London, Pan, 1990.

Editor, Mini Sagas from the Daily Telegraph Competition. Stroud, Gloucestershire, Sutton, 1997.



Brian W. Aldiss: A Bibliography 1954-1984 by Margaret Aldiss, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1991.

Manuscript Collections:

Bodleian Library, Oxford University; Dallas Public Library.

Critical Studies:

"Generic Discontinuities in SF: Brian Aldiss' Starship " by Fredric Jameson, in Science-Fiction Studies (Terre Haute, Indiana), vol. 1, no. 2, 1973; Aldiss Unbound: The Science Fiction of Brian W. Aldiss by Richard Mathews, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1977; Apertures: A Study of the Writings of Brian Aldiss by Brian Griffin and David Wingrove, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1984; article by Aldiss in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series 2 edited by Adele Sarkissian, Detroit, Gale, 1985; A Is for Brian: A 65th Birthday Present for Brian W. Aldiss from His Family, Friends, Colleagues, and Admirers edited by Frank Hatherley, London, Avernus, 1990.

Brian Aldiss comments:

(1991) With Somewhere East of Life, I have completed the Squire Quartet, which opened with Life in the West. These novels cover a great extent of territory, from the United States to Singapore and Turkmenistan, from Stockholm to Sicily. Always my native county of Norfolk, East Anglia, serves as a sort of fulcrum. Family affairs are set against the slow decline of the West and the abrupt demise of the Soviet Union.

An idea of how much I might encompass was brought home to me while writing the three Helliconia novels in the early to mid-1980s: Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer, and Helliconia Winter. I have never experienced that great divide some people detect between science fiction and the ordinary contemporary novel; this probably reflects my reading and the company I keep.

I write every day and always have donenot invariably for publication. My SF presents a spectrum moving from extreme surreal situations in the early novels to events merely colored by an incipient future. By the time I wrote Report on Probability A and Barefoot in the Head, I had already moved away from the confines of genre fiction.

Happily, my contemporary novels have been about as successful as the more imaginative ones. Recent pleasures include having a volume of critical essays and a selection of my poems published. I'm now working on a large-scale autobiographical "thing"an unlicked cub as yetwhich will contain my experience of and meditations on war.

To be able to write is a slice of great golden fortune.

* * *

The great contribution Brian Aldiss has made to the art of science fiction is to help to raise it to the point where it is now accepted, by all but the chronically bigoted, as a literary form worthy of serious consideration. I suspect that this has much to do with the fact that Aldiss has always looked upon himself primarily as a novelist rather than as a writer of SF, and he has written several novels other than those on science-fiction themes.

His first full length science-fiction novel was Non-Stop, which was based on the almost classic SF theme of a giant space-ship adrift in space. As a piece of storytelling, it is first class, and it displays all the excellences that are to be found in his later work: the ability to establish by carefully selected detail a convincing atmosphere of place and time, and a logical development of situations so that even the most outlandish become acceptable to the reader. In Hothouse, for example, Aldiss creates a world dominated by vegetation where we can sense the continual and overwhelming growth, even breathe the vegetable air, and in Greybeard the experience of being in post-atomic Oxford is remarkably vivid. But in Non-Stop, while the exploration of the ship (once built by giants) by Roy Complain and his companions has parallels with the sense of awe and wonder experienced by the Old English poets when they encountered the ruins of Roman cities, the space ship becomes a microcosm of Earth which, too, can be seen as a giant ship itself endlessly adrift in space, and the exploration develops into a search for destination and purpose.

A quality which informs Aldiss's work, and which should not be overlooked, is his sense of humor. In Non-Stop one aspect of this can be seen in his pursuit of the idea that in the future psychology will develop its own theology and superstitions and replace our present religions. It is a plausible thesis and at the same time an amusing one, and often Aldiss's humor helps to save his SF novels from the over-seriousness that has engulfed other practitioners in this genre. It has been responsible too for the excellent humorous novels. The logical consequences of the invention and universal use of an "Emotional Register" are used in The Primal Urge to create a fantastic and hilarious story.

Since the late 1960s Aldiss has striven to extend the boundaries of his art. In Report on Probability A he attempted the first SF anti-novel, a study in relative phenomena which proved a tour de force, and in Barefoot in the Head he produced another "first," where groups of poems and "pop-songs" reflect and comment on the preceding prose chapters. In a Europe reeling psychodelically from an attack by an Arab state with Psycho-Chemical Aerosol Bombs, Chateris, the hero of Barefoot in the Head, gradually absorbs the acid-head poison in the atmosphere to find himself a new Messiah. As social and thought patterns disintegrate so does the language, and Aldiss develops a stunning-punning prose reminiscent of the verbal pyrotechnics of Joyce's Finnegans Wake. At the same time he creates a nightmare world reflecting trends observable in the situation already with us.

Though not strictly within a discussion of Aldiss's novels, we should not overlook his collections of short stories, Space, Time, and Nathaniel and The Canopy of Time, of which he is justly proud. The Horatio Stubbs series constitutes a fictional autobiography covering the years from the 1930s to the 1960s, where through the sexual and spiritual development of Horatio are examined certain aspects of the poverty of English middle-class life. The first, The Hand-Reared Boy, begins with Horatio as a boy, his masturbatory fantasies and his first sexual encounters. The direct and extremely realistic style of the first part of this novel might not be to everyone's taste, but it flowers into a most beautifully controlled story of Horatio's first and hopeless love for an older woman. In the second novel, A Solder Erect, we find Horatio still hard at it in the army and serving in India and Burma where his sexual and social education is broadened. The coarse brutality of wartime soldiering in the Far East is accurately and brutally portrayed, but redeemed by humor and set in contrast with Horatio's growing awareness of values beyond the more immediately erotic, a theme continued and brought to conclusion in the third novel in the series, A Rude Awakening, where Horatio encounters the Dutch, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indonesian forces in Sumatra and finds himself with two girls.

On the SF side, Aldiss's Frankenstein Unbound breaks new ground again. As a result of the indiscriminate use of nuclear weapons within the ambits of the Earth-Lunar system the infrastructure of space is seriously damaged to the point where time and space go "on the brink." The consequent "time shifts" find Joe Boderland suddenly transported to Switzerland in the year 1816 where he encounters not only Mary Shelley, the creator of Frankenstein, but Frankenstein himself in a world where reality itself is equally unstable and the dividing line between the real and the imagined world has become confused. In this situation Boderland finds himself unsure of his own role, and it is the discovery and fulfillment of his mission which constitutes the central theme of the narrative. It is a measure of Aldiss's powers as a novelist that he persuades the reader of the reality of this fantastic situation. The theme, I suspect, was suggested by his researches into the origins of science fiction which he undertook to produce his history of the genre, Billion Year Spree (and now Trillion Year Spree ), and in which he makes a powerful case for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the first true SF novel.

More recent novels increase one's admiration for Aldiss's versatility and unflagging powers of invention. Brothers of the Head, the story of Siamese twin boys with a third dominant head which becomes increasingly demanding, is a brilliant if disturbing excursion into the macabre, while The Malacia Tapestry almost defies definition. Set in an age-old city state, riddled with rival philosophies, under the spell of magicians, and where change is forbidden, it presents the reader with a panorama of dukes, wealthy merchants, thespians, courtesans, spongers, and soldiers. What we are never sure of is whereabouts in the time scale we are. Is it a medieval town? Then just a glimpse of something tells us no. An alternative world? But never explicitly so. The way in which Aldiss makes this totally imaginary world a reality is remarkable, a superb example of how to induce the suspension of disbelief.

Given Aldiss's run of the gamut of fictional styles and structures it was almost inevitable that sooner or later he would attempt a saga.In The Helliconia Trilogy he does just that and in inventing an entire solar system with its own history, dynasties, religions, mythologies, and cultures it is one of epic proportions. While parallels with life on Planet Earth can be observed, the chief and fundamental difference is in the length of Helliconia's seasons. Centuries long the whole of life changes as the seasons wear on, dormant life forms emerge and dynasties rise and fall. At the heart of this, nevertheless, is the struggle between the Humans and the Phagors, and a stroke of genius is to have hovering in the background an Earth Observation Platform which is itself declining into disaster, thus adding a further perspective to this cosmic vision. The other remarkable aspect of Aldiss's invented universe is that it is not, as is so often the case in science fiction, an ideal world held up in criticism of our own. Helliconia's history is as messy, corrupt, illogical, and confused as Earth's. If there is a message it is in Helliconia's acceptance of and adjustment to its even harsher physical environment, while the Earth Platform's disaster is directly related to Earth's attempt to over-control its environment.

The books themselves, Spring, Summer, and Winter, are full of action and incident: picaresque journeys, hierarchical struggles, natural disasters, feats of endurance, bravery, loyalty and affection, and dynastic warfare which make them each, in an old-fashioned phrase, a gripping read. They are in addition a remarkable achievement.

Aldiss moved on from the massive achievement of Helliconia to yet another achievement. Back to Earth and the mainstream novel his Forgotten Life is another remarkable example of Aldiss's ability to assemble and organize a mass of material, in this case ranging over 50 years and three continents. In a sense the novel can be seen as a sort of intellectual whodunit, a cerebral voyage of discovery.

In the novel Clement Winter, who is married to a successful author of fantasy novels, comes into the possession of his brother Joseph's letters and diaries. In going through these in order to find and comprehend a pattern in his brother's life, Clement comes to review and assess his own. Aldiss calls upon his own experiences in pre-war Suffolk, wartime Burma and Sumatra, and his life as a writer in Oxford.

The real stuff of autobiography comes in Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's. This is, not surprisingly, a wide-ranging story, haunted by wartime experience in Burma. True to its title Aldiss's autobiography is marked by a lightness of touch, and a cheerful friendly modesty. The story it tells is an intriguing one.

In the mid-to late 1990s Aldiss, then entering his eighth decade, proved himself still highly active. He published a story collection (The Secret of This Book, 1995), two books of poems (At the Caligula Hotel and Songs from the Steppes of Central Asia, both 1995), a biography (The Twinkling of an Eye, or, My Life as an Englishman, 1999), and assorted other works.

John Cotton