Aldiss, Brian (Vol. 14)
Aldiss, Brian 1925–
Aldiss is a British science fiction writer, novelist, critic, short story writer, essayist, and editor. His Billion Year Spree, a critical history of science fiction, confirmed his continuing efforts to present science fiction as a serious literary genre. He received the Hugo Award in 1962 for Hothouse and a Nebula in 1966 for The Saliva Tree. A non-science fiction portrayal of English middle-class life is presented in the first two novels of a planned series: The Hand-Reared Boy and A Soldier Erect. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
The failure of most recent s.f. novels to say anything new and important, or even very interesting, makes a novel like Brian W. Aldiss's Vanguard from Alpha, flawed as it is, worthy of note.
Aldiss writes pointed, dry, highly stylized short stories that pack a great deal into a small space. His novels, those we have seen so far, are pot-boilers. (p. 243)
But even in his comic-book writing, Aldiss is more perceptive than most. The final solution of his puzzle is ingenious and reasonably satisfying; his future world has at least touches of reality, because it's as idiotically patched-together and complicated as our own….
If this writer ever does a novel with his right hand, it will be something worth waiting for. (p. 244)
Damon Knight, "Decadent," in his In Search of Wonder: Essays on Modern Science Fiction (copyright © 1956, 1967, by Damon Knight; reprinted by courtesy of Advent: Publishers, Inc.), revised edition, Advent, 1967, pp. 241-47.∗
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[Aldiss] finds the boundaries of simple popularity a limitation, and clearly wishes to venture beyond these limits into the uncharted waters of the experimental and esoteric. Like any prophet, or any writer, he is concerned with the language he uses to communicate—with words that shift and play games, with words that challenge and reveal. Committed to growth and change, he also steadfastly and painfully insists on examining his own nature, his moral stature, and his place in the universe. (p. 4)
[In his remarkable first collection of short stories, Space, Time and Nathaniel (1957),] we recognize the unique and challenging imagination which unwinds through countless Aldiss plots. Space and time are of paramount concern. He begins with the abstract theoretical foundations which are the assumptions behind our perceptions of reality. Added to this conceptual frame of reference is the individual perspective which gives it meaning—Nathaniel. Aldiss's world constantly stresses the limits and implications of relativity. The individual is more clearly revealed when set against the boundless perspectives of space. Science fiction was the ideal form for Aldiss, who later observes in the same introduction, "The corsets of conformity pinch on all sides." Aldiss needs the infinite space that science fiction allows him, and yet he continually brings us back to ponder the dignity and worthiness of a single human being.
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Enemies of the System is essentially derivative, almost a lash-up of elements from Huxley, Wells, Orwell, anthropological accounts of cargo cults and so on. It does not further either the analysis or the resolution of the problem of what happens to an advanced but stagnant culture when it meets a primitive but vital and evolving one. Indeed, Mr Aldiss weakens his central antithesis by revealing that his Utopia includes 'the dreaded reason police.' The System must therefore be in a state of internal revolt, but the matter is never developed. Mr Aldiss seems to have found difficulty in resisting the allure of any theme that has proved its worth in other books, whether relevant to his own or not.
Possibly as a further consequence of the basic lack of purpose, the text is full of inconsistencies. All right, the culture is stagnant but, after a million years which has seen the introduction of interstellar travel, would holiday-makers still drive about in coaches with tyres and squealing brakes? Towards the end of the book it is revealed that much more sophisticated transport systems are available. The coach is thus unmasked as merely a literary device to enable contact with the primitives to be established. Even more unconvincing is the mode of expression of the Biocom citizens. They continually regale each other with rustic saws such as: 'As the teat grows thinner, the kid sucks with greater vehemence'. Hardly what one expects from...
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Enemies of the System has all the easy interest of any cleanly-imagined futurist novel, and effectively juxtaposes its hyper-evolved Biocom tourists with the kangaroo-like, regressed but sporadically dignified human species on the remote planet the tourists visit. Given all this, it's mostly a simple exercise in transposition. Statute-books become computerised statute-banks; fathers are replaced by directors of crèches. All amusing enough, except that the characterisation is rudimentary, the narrative linear, and the dialogue either crudely ideological or absurdly expository…. (p. 748)
Jeremy Treglown, "Drunk Dreams," in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 95, No. 2463, June 2, 1978, pp. 747-48.∗
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Brian Aldiss is astonishingly prolific, and surprisingly humane and solid. The first characteristic he shares with other science fiction writers …, but the other qualities are much more rare….
[New Arrivals, Old Encounters and This World and Nearer Ones] are very humanly likeable. They are, in other words, without the excesses of mutual abuse and mutual parody SF writers increasingly seem to go in for—the unsavoury consequences of having only partially emerged from their despised but profitable ghetto, their 'small cemeteries on the fringes of a book page' as Mr. Aldiss phrases it. He himself is doing his level best to still the internecine feuds, and to emphasize the creative connections between SF and the ordinary novel.
Of course for him the ordinary novel is a rather tired affair. The stories in New Arrivals, Old Encounters with their pared down, if not actually cloned characters, and their plots casually based on superputers and time-defeating communications, make that very clear. From his point of view fictional realism is bound to look like a shortsighted episode between worlds based on total religion or total science….
[The] recurrent theme is the spring-cleaning of men's atavistic fears and hates, and the transformation of metaphysics into a science. The culminating piece, 'Difference,' imagines that process as nearly complete, and injects a further...
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[New Arrivals, Old Encounters] will appeal to those who like their fantasies given a dressing of Arnoldian high seriousness. My loss, no doubt, but I am left a little cold by such solemnities as 'the universe has a dark corner, the human soul, which is its reflection'—the winning contribution of a five-year-old to a galaxy-wide competition. A bureaucratic nirvana is nicely described in one short story, 'A Spot of Konfrontation': another, 'One Blink of the Moon' is effectively phantasmagoric and spooky; but too often the entertainment is overlaid with vague gestures towards presumed significance. (p. 313)
Jeremy Tambling, "Caged," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 98, No. 2527, August 31, 1979, pp. 312-13.
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