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...
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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...
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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.
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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...
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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...
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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...
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Aldiss, Brian (Vol. 5)
Aldiss, Brian 1925–
Aldiss, a British science-fiction anthologist and critic, writes prize-winning novels and short stories, usually on science-fiction themes. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
I find it curious that the overall effect of [the] comic, racy and ingenious novel [A Soldier Erect] is in fact rather depressing, monotonous and ingenuous. It is the second instalment of the life and shames of Horatio Stubbs, whose earlier misdemeanours got themselves so compassionately recorded in The Hand-Reared Boy. Here, in its successor, this self-abused autobiographist has become a Soldier Boy: he is now larger and older but remains vigorously incapable of feeling anything at all except his erect sexual organ. This disheartening fact is rendered all the sadder by reason of the coincidence that most of the other characters in the book—all of them, like Stubbs, soldiers in India, then Burma—happen to be in exactly the same permanently cocked condition. Nothing, except the faculty of indulging in dialogues of inexhaustible and brilliant filthiness, in any way distinguishes these characters from the masturbatory exhibitionists in the monkey cages of the London Zoo….
What is, I think, more interesting is that on pages 96 and 97 either Horatio Stubbs or Brian Aldiss has constructed what must be one of the finest as it is certainly one of the longest sentences in contemporary pornographic literature. It goes to some 800 words. And Aldiss's real gifts as a novelist appear very clearly in the last chapter, which describes the battle for a little hill in Burma. This chapter is a moving and compassionate piece of writing.
George Barker, "Low Feelings," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1971), March 25, 1971, p. 389.
Horatio Stubbs, the hero of ["A Soldier Erect"], first appeared in an earlier book: "The Hand-Reared Boy," and though he is no longer an English student but now an English soldier, he still has primarily one thing on his mind. Whether on embarkation leave in England, on bivouac in India, or in the thick of the Burma campaign of 1944, Stubbs must be the randiest private in the China-Burma-India theater of operation. His zest for whoring declines only during bouts of dysentery.
Along with his priapic location, Stubbs shoulders the burden of being a radio man in some very unpleasant jungle fighting in the mountains of Assam. Mr. Aldiss brings to life this long-dead war, with its vanished mystique and its forgiven and forgotten enemies. He is a military observer who extracts the incongruous humor as well as the horror of the combat soldier's predicament. (pp. 22, 24)
Martin Levin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 22, 1971.
What is important in [science-fiction] is that any situation, however bizarre to present-day conditions, should in fact be logical within its own framework.
It is because of the strangeness of the setting and events in S-F that the author must be doubly careful to ensure that nothing jolts the reader into disbelief. Mr Aldiss tells us that he wished to call this collection of some of his short stories [Best SF Stories] 'The Second Best', and one would not quarrel with that. Brian Aldiss is one of the foremost of British S-F writers, one whose talents are not limited to this type, and this collection might serve to interest those readers who have not ventured previously into the pages of S-F, for the quality of English usage is higher than that of most authors today.
The first story is a mocking reflection of man's behaviour. Machines with different grades of brain have taken over various functions of man, working in the fields; mechanical farm labourers. All perform more or less to perfection, the routine being followed as per instructions, when a snag arises. Warehouse Three is locked and the field-minder cannot obtain the seed potatoes it requires.
All right, so we accept that machines have taken over from men. What I find baffling is why, with machines in control, the warehouse needed locking in the first place? Are we supposed to deduce that the machines are now so advanced as separate intelligences that they are capable of theft? It is at this point that the logic within the framework breaks down, destroying the illusion of reality.
The second story, Not For An Age, is a science-fiction version on a theme written as fantasy in the early years of this century by a woman, May Sinclair. The central character is caught up in one of Blake's eternal circles of damnation in Hell, condemned to ever-lasting torment. May Sinclair's tale, Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched, is, in my opinion, a small masterpiece. Mr Aldiss's is run of the mill.
The last story in the collection. Another Little Boy, deals with the future, a future in which sex, orgies and orgasm loom large, but take second place to the might of world mass spectaculars, with an agency seeking to put on something vast to celebrate the centenary of August 6th, 1944. First they have to find out why the date is significant—the world has forgotten Hiroshima. But when they find out what the date means, they celebrate with a repeat performance. Again, all right. But why is the original A-bomb described as weighing 10,000 tons? This sort of tiny slip can destroy the illusion out of all proportion.
But between the stories mentioned you can safely assume that there will be something to interest, enlighten, even delight. Brian Aldiss is no mean artist. (pp. vii-viii)
John Boland, "In Other Times," in Books and Bookmen (© John Boland 1972), August, 1972.
Science has got out of hand [in Frankenstein Unbound] and the solar system is in the throes of an ecological disaster—hence the myth of Frankenstein has particular symbolic significance. Exploring what constitutes myth and what constitutes reality against an unpredictably shifting temporal background can only be taken as an attempt at seriousness. But nothing can alter the fact that having the driver of an atomic car go back two centuries to meet celebrated literary figures ("Shelley was all electricity where Byron was all beef") is nothing if not extremely silly. There is a lot of hearty punning between the two poets and Mary Shelley cries "Let your sunlight and my moonlight mingle" to the infatuated Bodenland [the protagonist] who [sounds] less like an American from 2020 and more like the ex-literary editor of a provincial British newspaper from half a century earlier. The writing improves in the desolate landscape at the end, where there's less to be embarrassing about, but not before one of the immortal truths of the last century has reasserted itself: the one about the perils of too much hand-rearing. (p. 1377)
The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1973; reproduced by permission), November 9, 1973.
Brian Aldiss disarmingly subtitles [The Eighty-Minute Hour] "A Space Opera", which should prepare his readers for the buffo element even before they happen on the facetious names of his characters. Glamis Fevertrees, Devlin Carnate and Monty Zoomer take us into a sort of galactic D'Oyly Carte production and, given the author's predilection for referring to literary figures such as Thomas Hardy, we are probably lucky not to have a character named Immanent Will. The plot, like that of most operas, is not easy to follow due to the frequent scene-shifting. Broadly, it concerns a post-holocaust world (of Britain and Ireland nothing has survived save the Koh-i-Noor diamond) whose remaining nations have formed themselves into either the Capitalist-Communist Alliance (no ideological explanation given) or the opposing League of Dissident Nations. There is also a third, more sinister force, the Computer Complex, which is trying to infiltrate and control mankind by means of implanted antennae. Computerized androids and the eighty-minute hour are two more of CC's ambitious projects.
Notwithstanding the intermittent arias for soloists and chorus (in verse), it is a familiar Aldiss libretto … [with] the similes more extravagant than meaningful ("He became silent, as silent as greengage jelly"), the mock-Gothic episodes deriving from Peake and Thurber. But just as familiar are those sudden patches where the writing comes alive: the landing of a spaceship on a forest roof two kilometres above the actual surface of a planet whose ecology is based on hydrogen is particularly imaginative. The difficulty is in knowing whether any of it is intended seriously, perhaps as a satirical if apolitical and simplified projection of present trends. Some of the characters are actually computer analogues, but it is never quite clear which, thus ruling out most human interest.
One is left with what Edmund Crispin referred to as the "plot as hero", and this one seems largely concerned with the question of free will…. If you find that [his] way of portraying determinism sounds familiar, it is probably because, in common with Mr. Aldiss, you have read The Sirens of Titan. But Kurt Vonnegut, for all his sentimentality, did it better; clearer narrative, more serious characters and, above all, no arias.
"Aldiss and Heaven Too," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1974; reproduced by permission), April 5, 1974, p. 357.
The Eighty-Minute Hour is Aldiss's Science's Sensations Satirised, a perverse and reversible logomachia. Life, which would mean more under any other name, feeds precariously off the rapidly shifting surfaces of an hallucogenic Earth. Every possible doom has worked its miracle of transformation, and the planet has become a raddled honeycomb of times and tides. Until we grow our sixth and seventh senses, the ultimate pollution must be that of the time continuum—that well-known invention of the realistic novelist. And within Aldiss's "electronic zoomatigina of confusion," time cracks up and displays all the symptoms of dementia praecox….
The Eighty-Minute Hour is the opera bouffe of the new language, the new Eden from which unhappy silence has been expelled. It is continually surprising with its kollidoscrape of sounds and images, as the movie-go-round goes on for ever and a day. And there are some happy touches: the boardroom of the World Executive Council, the leathery postlude to the Big Bang, "on the walls of which hung among other treasures the only Tiepolo etching to have survived the war. It depicted the flight into Egypt, and was reputed to be more valuable than Egypt itself." Next to it hangs, as the apotheosis of a future hero, an oil painting of Sir Noel Coward. A new design for living. (p. 485)
Peter Ackroyd, in The Spectator (© 1974 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), April 20, 1974.