Brian Aldiss proves that his skill with short stories equals his success as a novelist in A TUPOLEV TOO FAR. The title is from the first story, wherein Aldiss states, “Don’t we all secretly long . . . to take a Tupolev too far, to some godforsaken somewhere, where everything’s to play for . . . ?” This idea saturates each selection; though each is different, all twelve tales place a character in a bizarre scenario under a set of alternate rules.
Aldiss’ work displays a variety of patterns. Some stories start with a clear narrative that gradually slides into a dreamlike series of disjointed, seemingly unrelated images. Sometimes the narrative reemerges to tie up the many loose ends, but often it does not. This style is obvious in the title story, which concerns salesman Ron Wallace who, when flying overseas to Russia, is caught in a freakish electric storm. He lands in a grim, hopeless parallel universe where history took a much different route than it did at home. The lives of the people he meets show Ron that the only fact of life his world shares with its parallel is the need for sex.
The style Aldiss employs to greatest effect is, however, straight narrative. This is apparent in “A Life of Matter and Death,” which concerns a man who discovers a beautiful new life form on a crashed alien spacecraft. The creatures thrive on Earth, and a religion grows around them. Their discoverer changes the world and is heralded as a hero.
Sometimes Aldiss uses several narrators in one story, as in “Ratbird,” a tale describing a startling alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution; furthermore, some selections are not really stories at all. “Confluence,” for example, is a wry listing of alien terms and their meanings; “Alphabet of Ameliorating Hope” is a poetic and uplifting vision of the future.
While the variety of Aldiss’ styles is impressive, it makes for uneven story quality, especially when distracting multiple narrators are introduced. Nevertheless, the characters and surprising plot twists in most of the stories provide philosophical food for thought on myriad issues; it is engrossing reading overall.