The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Colin Charteris is a nineteen-year-old Jugo-slav and an official in the New United Nations Strategic Air Command (NUNSACS). That agency has an osten-sible mission of aiding in the rehabilitation of war victims in a Europe maddened by psychedelic bombs. Told in episodic form, the story follows Charteris as he wends his way across the continent, driving a Banshee into repeated auto crashes, moving from the south of France toward England, and eventually returning to his home.

In Metz, his hallucinogenic vision leads him to discover that time is merely a fabrication of matter and that matter itself is merely another hallucination. During the vision, he thinks of himself as God, and he tells the hotel maid, Angelina, who becomes his mistress, that he had wished to experience mystical insights similar to those of Russian philosopher P. D. Ouspenski. Charteris wonders if the vision may have been induced by drugs. Ouspenski’s work on Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff provides the novel with its structure. His influence, together with the stylistic inventions of James Joyce, is acknowledged by Brian Aldiss.

During his travels across Europe, Charteris experiences dreams as reality and undergoes other phenomena related by both Ouspenski and Gurdjieff. Soon he comes to think of the two mystics as one and relives some of their psychic visions, such as hearing the crunch of muscles, perceiving the inherent motion of stones, and knowing the multiple...

(The entire section is 482 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Greenland, Colin. “The Times Themselves Talk Nonsense: Language in Barefoot in the Head,” in Foundation, No. 17 (1979), pp. 32-41.

Griffin, Brian, and David Wingrove. Apertures: A Study of the Writings of Brian W. Aldiss, 1984.

Library Journal. Review. XCV (June 1, 1970), p. 2177.

Matthews, Richard. Aldiss Unbound: The Science Fiction of Brian W. Aldiss, 1977.

The Times Literary Supplement. Review. January 22, 1973, p. 73.

Wingrove, David. “Thinking in Fuzzy Sets: The Recent SF of Brian W. Aldiss,” in Pacific Quarterly Moana. IV (1979), pp. 288-294.