The Helliconia Trilogy Critical Essays

Brian W. Aldiss


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Little question exists that the Helliconia Trilogy is Brian Aldiss’s epic masterpiece and one of the masterpieces of science fiction. The planet and binary sun system Aldiss created is one of the most complex ever to spring from the pages of science fiction. It is also one of the most human—and most humane—as well as the most germane. Readers seem to share the fascination with the planet that spurs the activities of the observers on Avernus. They can readily understand how Earth dwellers are virtually hypnotized by the long-running epic saga of Helliconia.

The Helliconia Trilogy is far more than a science-fiction epic. It is a fully fleshed artistic creation in which Aldiss wishes not only to tell a series of loosely connected stores, both epic and miniature, but also to relate a parable about humanitys ability to ignore reality and revel in eductainment. The three Helliconia novels are as much about Earth and its ways of approaching reality, its methods of ignoring the “shadow side” of itself, its headlong flight from unpleasantness, and its ability to revel in distancing itself from problems as it is about the multifaceted panorama of the Great Year and its effects on Helliconia.

Aldiss appears to ask if people could become so fascinated by distant drama, made unreal by distance and time, that they could fail to see the approaching apocalypse. Seeming to echo German physicist Werner Heisenberg, he asks if the very act of observing changes both the observer and the observed. Are the people of Earth changed by their ages-long observation of Helliconia? Can the five thousand exiled residents of Avernus remain unchanged because they can...

(The entire section is 689 words.)