Archives » Brian Aldiss

The Entropy Exhibition by Colin Greenland

Michael Moorcock and the British ‘New Wave’ in Science Fiction. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, 256 p, including Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index.

As its sub-title implies this is an account of the project Michael Moorcock started when he took over the British Science Fiction magazine New Worlds in 1964. This was to try to inject more literary qualities into SF which up to that point had been largely shunned by the ‘mainstream’ because of its pulp sensibilities as he did not see why SF should be separate from literature in general.

To that end Greenland gives us a history of New Worlds up to that point, considers the introduction of sex to SF stories (hitherto all but absent despite the prominence of the three Bs – Boobs, Babes and Bug-eyed Monsters – on cover illustrations,) the withdrawal from space fiction in favour of ‘inner’ space, questions of style, the salience of the concept of entropy to this mid-sixties endeavour, and offers us critiques of the contributions of the three most prominent figures of the British new wave, Brian W Aldiss, J G Ballard and Moorcock himself. (Though it receives a few mentions considerations of how the new wave played out in the US are beyond the remit of this book.)

Greenland is of the opinion that Aldiss’s books Report on Probability A and Barefoot in the Head are the quintessential new wave novels with Moorcock’s Karl Glogauer novels as exemplars of the new wave sensibility dealing as they do with “Time and identity: Moorcock’s two great themes, perhaps the great themes of all New Wave sf.”

Aldiss never really considered himself as part of a wave of any sort; he had in any case been prominent as a writer of SF before the 1960s.

Ballard was always something of an enigma. Whether he can be considered to “belong” to any movement other than his sui generis self is moot but he did contribute a guest editorial to New Worlds in May 1962 asking “Which Way to Inner Space?” an implicit call for a different approach to writing SF. Personally I have always seen in his writing – possibly due to his upbringing as an expatriate – an expression of English reserve taken to the extreme, elevated to an art form even. (His incarceration by the Japanese during World War 2 no doubt also contributed to his take on the world.) Greenland sees Ballard’s principal tool for the disorientating effect of his prose as “unyielding irony.”

The SF New Wave changed everything and nothing. After the 1960s experiment SF by and large returned to its ghetto and continued to be ignored by mainstream fiction. The attitude “if it’s SF it’s not good, if it’s good it’s not SF” still hung around.

Yes, literary qualities did become more common in the genre (and treatment of sex ceased to be shunned) and it is now possible for “proper” writers to dabble in its waters without expressions of horror – from either side – accompanying their efforts.

The Entropy Exhibition is by its nature (and origin as a dissertation for a D Phil) a critical endeavour and now stands as a historical document, and probably one only for those interested in the history of SF.


Pedant’s corner:- extra-terrestial (extra-terrestrial,) sf (I prefer SF,) Euripides’ (Euripides’s,) Capadocia (Cappadocia,) fridgw (fridge,) “the relationship between my characters don’t interest me much” (either ‘relationships’ or ‘doesn’t’,) “a compete new political and social history” (a complete new,) enormity (seems to be in the sense of ‘hugeness’ rather than ‘monstrousness’.) In the Notes; Hilary Baily (Bailey,) benefitted (benefited?)

This Fragile Earth by Susannah Wise

Gollancz, 2021, 356 p. Reviewed for ParSec 1.

In the 1950s and up to the mid-1960s British SF consisted mainly of stories of worldwide disaster – a subgenre which Brian Aldiss somewhat unkindly dubbed cosy catastrophes – whose most prolific contributors were the Johns, Wyndham and Christopher, but also to which, at a stretch, J G Ballard’s early novels could be assigned. While the disaster story never disappeared completely the vogue did ebb and British SF began to cleave the paper light years with the best of them.

In recent times SF writers more generally perhaps sensed the coming contagion. Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven helped to revive the concept of a fictional worldwide disaster and Caroline Hardaker’s Composite Creatures (also reviewed for ParSec 1) has elements of the form. In this book Susannah Wise inhabits that global catastrophe tradition full on – and in a British context.

It is an altered Britain though, which has a heavy Chinese influence. Six year-old Jed’s schoolteacher is a Miss Yue, a supermarket chain is called Lianhua, noodles and rambutan are common foods and a mysterious company called Shīluò zhì lurks in the background.

The common elements of the catastrophe novel are present: communication breakdown, food queues, barricaded roads, troops on the streets. Less usual ingredients here are that bees have gone extinct (though attempts have been made to restore them synthetically) with their pollination tasks in the meantime replaced by tiny drones; following on from beetle blight a rampant disease called Bovine Staph is apparently transmitted through rainwater and can affect humans; venturing outdoors requires UV goggles to be worn to protect against eye damage from sunlight; the currency is exclusively digital – Litecoin spent via Lite-cards.

Pre-disaster just about every service is accessed wirelessly or via AI robots such as BinX, DoctreX, MediX and WaitreX. GScopes, mediated by a system named GQOS, have replaced mobile phones. Roads are constructed from fibre-glass panelling and road signs are exclusively electronic. Agrico-bots roam the countryside.

Then one day the drones start to malfunction, the electricity goes off and everything shuts down. Viewpoint character Signy comes home to a fridge in meltdown, its food rotting. Despite the resultant lack of amenities her partner Matthew keeps saying things will be all right “tomorrow” but one night, while Signy and Jed hide in the loft, Matthew confronts burglars at their house and is killed. Signy sets off from London with Jed to try to reach her mother’s home in Northamptonshire – by bicycle. Along the way they meet the usual assortment of people who either help or steal from them but also uncover the importance of TrincXcode and its links to musical form.

Wise’s writing is fine but in what is presumably a striving for immediacy she exhibits an over-fondness for verbless sentences. Like this one. Her characterisation is generally convincing enough but her portrayal of Jed is inconsistent. As indications of his youth he sometimes has to have words defined to him and he refers to “Mr Mack Wrecker” from the Peter Rabbit books but he also comes out with absurdly adult phrases supposedly remembered from Miss Yue. Things like, “Quantum field which allows the system to work out infinite possibilities,” and, “The system can work out in milliseconds every possible outcome that can happen from any action it takes in multiple universe models and make the best choice.” OK, the reader is getting the info dump but these sentences read as unlikely to come from the mouth of a six year-old, however tech savvy. There is also his memory from three years earlier of his grandfather telling him something “terrible and important,” to wit, “TrincX is the birth of true Artificial Intelligence – God’s daughter come to walk on Earth,” a warning now come true.

This central role of AIs in the background of the narrative has the effect of making the book’s resolution a literal deus ex machina, or, rather, dei ex machinae. Whether that makes it cosy or not is a fine judgement but it certainly leans towards it.

Pedant’s corner:- GQOS’ (GQOS’s,) “the Orkneys” (the locals prefer the designation Orkney, or, the Orkney Islands,) “more combustible that the old carbon boiler” (than,) gotten (in dialogue? In Britain?) Signy rushes out the front door with no mention of its mechanism previously not working due to the shutdown of communications, hummous (hummus.) “‘Danny!’.” (doesn’t need that full stop, the exclamation mark provides that function.) “It lay uncertain rays across” (It laid uncertain rays,) “‘I bought it from home.’” (brought it.) “‘It’s wasn’t Lau Chen was it?’” (‘It wasn’t’.)

Out of This World 2

(First published in 1961, 184 p.) In Out of This World Choice (Out of This World 2 & Out of This World 5) edited by Amabel Williams-Ellis and Mably Owen, Blackie, 1972, 369 p in total.


This contains a collection of Science Fiction stories written in the traditional style. Well, the book was first published in 1961.

The Trouble with Emily by James M White is one of the author’s Sector General stories set in a giant hospital where the ailments of many different types of creature are investigated and – hopefully – cured. This one entails acclimatising a brontosaurus analogue to its new environment with the aid of a telepathic alien.

The title of The Dusty Death by John Kippax is slightly misleading. Its two main characters are on a trip to survey the crater Aristarchus on the Moon when their vehicle tilts over and sinks into the dust. One of them is claustrophobic. The story shows its age by referring to their being no ‘girls’ on the Moon.

Another Word for Man by Robert Presslie is the story of H’Rola, a shape changing alien who speaks in a voice like an organ, hauled up by a fisherman working from a remote island. The local priest, Pierre St Emilion, views the alien as close to the Devil. H’Rola turns out to be a trainee doctor with unusual methods of effecting cures.

The Railways up on Cannis by Colin Kapp is a light-hearted piece. Cannis-four is a planet riddled with volcanoes which makes the building – or, rather, reconstructing since the original system has been destroyed by a war – of railways more than a little problematic. It is obviously a job for the Unorthodox Engineers.

Machine Made by J T Mcintosh is set in a library where the Machine has been put in place to answer problems. The cleaner, Rose, is supposedly dim-witted but assiduous about her job. Despite warnings against interacting with it she acquiesces to one of the Machine’s requests.

But Who Can Replace a Man? by Brian Aldiss is set among a hierarchical group of agricultural robots whose orders one day fail to turn up – because there are no humans left in the city to send them. Some of them set off in search of a new role.

The Gift of Gab by Jack Vance is set on the planet Sabria where humans are extracting minerals from the sea water. Supposedly there are no intelligent indigenous life-forms (harming whom is against the law) but creatures called dekabrachs start killing members of a work crew. They are not the villains of the piece.

The Still Waters by Lester Del Rey features the space ship Midas, the last of the ion-blaster fusion driven ships, whose owner can no longer afford its upkeep and is trying to find a use for her.

Pedant’s corner:- a missing comma before a piece of direct speech, “the air in the lock whipped out into the void” (surely a terrible waste? Air on the Moon would be a precious resource and certainly recycled back into the main body of the base rather than vented out,) “stories of fisherman being lured by the Black One” (fishermen,) “Chablis’ conclusions” (Chablis’s,) Williams’ (Williams’s,) “a fission motor” (a fusion motor. It was being contrasted with fission motors.)

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times Again

And so, back to the beginning of Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times, which started with Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but is now hosted by Katrina at Pining for the West.

These books sit on the very top of that bookcase I featured in the first of these posts, above the shelves that contain all my (read) Scottish books.

Books Once More

They’re here because they fit into the space – at least in the case of the three “What If…” books, What If?, More What If? and What If America? – anthologies of Altered History stories – and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Then there is Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, Colin Greenland’s excellent Finding Helen, a Paul Torday, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland and Marina Lewycka’s A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian, non-SF works by SF writers Brian Aldiss and Norman Spinrad, Robert Standish’s Elephant Walk and three books by Erich Maria Remarque including the incomparable All Quiet on the Western Front.

If I were filing my books thoroughly systematically these would all have to be moved.

Interzone 272, Sep-Oct 2017

TTA Press

Interzone 272 cover

Andy Hedgecock’s Editorial1 is an appreciation of the late Brian Aldiss of blessed memory. Jonathan McCalmont2 ponders the uses of allusion, contrasting the reductive and lazy with the dense or expansive. Nina Allan welcomes post-SF. Book Zone has an interesting and discursive author interview by Jo Walton3 with Adam Roberts to tie in with his new novel The Real-Time Murders but neglects to review the book. Duncan Lunan4 reviews Paul Kincaid’s book of criticism Iain M Banks mostly by relating his experiences of the late master. There is also Juliet E McKenna’s take on Charles Stross’s Delirium Brief, Stephen Theaker5 on Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning while John Howard reviews Xeelee Vengeance by Stephen Baxter, with the final item a review of Hal Duncan’s A Scruffian Survival Guide by Elaine C Gallagher who also interviews6 the author.
In the fiction:
As the world slowly rebuilds after war and ecological disaster, Blessings Erupt by Aliya Whiteley tells the story of the last of the original plastic eaters, consuming the hydrocarbon-based tumours that afflict the population in return for years of service to the company he represents.
The Music of Ghosts7 by Paul Jessop is set on a generation starship after Earth has been destroyed. The voyagers’ essences are supposed to be uploaded into the library after their death but things go wrong.
In a Melbourne fifty years past any relevance it ever had Ghosts of a Neon God8 by T R Napper tells of two small time crooks who are unwittingly embroiled in a dispute between the Chinese who run the place.
A white mist of unknown origin – possibly alien, possibly human – has “clouded cognitive processes and slowed down conscious thought” and in Erica L Satifka’s The Goddess of the Highway9 people are fitted with plates in their heads in a caste system to suit each to their new roles. Viewpoint characters Harp, a Plastic who monitors a truck criss-crossing the former US, and Spike, a Platinum, come together to try to join the resistance. The titular goddess may be a manifestation of the plates.

Pedant’s corner:- 1Aldiss’ (Aldiss’s.) 2Written in USian, “the crowd are right” (the crowd is.) 3Lord Peter Whimsy (did Roberts actually say that? I believe him capable of such punnery but in English English – as opposed to Scottish English – the correct, Wimsey, and the pun, whimsy, are much less distinguishable,) descendent (descendant,) 4Banks’ (Banks’s,) “human affairs are so complex than any stance (that any stance,) 5“A series of innovations have set this world apart” (a series has,) 6fit (fitted) 7Written in USian, “the sun grew wane and hungry with light” (wan?) “the whirring of machines are chugging” (the whirring is chugging but even that is clumsy.) Ray stops programming for a moment and touches Ray’s hands” (Mark’s hands.) The story is riddled with errors in tense. It’s written in the present but has past tense verb forms intruding, “He’d been training for this day” (He’s ) “And his heart was a wild thing inside his ribs” (is.) “They ran into the storage facility” (run,) “and then she turned” (turns.) 8“Now it may as well not even existed” (exist,) his practiced stride (practised,) focussed (focused.) 9Written in USian, hocking up (hawking,) “the majority of what gets shipped are luxuries” (the majority is,) “intersecting a round sphere” (I’d like to see a sphere that isn’t round!)

Brian Aldiss

Earlier today I read the news that Brian Aldiss has died.

At times during my youth he was about the sole standard bearer for British SF (for which actually read English SF as Science Fiction from other parts of these islands was more or less invisible till years later.) Only John Wyndham and J G Ballard had anything like as high a profile and they were very different writers.

(Edited to add: I don’t know why it was that Arthur C Clarke slipped my mind when I originally wrote this. Maybe because his output was hard SF as compared to the others.)

As a result of Aldiss’s prominence I have a large number of his books. I think The Interpreter was the first SF book I bought as opposed to borrowing them from the local library.

The latest such purchase was bought for me for Christmas by the good lady because she liked the cover so much – and she read it before me!

I suppose there won’t be any more now.

I did meet him once; briefly, at one of the Liverpool Eastercons.

One of the greats. Arguably the last of the SF pioneers.

Brian Wilson Aldiss: 18/8/1925 – 19/8/2017. So it goes.

Harry Harrison

Another of the prominent Science Fiction writers of my youth and young adulthood, Harry Harrison, has died.

He was probably known best for his Stainless Steel Rat books and also for the stories of Bill, the Galactic Hero, whose title gives a flavour of Harrison’s sardonic wit. In these books Harrison played against the usual conventions of the SF action adventure.

Ouside the narrower SF world his most familiar work – via the film Soylent Green starring Charlton Heston – is probably the novel Make Room! Make Room!, one of the first to touch on overpopulation as an imminent problem. Harrison said the film, “at times bore a faint resemblance to the book.”

He was also one of the earliest purveyors of Altered History. His A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! was published in 1972, with his Eden trilogy, where dinosaurs never died out, following in the 1980s. The Stars and Stripes trilogy (1998- 2001) imagined a British intervention on the American continent during the American Civil War leading to war between a Reunited States and Britain. (The US won. Of course.)

He edited more than a few important SF anthologies with English SF author Brian Aldiss with whom he also helped introduce serious criticism to the genre.

Henry Maxwell (Harry) Harrison: 12/3/1925 – 15/8/2012. So it goes.

British SF Masterworks?

Over on his blog a week or so ago Ian Sales has with some help come up with a list of fifty British SF Masterworks.

The list is below. It has only one book (or series) per author and a “completely arbitrary cut off date of 1995” I suppose on the grounds that anything younger can not yet be called a masterwork.

It’s an interesting set of choices.

The ones in bold I have read.

1 Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
2 The War of the Worlds, HG Wells (1897)
3 Last And First Men, Olaf Stapledon (1930)
4 Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (1932)
5 Nineteen Eighty-four, George Orwell (1949)
6 The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham (1951)
7 The Death of Grass, John Christopher (1956)

8 No Man Friday, Rex Gordon (1956)
9 On The Beach, Nevil Shute (1957)
10 A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
11 The Drowned World, JG Ballard (1962)
12 Memoirs of a Spacewoman, Naomi Mitchison (1962)

13 A Man of Double Deed, Leonard Daventry (1965)
14 The Time Before This, Nicholas Monsarrat (1966)
15 A Far Sunset, Edmund Cooper (1967)
16 The Revolt of Aphrodite [Tunc and Nunquam ], Lawrence Durrell (1968 – 1970)
17 Pavane, Keith Roberts (1968)
18 Stand On Zanzibar, John Brunner (1968)
19 Behold The Man, Michael Moorcock (1969)
20 Ninety-Eight Point Four, Christopher Hodder-Williams (1969)

21 Junk Day, Arthur Sellings (1970)
22 The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, DG Compton (1973)
23 Rendezvous With Rama, Arthur C Clarke (1973)
24 Collision with Chronos, Barrington Bayley (1973)
25 Inverted World, Christopher Priest (1974)
26 The Centauri Device, M John Harrison (1974)

27 The Memoirs of a Survivor, Doris Lessing (1974)
28 Hello Summer, Goodbye, Michael G Coney (1975)
29 Orbitsville [Orbitsville, Orbitsville Departure, Orbitsville Judgement], Bob Shaw (1975 – 1990)
30 The Alteration, Kingsley Amis (1976)
31 The White Bird of Kinship [The Road to Corlay, A Dream of Kinship, A Tapestry of Time], Richard Cowper (1978 – 1982)
32 SS-GB, Len Deighton (1978)
33 Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)

34 The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee (1981)
35 Helliconia, Brian W Aldiss (1982 – 1985)
35 Orthe, Mary Gentle (1983 – 1987)
36 Chekhov’s Journey, Ian Watson (1983)

37 A Maggot, John Fowles (1985)
38 Queen of the States, Josephine Saxton (1986)
39 Wraeththu Chronicles [The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire], Storm Constantine (1987 – 1989)
40 Kairos, Gwyneth Jones (1988)
41 The Empire of Fear, Brian Stableford (1988)
42 Desolation Road, Ian McDonald (1988)
43 Take Back Plenty, Colin Greenland (1990)

44 Wulfsyarn, Phillip Mann (1990)
47 Use of Weapons, Iain M Banks (1990)
48 Vurt, Jeff Noon (1993)

49 Ammonite, Nicola Griffith (1993)
50 The Time Ships, Stephen Baxter (1995)

I’m sure I haven’t read Frankenstein in the original. I have however read Brian Aldiss’s Frankenstein Unbound but of course he’s in the list for the Helliconia trilogy.

I read Doris Lessing’s Shikasta soon after publication and could not get to grips with it at all. It seemed to me like the classic case of a mainstream writer attempting SF and not bringing it off. Among other things it was too didactic, too preachy, totally unengaging. As a consequence I did not persevere with her SF output; nor indeed the remainder of her oeuvre.

I’m not sure of A Man of Double Deed at no 13 nor A Far Sunset (15). I may have read these out of the library when I was a young thing.

One point of interest. The only two Scottish writers in the list seem to be Naomi Mitchison, for a book published in 1962, and Iain M Banks, 1990. (See my post on the dearth of Scottish SF till extremely recently.) Mitchison was of course more renowned for her non-SF.

free hit counter script