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Brian W. Aldiss

Brian Wilson Aldiss is one of the most important voices in science fiction writing today. He wrote his first novel while working as a bookseller in Oxford. Shortly afterwards he wrote his first work of science fiction and soon gained international recognition. Adored for his innovative literary techniques, evocative plots and irresistible characters, he became a Grand Master of Science Fiction in 1999. Brian Aldiss recently celebrated his eighty-sixth birthday and is still writing to ardent applause.

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Helliconia Spring: A battle for survival on a fantastic planet

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Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss

What if the planets orbited not only the sun, but the whole solar system orbited another, even larger sun? Cycles within cycles is the basic premise of Brian Aldiss’s HELLICONIA trilogy, of which the first installment is Helliconia Spring (1983). A planet of the fantastic, Helliconia is home to a diverse variety of imaginative flora and fauna a la Jack Vance. The sentient life, however, bears comparison to our own. Struggling Darwinian style, humans and a species called Phagors inhabit the planet, the latter forming a group which thrives in the ice ages that cover Helliconia in the millennia its meta-orbit moves through aphelion. Humans likewise having their moment in the sun (forgive the pun) in perihelion, this ongoing cycle highlights ... Read More

Helliconia Summer: The big ideas punch deep

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Helliconia Summer by Brian W. Aldiss

The shape of Brian Aldiss’s SF Masterwork HELLICONIA could be said to be parabolic. If Helliconia Spring is the slow, curving entry point, then Helliconia Summer, the middle volume, is the zenith story-wise. Or at least that’s the feel two-thirds of the way through the series. As Aldiss is trying to paint a historical and evolutionary picture of humanity’s existence on a distant planet, Helliconia Summer’s narrative does not pick up where the first volume left off, and instead focuses on a point in the society’s development loosely equivalent to the Baroque Era many centuries in the future from Helliconia Spring. Were the lives of the kings and queens the onl... Read More

Helliconia Winter: Deserves the BSFA award it won

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Helliconia Winter by Brian W. Aldiss

Like an architect seeing a cathedral they’ve designed have the steeple raised, or an engineer watching the bowsprit attached to a ship they’ve built, so too must Aldiss have felt writing the final chapter of Helliconia Winter (1985). The orbits within orbits, themes revolving around themes, and characters caught in the cycle of life, come to an end. But only on the page.

The series has covered millennia. The third and final book, Helliconia Winter, continues to tell a human-scale tale in harmony with the larger forces at play — geology, astrophysics, and biology all heavily influencing the narrative. This time around, however, Aldiss wields a heavier thematic hammer. The understated Gaian theme of Helliconia Spring and Helliconia Summer i... Read More

Non-Stop: A classic that is vivid, brisk, entertaining

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Non-Stop by Brian W. Aldiss

Number 33 of the Science Fiction Masterworks series, Brian Aldiss’ 1958 Non-Stop is indeed a classic of the genre (variant title: Starship). Standing well the test of time, the story is vivid, brisk, and entertaining — facets complemented nicely by intelligent commentary and worthwhile purpose. With Aldiss examining human nature in unusual circumstances to say the least, the underlying assumptions nevertheless exist closer to reality than the majority of sci-fi. Readily enjoyable on the surface, there remain several thought-provoking undercurrents waiting for the reader to explore.

Non-Stop is the story of Roy Complain, a disgruntled hunter of the Greene Tribe in Quarters. His brother was lost to the tangles years before and, in the first few pages, his wife is ab... Read More

Hothouse: Fertile and bizarre plant life, but human characters are pretty wooden

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Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss

Yeah, Brian W. AldissHothouse (1962) was definitely written with some chemical assistance. Maybe some LSD-spiked vegetable juice? It may have been written as a set of five short stories in 1961, but it’s a timeless and bizarre story of a million years in the future when the plants have completely taken over the planet, which has stopped rotating, and humans are little green creatures hustling to avoid becoming plant food.

There are hundreds of fearsome carnivorous plants that would love to eat human morsels, but will gladly settle for eating each other instead. As the planet has come to a stop, a massive banyan tree now covers the sunny-side of the planet, with all other plants surviving in its shade. But there are gargantuan plant-based spiders called traversers who dwell above the plant layer and actually spin... Read More

The Dark Light Years: Worth a wallow

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The Dark Light Years by Brian Aldiss

It had been a good 30 years since I last read anything by British sci-fi author Brian Aldiss. Back in the mid-‘80s, spurred on by three highly laudatory articles in David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, I had eagerly read Aldiss’ classic novel of a generational starship, Non-Stop (1958); his equally classic tale of an Earth billions of years hence, Hothouse (1962); and his underrated novel of an Earth gone sterile due to fallout radiation, Greybeard (1964), back to back to back (as well as his volume of linked stories, 1959’s Galaxies Like Grains of Sand) ... and had loved them all. But, between this and that... Read More

The Saliva Tree: A tribute to H.G. Wells

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The Saliva Tree by Brian W. Aldiss

In 1966, with the 100th anniversary of H.G. Wells’ birthday approaching, Brian W. Aldiss wrote a story in tribute of one of, if not, the genre’s grandfather. The resulting novella, The Saliva Tree, distills elements of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds into a suspenseful horror story that has just the socio-political agenda ‘grandpa’ would have approved of.

Set in the late 19th century, The Saliva Tree opens with two “scientifically enlightened” young men standing in the countryside of rural England, watch... Read More

White Mars: A response to KSR’s MARS trilogy

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White Mars by Brian W. Aldiss

While rereading Kim Stanley Robinson's MARS trilogy, books I consider to be among the very best in science fiction, I came across various references to White Mars; Or, The Mind Set Free: A 21st-Century Utopia (1999) by Brian W. Aldiss, written in collaboration with prominent physicists Roger Penrose. Robinson's utopian vision of a terraformed Red Planet is not something everybody would see as ideal or even morally acceptable. In the MARS trilogy Robinson pays a lot of attention to the discussion between what he calls the Reds, a faction opposed to terraforming the planet and convinced of its intrinsic value, and the Green faction who would exploit the plane... Read More

Finches of Mars: Flat, boring characters and narrative

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Finches of Mars by Brian W. Aldiss

It was with mixed feelings that I picked up Finches of Mars by Brian W. Aldiss. On the one hand, I had fond memories of being introduced to his short stories via my father's book collection. And fond memories too of reading, much later, his HELLICONIA series and his history of science fiction. On the other hand, I'd read that Finches of Mars was to be his "last novel," and I've had some poor luck with those in the past. Unfortunately, that bad luck held true and though it pains me to write, given the circumstances, Finches of Mars was one of the worst reads I've had in a while. As usual in these cases, this will therefore be a relatively brief review.

The novel is set ... Read More

The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories: Humane science fiction

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The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories edited by Tom Shippey

I read Tom Shippey's other excellent collection, The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories some time ago, so it was only a matter of time before I sought out this one. Like its stablemate, The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories consists of a chronological collection of stories from a variety of authors with an introduction by the editor. I was struck by the idea of "fabril" literature, which is discussed in the introduction: a form of literature in which the "smith" is central. Certainly, a great deal of early science fiction in particular involves a clever engineer solving some sort of problem, and I'm sure many careers in engineering and the sciences have been launched in this way. I'd say that there is some tendency, though, as the genre matures, for technology to beco... Read More