Brian Aldiss, undoubtedly one of the most important figures in British science fiction, has died. It is reported that he died in his sleep after celebrations to mark his 92nd birthday.
In 1958 he received a Hugo Award as Best Newcomer; it proved to be the first of many awards over his long career, culminating in the Order of the British Empire in 2005.
His first science fiction novel, Non-Stop, was a generation starship story written as a direct response to Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky. It tells of the inhabitants of a generation starship who have culturally regressed to a primitive tribal state and are unable to cope with the notion of a world outside the ship. It was quickly recognised as a classic of the genre and has been reprinted regularly ever since.
Other major novels written during the first decade or so of his career include Hothouse, a series of linked novelettes that won a Hugo Award, which describes the remnants of humanity living in a far future in which the Earth has stopped rotating and extravagant plant growth covers the planet. Greybeard, regarded by some as his finest novel, is the story of an Earth where humanity has been rendered sterile as a result of nuclear testing. Report on Probability A is written in the enigmatic manner of the french nouveau roman, and records a series of watchers spy on an ordinary house for no reason that is fully explained; they are being spied upon in turn, and there are yet further watchers watching the watchers. Barefoot in the Head is one of his more experimental novels, telling the aftermath of the Acid-Head War in which Europe has been bombed with hallucinogenics, and as a result language and reality start to break down.
Barefoot in the Head was one of the key texts of the British New Wave. Aldiss was already an established writer when Michael Moorcock took over as editor of New Worlds magazine. Aldiss, together with J.G. Ballard, became one of the mainstays of the magazine, encouraging Moorcock’s support for literary experiments and helping to find financial backing for the magazine.
In 1965, Aldiss won the Nebula Award for Best Novella for “The Saliva Tree“, a story written to mark the centennary of H.G. Wells’s birth, but which also combined elements taken from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space”. This harking back to earlier writers marked another strand in Aldiss’s career. In 1973 he published Frankenstein Unbound, and a few years later came Moreau’s Other Island and after that Dracula Unbound, books that drew deliberately upon classics from the early history of science fiction. In the same year as Frankenstein Unbound, he produced Billion Year Spree, the first significant history of science fiction. His contention within that work that Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was the first true science fiction is one that still finds adherents today. A few years later, with David Wingrove, he expanded that book as Trillion Year Spree, which won a Hugo Award. With these histories, and other volumes, such as Hell’s Cartographers (co-edited with Harry Harrison), This World and Nearer Ones and The Detached Retina, Aldiss established himself as one of the leading commentators on science fiction at the time.
Aldiss was also important as an editor, producing three influential Penguin anthologies in the early 60s, (collected later as The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus), and with Harry Harrison producing nine volumes of The Year’s Best SF. These were sometimes eccentric collections, and with later anthologies of Space Opera and Galactic Empires he tended to display a preference for science fiction at its most traditional and cliched. When science fiction started to attract serious academic interest, he responded by saying: “let’s get science fiction back in the gutter where it belongs”. Yet he was jealous of his own literary reputation, going on, for instance, to serve as a judge for the Booker Prize, and writing a quartet of well-received autobiographical novels, Life in the West, Forgotten Life, Remembrance Day and Somewhere East of Life.
When the New Wave receeded during the 1970s, Aldiss continued to write experimental fictions, though he restricted this to short stories. He remained a prolific short story writer throughout his career. His novels, however, tended to become more traditional in format and structure, such as the extraordniary fantasy novel, The Malacia Tapestry, and the monumental Helliconia Trilogy, consisting of Helliconia Spring (which won the BSFA Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, appropriately, since Aldiss was instrumental in founding both the BSFA and the Campbell Award), Helliconia Summer and Helliconia Winter. The three books trace the course of events on the planet Helliconia where civilisations can rise and fall during the course of one aeons-long Great Year.
With age, Aldiss became steadily less prolific, though he did produce the interesting White Mars with the scientist Roger Penrose. His story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” would become the basis for the film A.I., a film that Aldiss despised. His late novels include the interesting HARM and the frankly pretty terrible Finches of Mars. A enterprise has begun to collect all of his short stories, though so far this has produced only The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s and four volumes of The Complete Short Stories: The 1960s (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4). Since no further volumes have appeared over the last couple of years, it is unclear whether this series will be completed.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.