HARM by Brian Aldiss (2007)


]==[]===O °
Dec 8, 2007
Somewhere near Jupiter...

Now this is the first time I've done this and I'm not great with words so bear with me!
This is a rather unusual book,because it exists as two strands and at first it doesnt sound like science fiction at all.I've seen this book compared to Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451' or Dick's 'A Scanner Darkly' on various sites but as I've not read either I can't comment on that other than to say it is a dystopic novel of sorts.
Basically its about Paul,a muslim SF writer who is arrested by the Hostile Activities Research Ministry(HARM) because he wrote a book in which two of his characters joked about the assissination of the Prime Minister.He is thrown into a prison in what Paul believes is Syria (we are never sure where he is until the end of the book) and after a rough and often violent interrogation his mind begins to wander and he imagines another world, a planet called Stygia populated by an insect like race,colonised by a cult like group with a ruthless and charismatic leader. To cope with the vast distances between Earth and Stygia the ship members have their consciousnesses stored, to be reconstituted once they reach Stygia. But during the time they are in storage part of their 'mind' is damaged, and as such thier language is altered-they speak in a rather broken and simplified English. As Paul's imprisonment continues his mind spends more time on Stygia than the here and now and the lines begin to blur....

This one is definitely not one for the kids-there are many violent scenes and strong language-the imprisoners are reminiscent of the Gestapo! Strangely the cover has the author's name shown in his usual incarnation,Brian Aldiss but inside, on the fly page and at the top of each page, the middle initial W is added, something that Brian dropped from his name years ago. (I'm assuming that has something to do with the publisher Duckworth, one I'd not heard of. Aldiss had trouble placing this book and had to look elsewhere, and this is Duckworth's first SF book)
Having finished the book I can say that this was not an easy read for me. Apart from the often violent depictions in the prison (tho to be honest the scenes as depicted were fairly mild compared to many films I've seen) there's the fact that the book exists on two seperate strands and it was rather like reading two books at once. There were parts of it that were well written, the SF elements in the scenes on Stygia were as I'd expect from Aldiss, and the ending fitted in well with the theme of the novel but I was like, which novel? Its like there's two novels here, a political thriller and a SF adventure story but on the whole it didn't work for me.
Last edited:

Fried Egg

Well-Known Member
Nov 20, 2006
Sounds interesting. I haven't read anything more recent by Aldiss than the Helliconia trilogy and that's nearly 30 years old.

The split narrative between a gruesume tale set in the "real" world and an SF "imagined" world doesn't necessarilly bother me. Sounds a bit like what they did with the Spanish Civle War and the fantasy world in "Pan's Labrynth".