Greybeard, by Brian Aldiss


Oct 24, 2007

The first time I ever read anything by Brian Aldiss I was in London. I was there for an extended "escape the States" vacation that actually turned into a working vacation coupled with as much hoboing as I could fit in. It was back in 1990 which doesn't feel like too long ago to me, at least until I do the math and realize it's been almost two decades since then. My, how the time does fly. I was there alone, chasing the most beautiful woman I had ever met back to her home in Finland, when I found myself in the city craving some SF. It was after the point that I had decided that SF was not only a great pass-time, but - I thought, and obviously still do think - it also was a pretty important thing in the world and was worth knowing much more about. So I decided to pick up something "foreign," which was an insipidly stupid thought, because in the whole London-Greg-SF equation, the only "foreign" element was me. In a used bookstore somewhere near my flat I found a copy of a paperback book by Brian Aldiss called Greybeard. I had never heard of the author before, but the the blurb on the cover proclaimed him to be "The Most Important Writer Of British SF EVER!" I thought to myself, "how can a paperback blurb be wrong?" So I bought it, read it, and absolutely hated it. Greybeard bored me witless. Aldiss just could not hold my attention at all. By the time I had finished the book I found that I could remember very little of it, probably because I had just scanned many pages instead of reading them carefully, as was (and again, still is) my habit. At this point the only thing that I remember for sure of that whole experience was thinking that the book was just about some fogey who wandered through the swamp for a while, listening to others whine and moan about not having kids, then, magically and unexpectedly he finds a kid and the book just ends. Upon reread - done carefully this time, I promise - I see that it in fact is about more. However, even though my first impression was not exactly spot-on, I still do not think that it is far from the truth. Aldiss still failed to hold my attention. I typically read a novel of two-hundred-some-odd pages in two evenings. This one took me about two weeks to slog through. On one or two evenings I actually dreaded picking it up and returning again to this world. But I persisted, finished the book, and managed to eek a few rewards from the experience...Please click here, or on the book cover above, to be taken to the complete review..


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Dec 8, 2007
Somewhere near Jupiter...
Hmmm, I had a similar experience with this book. It is highly regarded by many but I couldnt get on with it at all. Time for a re-read sometime if I can get a copy off bookmooch.

Fried Egg

Well-Known Member
Nov 20, 2006
I gave it three stars out of five. Here is my review:

This is a story of one man's attempt to survive in a post apocalyptic world.

Post apocalyptic stories seem to fall into one of two categories. Either humanity is humbled by some huge disaster that nature has thrown at us or else humanity is the victim of it's own foolishness, a disaster of it's own making. This story falls very much in the latter category.

The nature of the catastrophy is this: An accident whilst nuclear testing in space has somehow raised the radiation level on earth to the extent that it has either sterilized everyone or only allowed horrifically deformed monstrosities to be born which were at first eugenically erradicated and then later fought over as it became apparent that in them lay humanity's only hope for the future. Consequently, society has collapsed and the population is aging with the youngest people being at least 60.

It uses a somewhat tired premise in that humanity has attempted to wield a technology beyond our ability to safely control and which led to our own downfall. Although it is more than that; it is a lament against Aldiss' own age: "It was really the generation before hers that was more to blame, the people who were grown up when she was born, the millions who were adults during the 1960's and 70's. They had known all about war and destruction and nuclear power and radiation and death - it was all second nature to them. But they never renoucned it."

The story's misanthropy goes deeper than that. Our society was so deeply flawed and corrupt that the disaster was almost a blessing, clearing the slate and allowing us to regain our humanity. As one character suggests: "Have you thought of the world we were born in, and what it would have grown into had not that unfortunate little radiation experiment run amok? Would it not have been a world too complex, too impersonal, for the likes of us to flourish in?" He adds: "Is not this rag-taggle present preferable to that other mechanized, organized, deodorized present that we might have found outselves in, simply because in this present we can live on a human scale?"

All in all it is a kind of rambling tale with no conventional form of plot and conclusion to be reached at the end. This is more a mediation on the time and follows a brief transition of Greybeard as he follows his dream. Not much in the way of action but it certainly gives you plenty to think about.