Brian Aldiss - short and long fiction

clovis-man

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Not sure how Amazon works for New Zealand, but Kindle editions of each Helliconia volume are available for $3.99 U.S.
 

Fried Egg

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Grrr. Need to vent...
Well, the used copies of the 3 Helliconia books arrived from Ebay - all different sellers. I specifically searched high and low for copies descibed as excellent or very good condition. Turns out that they are all in very 'average' condition (i.e. beaten up, badly cracked spines, water damaged etc, and I just cannot read/own such books. Given the shipping was much more than the books themselves, I cannot return them without being more out of pocket, so I shall be throwing them out and now I still don't have readable copies of the books and I'm about NZD$50 down! Bollocks, as they say. Not that that's in any way a commentary on Aldiss or authors or SF, its just me mouthing off, but I needed to. Grrr.
Surely, they would have been worth reading through once, even if you didn't keep them? :confused:
 

Caliban

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I've always thought that with Aldiss the vast majority of his work isn't very good and then there are about 5 novels and a handful of shorts that are beyond compare 10 out of 10s. Which I just find odd.
 

tylenol4000

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I picked up Helliconia Spring. Looking forward to eventually reading it. I heard Brian Aldiss was really disappointed that the series never became more popular. It's not exactly considered a classic, from what I can tell.
 

clovis-man

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I picked up Helliconia Spring. Looking forward to eventually reading it. I heard Brian Aldiss was really disappointed that the series never became more popular. It's not exactly considered a classic, from what I can tell.
Since it's a multi-generational epic, it doesn't hang together quite as easily as something like Zelazny's Amber novels or Cherryh's Faded Sun series. Nevertheless, it is quite absorbing and quite worth the effort to piece it together.
 

Stephen Palmer

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I picked up Helliconia Spring. Looking forward to eventually reading it. I heard Brian Aldiss was really disappointed that the series never became more popular. It's not exactly considered a classic, from what I can tell.
It is well thought of, but for some unknown reason it isn't deemed a classic - which it should be.

Aldiss himself once remarked to Dave Langford that an SF trivia quiz book he'd been involved with was earning him more than Helliconia...

That's sad. :(
 

TonyHarmsworth

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I find it very hard to pick any particular favorite from this author. All of his work seems to be good, solid writing. I am mostly familiar with older works, so I might think of Cryptozoic (AKA An Age) for a long work and "Poor Little Warrior" for a short work.
Cryptozoic was a really difficult one to get your mind around. You had to believe the scenario in order for the book to be readable and, of course, the scenario was nonsense. I think Aldiss' real skill was in forcing you to believe in nonsense because you knew a brilliant story was contained within it.
 

TonyHarmsworth

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In response to Venusian Broon's avatar.
This is not a reply to your post, but a compliment upon your avatar. I was a great Dan Dare fan and have all of the Mike Hicks hardback compilations of the stories. Shame he never tackled the ones which weren't in the normal format - he couldn't make them fit the compilation format. Anyway, your avatar took me straight back to the Mekon. He looks good with a tash.
 

Fried Egg

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I've finished my re-read of 'Helliconia Spring' and still think it is a classic but stand by my original observation that the human characters are not really the central focus of the book. This is evidenced by the fact of how abruptly the story ends with various plot lines left unresolved and one can only wonder what happened to many of the characters.

As I've said previously, I don't really see this as a flaw but I can see why some readers don't like this.
 

Stephen Palmer

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The beauty of the novel is that, while Helliconia is vast and grand and the focus, all the human characters are small and flawed and so are wonderful to read about. It's an exceptional trilogy.
 

DeltaV

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Ordered a copy of Helliconia Spring from the local library. Read this series many years ago but don't remember much about it. What do you think are some of the themes that Aldiss develops in this series? Or is it simply a grand adventure, to be read simply for pleasure?
 

Stephen Palmer

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The main theme is things turning into their opposites - enantiodromia as Jung called it. So, the horrors of the baking hot summer turn over the centuries into the terrors of the icy winter. It really is the most extraordinary work - vivid, full of life. Aldiss was greatly influenced by James Lovelock's Gaia Theory (or hypothesis as it was then) which lead to various aspects of life on the planet, both for the 'humans' and the phagors. At the time, Lovelock had only a couple of years earlier announced the idea. It is also a grand adventure though, especially the middle volume. Spring has a harshness about it, and Winter a subtle melancholy.
I wrote a blog post about Helliconia here.
 

DeltaV

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Just finished reading Helliconia Spring. It is indeed a masterpiece. I am trying to think of any other work of science fiction where the world has been developed as well as Helliconia .... and I'm coming up empty. For a book written in 1982, this is impressive. The characters, too, are very well developed. There are no superheroes, just plain ordinary people with their faults and virtues trying to survive. A refreshing change from so much of science fiction where the protagonists are simply unbelievable as human beings.

And yes, the first book does end without wrapping up the stories of the various characters.

The book finishes with several of the main characters meeting up as the town of Embruddock is being destroyed by the Phagors. Apparently still inside the town is Vry, the first person employing scientific method to understand the world around her. What happens to them all? We don't know. And if my vague recollections of Helliconia Summer are anything to go by, I think they disappear into the mists of time.

In the prologue in my copy, Aldiss speaks of dualities that concern our time as well as that of Helliconia that play out in the novels. Apparently these are themes he touched on in a previous novel Life in the West (which I have not read) and which he develops more fully in Helliconia.

Now I'm going to touch on something a bit more controversial. I wondered why this book did not win the Nebula Award and had a look on Wikipedia of the list of finalists. Three of the six (including the winner) I have not read (nor even heard of). Gene Wolfes Book of the New Sun is good; I remember reading this ages ago and liking it. But to see Isaac Asimov's Foundation Edge listed alongside Helliconia Spring? Oh brother. I read that book and thought it was poorly written, just a money grab. Can't even compare to Helliconia. Anyway, don't want to start any flamewars but just my two cents....

I am looking forward to Helliconia Summer. And a copy of Non-Stop just arrived in the mail.

Will
 

DeltaV

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Finished Helliconia Summer a few days ago and liked it even more than Helliconia Spring. The events of this story take place about 83 Helliconian years before the summer equinox of the long year. As I suspected, the characters in the first novel are no more than faint legends.

Over the last couple of years, I have reread a number of "SF classic" stories and many of them reveal their age. On the other hand, Helliconia Summer, written in 1983, is one of those SF novels that I would call "timeless" ... as enjoyable today as the day it was written. This is partially due to the construction of the world of Helliconia, but mostly because of the depth of many of the characters of the story (for me anyway!). They are well developed, with their vices and virtues, their strengths and their weaknesses, and their contradictions.

Now, I would not say that the main characters are either good or inspirational. They live in a hard time ... slavery and violence are widespread ... and the lives of most people are indeed ´nasty, brutish and short´. But one does get drawn into their struggles and a certain sympathy for the characters is gradually developed as the novel flows along.

There is a lot that is left unresolved at the end of Helliconia Summer. And I can see where some readers who prefer neat endings might be disappointed. So I will quote what I think is a lovely little phrase from Pecan Pie at Minnie and Earl's (Analog Sept/Oct 2019):

"Closure can be overrated. Sometimes it just plain takes the magic away."


One thing that I noted is that both King JandolAnganol and ex-chancellor SartoriIrvrash (in spite of both being crafty politically), do not seem to grasp the motivations of individuals nor the fundamental nature of their society. JandolAnganol burns Sartorilrvashs manuscripts (his entire life's work), making him an enemy; he kills the nobles friendly to the Queen (making more enemies), he naively takes a pet Phagor to the court in Oldorando (making even more enemies). Etc.. Hmmm. Is it possible that the elite of a society doesn't always understand what makes people tick?

And SartoriIrvrash completely misreads the religious nature of the common society of Borljen and Oldorando ... with fatal consequences.

There is a lot to think about in this book.

And of course there are indeed questions at the end:

Was JandolAnganol able to unite Borljen and Oldorando? Or did things all fall apart when ex-Queen MyrdemInggala arrived at Matrassyl?

And I did grow sympathetic for SartoriIrvrash in time. He meets his intellectual equal, Admiral Soldier-Priest Odi Jeseratabhar of Sibornal, and while travelling via sea to the south coast of Borjlen, the two aging lovers develop a theory about the Phagors. Do any of their ideas survive the centuries?

I guess we will find out in Helliconia Winter (or maybe not...)


Will
 

.matthew.

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Man, I completely forgot those books even existed. I had them on audiobook years ago but haven't thought about them since. I remember the trilogy being pretty good though, and even the massive time shifts worked.
 

AlexH

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I've read a few of Brian Aldiss' short stories. Nothing stood out but the only story I didn't like was "Old Hundredth." My favourites were "Not For An Age" and "Outside."
 

DeltaV

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Finished reading Helliconia Winter a couple of days ago. The setting is now in the autumn of the great year, some five hundred years after Helliconia Summer. Batalix is moving further and further away from Freyr, and temperatures are dropping. Because of this, I found that there was a darker mood to this story. Time is running out. Government is crumbling on Campannlat, and a totalitarian oligarchy rules Sibornal. The Phagors are increasing in power, and Fat Death draws closer. Positively gloomy (but well written gloominess).

As is now typical of the novels, most of the events and people of the previous books have disappeared into the depths of time. A couple of answers to questions left over from Helliconia Summer are found in the pages of Helliconia Winter. But there are still questions left at the conclusion that only the reader´s imagination can answer. So be warned!

As I drew close to the very end of the book, I had to stop a couple of times to take in what I was reading. I would finish a chapter, and then I had to make myself a cup of tea before I could carry on. Then I would stop again, and make a piece of toast. Then continue. I confess to having had a certain feeling of foreboding (knowing how Aldiss finished the other two books), wondering how this was all going to turn out. But also a feeling of disappointment in the sense of 'Shoot. There's only forty pages left. I don't want this to end. I want another book: Helliconia Spring #2'!

Having read all three now in a fairly close lapse of time, I would have to say that I did end up preferring Helliconia Summer (slightly more than Spring). However don't let this stop you from reading Helliconia Winter. The drama of opposite things and forces, the characters, and of course, who can forget the Wheel of Kharnabar? All make this a good read, and a classic of SF literature.


Several observations (amongst many)

First, I noticed how the position of women has changed in this novel. There are no tough and imaginative women like Shay Tal or Vry (who really make Helliconia Spring a wonderful read). There are no intellectual warriors like Admiral Soldier-Priest Odi Jeseratabhar, nor any women in society like Queen MyrdemInggala or Immya Muntras. Women seem to have been reduced to the roles of slaves or submissive wives (and the distinction between the two is not big: see Insil Esikananzi). Toress Lahl, the main female protagonist, is used as a sex slave for most of the book. While this portrayal of women may have been done deliberately to show the slow erosion of civilized values under the pressures of environmental change, it is disappointing.

As I noted in my main comment, I had a foreboding that the ending was going to be rather abrupt. And it was. The main question of whether or not the Oligarchy was going to succeed could not be answered in this book. And that is fine. But the conclusion cried out for a few more simple paragraphs to resolve, at least on the short term, the relationships between Luterin Shokerandit, Toress Lahl, and Insil Esikananzi. I found the situation of both women at the end of the novel rather sad and pathetic. I know that I am contradicting what I wrote in my comments on Helliconia Summer, but their story is the one that I would have liked to have seen extended, if not completely concluded. I had far more sympathy for them than for Shokerandit (who came across more than once in the novel as an unfeeling brute. Not that this is unusual for male protagonists in the Helliconia series).

I guess that I shall have to simply imagine that Shokerandit, Lahl and her son return with Kenigg Odim to Rivenjk to start a new life (odd that Odim should pop up at the end like that. Maybe Aldiss forgot to write that paragraph!). And Insil Esikananzi finds life easier as a widow than living with that creep Asperamanka. There. The ending is done!

Science and technology have advanced, comparable to perhaps around the early 1800´s in our timeline. There are rudimentary steam engines at Askitosh. Coal is being mined. There is a long-distance semaphore system. And yet ... I couldn't quite believe that the Oligarchy is going to succeed where King Denniss failed the previous great year. There are too many strikes against humanity on Helliconia for civilization to progress. Even here on Earth, to get where we are today, it was a near-run thing.

Given a choice between Bone Fever and Fat Death, I'll take Bone Fever. At least then I don't have to worry about family and friends trying to chew on me...

And finally, if anyone would like to write Helliconia Spring #2, I promise to read it.


Will
 
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