Brian Wilson Aldiss
(born August 18
in East Dereham, Norfolk
) is a prolific English
author of both general fiction and science fiction
In 1943 he joined the Royal Signals regiment, and saw action in Burma; his encounters with tropical rainforests at that time may have been at least a partial inspiration for Hothouse, as his Army experience inspired the Horatio Stubbs second and third books.
After the war, he worked as a bookseller in Oxford. Besides short science fiction for various magazines, he wrote a number of short pieces for a booksellers trade journal about life in a fictitious bookshop, and this attracted the attention of Charles Monteith, an editor at the British publishers Faber. As a result of this, Aldiss' first book was The Brightfount Diaries (1955), a collection of the bookshop pieces.
In 1955, the Observer newspaper ran a competition for a short story set in the year 2500, which Aldiss won with a story entitled "Not For An Age". The Brightfount Diaries had been a minor success, and Faber asked Aldiss if he had any more writing that they could look at with a view to publishing. Aldiss confessed to being a science fiction author, to the delight of the publishers, who had a number of science fiction fans in high places, and so his first science fiction book, Space, Time and Nathaniel was published. By this time, his earnings from writing equalled the wages he got in the bookshop, so he made the decision to become a full-time writer.
He was voted the Most Promising New Author at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1958, and elected President of the British Science Fiction Association in 1960. He was the literary editor of the Oxford Mail newspaper during the 1960s. Around 1964 he and his long-time collaborator Harry Harrison started the first ever journal of science fiction criticism, Science Fiction Horizons, which during its brief span of two issues published articles and reviews by such authors as James Blish, and featured a discussion between Aldiss, C.S. Lewis, and Kingsley Amis in the first issues, and an interview with William S. Burroughs in the second.
Besides his own writings, he has had great success as an anthologist. For Faber he edited Introducing SF, a collection of stories typifying various themes of science fiction, and Best Fantasy Stories,
In 1961 he edited an anthology of reprinted short science fiction for the british paperback publisher Penguin books under the title Penguin Science Fiction. This was remarkably successful, going into numerous reprints, and was followed up by two further anthologies, More Penguin Science Fiction (1963), and Yet More Penguin Science Fiction (1964). The later anthologies enjoyed the same success as the first, and all three were eventually published together as The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus (1973), which also went into a number of reprints. In the 1970s, he produced several large collections of classic grand-scale science fiction, under the titles Space Opera (1974), Space Odysseys (1975), Galactic Empires (1976), Evil Earths (1976), and Perilous Planets (1978) which were quite successful. Around this time, he edited a large format volume Science Fiction Art (1975), with selections of artwork from the magazines and pulps.
In response to the results from the planetary probes of the 1960s and 1970s, which showed that Venus was completely unlike the hot, tropical jungle usually depicted in science fiction, he and Harry Harrison edited an anthology Farewell, Fantastic Venus!, reprinting stories based on the pre-probe ideas of Venus. He also edited, with Harrison, a series of anthologies The Year's Best Science Fiction (1968-1976?)
- The Brightfount Diaries (1955)
- Space, Time and Nathaniel (1957) Short story collection; all his published science fiction to that date, including "T", his first published story, and "Not For an Age". Aldiss had only had thirteen stories published at that time, and a fourteenth was hurriedly written to make up the numbers.
- Non-stop (1958) A story of a small tribe in a very strange jungle, who make unsettling discoveries about the nature of their world. This was published in the US under a different title, which gives away the basic plot premise, so that title will not be quoted here...
- Equator (1958)
- The Canopy of Time (1959) Short story collection: published in slightly different format in the US as Galaxies like Grains of Sand
- The Interpreter (1960; US title Bow down to Nul) A short novel about the huge, old galactic empire of Nuls, a giant, three-limbed, civilized alien race. Earth is just a lesser-than-third-class colony ruled by a Nul tyrant whose deceiving devices together with good willing but ineffective attempts of a Nul signatory to clarify the abuses and with the disorganized earthling resistance reflect the complex relationship existing between imperialists and subject races which Aldiss himself had the chance of seeing at first hand when serving in India and Indonesia in the forties.
- The Male Response (US: 1959, UK 1961)
- The Primal Urge (1961)
- Hothouse (1962) Set in a far future Earth, where the earth has stopped rotating, the Sun has increased output, and plants are engaged in a constant frenzy of growth and decay, like a tropical forest enhanced a thousandfold; a few small groups of humans still live, on the edge of extinction, beneath the giant banyan tree that covers the day side of the earth. Originally published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, the magazine editor actually sought scientific advice about one aspect of the book. He was told that the orbital dynamics involved meant that it was nonsense, but the image of the earth and moon side by side in orbit, shrouded with cobwebs woven by giant vegetable spiders was so outrageous and appealing that he published it anyway. Science fiction fans endorsed this decision, voting it a Hugo Award The American edition was titled The Long Afternoon of Earth; according to Aldiss' account, the publisher insisted on this so that the book wouldn't be put amongst the horticulture books in bookshops.
- The Airs of Earth (1963 - short story collection; american title Starswarm)
- The Dark Light Years (1964): the encounter of humans with the utod, gentle aliens whose physical and mental health requires wallowing in mud and dung, who are not even recognised as intelligent by the humans.
- Greybeard (1964) Set decades after the Earth's population has been sterilised by a burst of radiation from an astronomical event, the book shows an emptying world, occupied by an ageing, childless population.
- Best SF stories of Brian Aldiss (1965); Published in the US as But who can replace a Man?
- Earthworks (1965)
- The Impossible Smile (1965); Serial in Science Fantasy magazine, under the pseudonym "Jael Cracken"
- The Saliva Tree and other strange growths (1966) Story collection. The title story of the collection, The Saliva Tree was written to mark the centenary of H.G. Wells' birth, and received the 1965 Nebula award for the best short novel
- An Age (1967: also published in the US as Cryptozoic!)
- Report On Probability A (1968) Described by Aldiss as an 'anti-novel', this book had its origins some years earlier, before being serialised in New Worlds under Michael Moorcock's editorship. The bulk of the book is the Reprt, describing three characters G, S, and C as they secretly watch a house, catching occasional glimpses of its occupant, Mrs. Mary. As the Report is being read by an unnamed character, he is secretly being observed from other universes, and these observers in their turn are being observed, all of them engaged in futile speculation about the exact nature of Probability A, and the exact meaning of the Victorian painting, The Hireling Shepherd (by Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt), which occurs in the Report...
- Barefoot in the Head (1969) Perhaps Aldiss' most experimental work, this first appeared in several parts as the 'Acid Head War' series in New Worlds. Set in a Eurpe some years after a flareup in the Middle East has led to Europe being attacked with bombs releasing huge quantities of long-lived hallucinogenic drugs. Into an England with a population barely maintaining a grip on reality comes a young Serb, who himself starts coming under the influence of the ambient aerosols, and finds himself leading a messianic crusade. The narration and dialogue reflects the shattering of language under the influence of the drugs, in mutating phrases and puns and allusions, in a deliberate echo of Finnegans Wake
- The Horatio Stubbs saga
- The Hand-Reared Boy (1970)
- A Soldier Erect (1970)
- A Rude Awakening (1978)
- The Moment of Eclipse (1971: short story collection)
- Frankenstein Unbound (1973)
- The 80 minute Hour (1974)
- The Malacia Tapestry (1976)
- Brothers of the Head (1977) This was a large-format book, illustrated by Ian Pollock, telling the strange story of the rock stars Tom and Barry Howe, Siamese twins with a third, dormant head, which eventually starts to awaken.
- Last Orders and Other Stories (1977)
- Pile (1979; Poem)
- New Arrivals, Old Encounters (1979)
- The Helliconia Trilogy
- Helliconia Spring
- Helliconia Summer
- Helliconia Winter
- Seasons in Flight (1984)
- The Year before Yesterday (1987); A fix-up of Equator from 1958 combined with The Impossible Smile from 1965.
- Ruins (1987)
- Forgotten Life (1988)
- A Tupolev too Far
- Supertoys Last All Summer Long Story collection: the title story was the basis for the Steven Spielberg film AI
- Cities and Stones - A traveller's Yugoslavia (1966)
- The Shape of Further Things (1970)
- Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1973) in which he argues that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was the first true science fiction novel.
- Hell's Cartographers (1975, edited with Harry Harrison): a collection of short autobiographical pieces by a number of science fiction writers, including Aldiss. The title is a reference to Kingsley Amis' book about science fiction, New Maps of Hell
- This World and Nearer Ones: Essays exploring the familiar (1979)
- Bury My Heart in W.H. Smiths - an autobiography