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March Books 13) Aldiss Unbound

13) Aldiss Unbound: The Science Fiction of Brian W. Aldiss, by Richard Mathews

A very brief, 60-page pamphlet, published in 1977, in other words not even half way through Aldiss' writing career (he was born in 1925, and first published in 1954). There's a bit too much retelling of the plot and quoting favourite lines from Aldiss' books and short stories. One particular concept that I found interesting, the idea of "slouch" as a particularly Aldiss brand of humour, simply wasn't explained well enough for me to make up my mind. The one point that made me sit up and think about why I enjoy Aldiss' work so much was Mathews' quotation from Aldiss' contribution to the 1975 volume of sf writers' reminiscences, Hell's Cartographers, which I quote here in its original form, but with my added emphasis:
I have written a number of books which I believe contain something like a creative vision, no matter in what other ways they may be flawed. Although I see my true strengths to lie in he short story field, I have novels for which I cannot but feel some warmth; most of them are involved with the portrayal of landscape, such as A Soldier Erect, Report on Probability A, Barefoot in the Head, and Greybeard, all of which depict figures in  landscape. Non-Stop and Frankenstein Unbound show figures swallowed by their landscapes. So, I suppose, does Hothouse, a novel from which I have always felt distanced, perhaps considering the miserable circumstances under which it was written. Cryptozoic (An Age) has landscape as surrealism, Male Response landscape as comedy. Eighty Minute Hour has an exploded landscape.
On rereading those words in Mathews' abbreviated (but better contextualised) presentation, I suddenly realised that I am a real fan of books with a carefully thought out landscape behind them. I suppose (from the fact that books I hated because their fictional landscapes made no sense to me, such as Cherryh's Downbelow Station and Cyteen, nonetheless have devoted fan followings) that this is not universal. But it helps me realise what sort of book, what sort of writer, appeals to me, personally. It's related to the concept of dinnseanchas, as Ciaran Carson explains it. I'm trying to write something substantial about Irish sf and fantasy at the moment and it all helps to firm up the picture for me.


Mar. 20th, 2005 07:53 pm (UTC)
That's an interesting observation, and I think it applies to me too. There is a Doctor Who story (the sequel to Vengeance on Varos, which was never made but was novelised) in which they run through tunnels from the planet's pole to its equator in about twenty minutes. The rest of the story was okay, but I absolutely couldn't forgive the lapse. That kind of sloppiness, I think, was much more evident in the Eric Saward script editing period than in any other, though it was still bad up to Sylvester McCoy (how many storeys in Paradise Towers? And how many people apparently lived there?).
Mar. 21st, 2005 09:41 am (UTC)
Did either of you read my post on Swainston's The Year of Our War? It's a good book and I'm glad I followed Nicholas' recommendation, but there were a few jarring moments when distance became elastic. It's hard for me to let that sort of thing pass as it undermines the whole landscape. And makes me curse the editor which hurts any immersion I might have.

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