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Brian Aldiss

Brian Wilson Aldiss, OBE, (born August 18, 1925 in East Dereham, Norfolk, England) is a prolific English author of both general fiction and science fiction. His byline reads either Brian W. Aldiss or simply Brian Aldiss. Greatly influenced by SF pioneer H. G. Wells, Aldiss is a vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society. He is also (with Harry Harrison) co-president of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group.

Biography

Aldiss's father ran a department store that his grandfather had established, and the family lived above it. At the age of 6, Brian was sent to board at West Buckland School in Devon, which he attended until his late teens. 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 World War II, 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 and Faber. As a result of this, Aldiss's first book was The Brightfount Diaries (1955), a novel in diary form about the life of a sales assistant in a bookshop.

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, a collection of short stories entitled 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 among 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?)

He traveled to Yugoslavia, met Yugoslav fans in Ljubljana, Slovenia, published a travel book about Yugoslavia, published an alternative-history fantasy story about Serbian kings in the Middle Ages, and, most importantly, wrote a novel, perhaps in one way his best, or most accomplished as a work of literature: a dreamy, visionary, atmospheric work of fantasy, but with many SF elements, The Malacia Tapestry, about an alternative Dalmatia, stopped in time, where some of the people are genetically related to dinosaurs (who still exist), some are winged, progress is sometimes attempted but never really achieved, and Turks may attack in the hope of enslaving Venice or Zadar at any time. The book gives you a feeling that, in Aldiss’s words, “we all stand condemned in the terrible forests of the Universe”, but it is, above all, beautiful.

He has achieved the honor of "Permanent Special Guest" at ICFA, the conference for the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, which he attends annually.

He was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to literature in HM Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Honours list, announced on 11 June 2005.

In January 2007 he appeared on Desert Island Discs. His choice of record to 'save' was Old Rivers sung by Walter Brennan, his choice of book was John Halpern’s biography of John Osborne, and his luxury a banjo. The full selection of eight favourite records is on the BBC website

On July 1st 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Liverpool in recognition of his contribution to literature.

Books

Fiction

  • 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 as Starship.
  • 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.
  • The Airs of Earth (1963 - short story collection; American title Starswarm)
  • The Dark Light Years (1964): the encounter of humans with the utods, gentle aliens whose physical and mental health requires wallowing in mud and filth, who are not even recognised as intelligent by the humans.
  • Greybeard (1964) Set decades after the Earth's population has been sterilised as a result of nuclear bomb tests conducted in Earth's orbit, 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's birth, and received the 1965 Nebula award for the best short novel
  • An Age (1967: also published in the US as Cryptozoic!) a dystopic time-travel novel.
  • 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 Report, describing in minute, obsessive and often repetitive detail, three characters G, S, and C as they secretly watch a house, each from a separate outbuilding with peripheral views of the house's windows, catching occasional glimpses of its occupant, Mrs Mary. As the Report is being read by a character called "Domoladossa'", 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. Later we learn that Mrs. Mary is watching a screen of her own, although this may just be a television set, and it is suggested that the painting may be a window into a world where time is standing still.

note: Holman Hunt's paintings also feature in Aldiss's short story The Secret of Holman Hunt and the Crude Death Rate (1975).

  • ed. Farewell Fantastic Venus (1968)
  • Barefoot in the Head (1969) Perhaps Aldiss's most experimental work, this first appeared in several parts as the 'Acid Head War' series in New Worlds. Set in a Europe some years after a flare-up in the Middle East 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.
  • Neanderthal Planet (1969) Collection of four short stories - 'Neanderthal Planet, Danger: Religion, Intangibles, Inc. and Since the Assassination'', first printed, respectively, in 1958, 1960,1962, and 1969.
  • The Horatio Stubbs saga
  • The Moment of Eclipse (1971: short story collection)
  • The Book of Brian Aldiss (1972) (UK title The Comic Inferno) Short story collection
  • Frankenstein Unbound (1973) A 21st century scientist, a creator of a technological monster himself, is transported to 19th century Switzerland where he encounters both Frankenstein and Mary Shelley. It was the basis for the 1990 film of the same title, directed by Roger Corman.
  • 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. Also adapted for film by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe, released in 2006.
  • Last Orders and Other Stories (1977)
  • Pile (1979; Poem)
  • New Arrivals, Old Encounters (1979)
  • Moreau's Other Island (1980)
  • The Squire Quartet
    • Life In The West (1980)
    • Forgotten Life (1988)
    • Remembrance Day (1993)
    • Somewhere East Of Life (1994)
  • The Helliconia Trilogy
  • Seasons in Flight (1984)
  • Courageous New Planet (c. 1984)
  • The Year before Yesterday (1987); A fix-up of Equator from 1958 combined with The Impossible Smile from 1965.
  • Ruins (1987)
  • Dracula Unbound (1990)
  • A Tupolev too Far (1994)
  • Somewhere East of Life: Another European Fantasia (1994)
  • The Secret of This Book (1995) (Common Clay: 20-Odd Stories US)
  • When the Feast is Finished (with Margaret Aldiss) (1999)
  • (with Roger Penrose) White Mars Or, The Mind Set Free (1999)
  • Super-Toys Last All Summer Long and Other Stories of Future Time (2001) The title story was the basis for the Steven Spielberg film A.I.
  • Super-State (2002)
  • The Cretan Teat (2002)
  • Affairs at Hampden Ferrers (2004)
  • Jocasta (2005); A re-telling of Sophocles' Theban tragedies concerning Oedipus and Antigone. In Aldiss' novel, myth and magic are vibrantly real, experienced through an evolving human consciousness. Amidst various competing interpretations of reality, including the appearance of a time-travelling Sophocles, Aldiss provides an engaging alternative explanation of the Sphinx' riddle.
  • Sanity and the Lady (2005)
  • HARM (2007)

Poetry

  • Home Life With Cats (1992)
  • At The Caligula Hotel (1995)
  • Songs From The Steppes Of Central Asia (1995)
  • A Plutonian Monologue on His Wife's Death (2000)
  • At A Bigger House (2002)
  • The Dark Sun Rises (2002)
  • A Prehistory of Mind (2008)

Non-Fiction

  • Cities and Stones - A Traveller's Yugoslavia (1966)
  • The Shape of Further Things (1970)
  • Item Eighty Three (with Margaret Aldiss) (1972): a comprehensive bibliography of all books and short works published to that date. (The book is number 83 in its own list).
  • 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. Revised and expanded as Trillion Year Spree (with David Wingrove)(1986)
  • 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's book about science fiction, New Maps of Hell
  • The Pale Shadow Of Science (1986)
  • This World and Nearer Ones: Essays exploring the familiar (1979)
  • The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy (1995)
  • The Twinkling of an Eye or My Life as an Englishman (1998)
  • Art after Apogee: The Relationships between an Idea, a Story, a Painting (with Rosemary Phipps) (2000)
  • Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's - A Writing Life (1990) - an autobiography

External links

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