In case you hadn’t heard, Brian Aldiss passed away in the early hours of Saturday the 19th, having just celebrated his 92nd birthday with friends the previous day. That’s an admirably long life, though it’s still sad to see a noted grand master of science fiction pass away.
Aldiss penned over 100 novels and 300 short stories, many of them classics in the genre: Non-Stop (1958), Hothouse (1962), Greybeard (1964), and the Helliconia trilogy (1982-85). Aldiss was writing as recently as 2012-13 with Finches of Mars and Comfort Zone. His story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” was adopted by Kubrick and then Spielberg into the movie A.I., while his Frankenstein Unbound was the basis for the 1990 Roger Corman film of the same name. That’s not even counting the dozens of anthologies he edited, including Space Opera, Evil Earths, Perilous Planets, or the two-volume Galactic Empires. For his work, he was awarded two Hugo Awards, a Nebula, and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Plus, he was awarded the OBE for his services to literature in 2005.
That makes for an important body of work, a stepping-stone in the genre’s evolution that helped bridge the gap between “classic” science fiction of the 1950s with the more contemporary New Wave in the ’60s and ’70s. That’s reflected in his writing as well as his legacy; Aldiss corresponded with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, went drinking with Kingsley Amis, and influenced many younger writers like Neil Gaiman and Adam Roberts. He was one of the most well-known and influential British science fiction authors in the era between Arthur C. Clarke and Iain Banks, alongside authors like J.G. Ballard and John Brunner.
What I loved most about his works were their charming, inventive weirdness; his best novels feature a pervasive feeling of overgrowth and decay. Non-Stop is set aboard a generation starship whose population had long ago regressed into primitive tribalism; Greybeard features a quiet apocalypse in the wake of an infertility plague, where the octogenarian characters traverse an overgrown England; Hothouse is set in a far-flung-future where humans have devolved into small, insignificant creatures in a much larger jungle world rife with carnivorous plants and insects. It’s all wild and crazy stuff, but it’s taken seriously and presented in such bold and vivid prose that it’s hard not to be swept up in it all. Non-Stop is one of my favorite novels of all time, and Greybeard would rank pretty high as well.
The passing of time has claimed many legends from the olden days of science fiction; Aldiss was one of the true remaining legends who started writing in the Silver Age of science fiction. Goodbye to a fine author; it wasn’t too long ago that I read my first Aldiss, Non-Stop, and after it blew my mind I made it one of my reading goals to track down more of his books to read. I did so, and enjoyed them as well, and I have many more of his books yet to read.
A few memorial posts: