Tag Archives: brian aldiss

[March 28, 1962] Paradise Lost (April 1962 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

I used to call The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction “dessert.”  Of all the monthly sf digests, it was the cleverest, the one most willing to take risks, and the most enjoyable reading.  Over the past two years, I’ve noticed a slow but decided trend into the realm of “literary quality.”  In other words, it’s not how good the stories are, or how fun the reading – they must be experimental and erudite to have any merit.  And if you don’t get the pieces, well, run off to Analog where the dumb people live.

A kind of punctuation mark has been added to this phenomenon.  Avram Davidson, that somber-writing intellectual with an encyclopedic knowledge and authorial credits that take up many sheets of paper, has taken over as editor of F&SF from Robert Mills.  Five years ago, I might have cheered.  But Davidson’s path has mirrored that of the magazine he now helms: a descent into literary impenetrability.  Even his editorial prefaces to the magazine’s stories are off-putting and contrived. 

I dunno.  You be the judge.

Gifts of the Gods, by Jay Williams

The premise of Gifts isn’t bad: aliens come from the stars to find Earth’s most advanced nation, and it turns out they’re the most primitive, technologically.  It’s three shades too heavy on the sermon, and it fails by its own rules (i.e. one can lambast states as a whole for not being perfectly self-actualized, but surely there are a thousand qualifying people within any given country that fulfill the ET’s requirements).  But then, these aliens seem to have shown up just to rub our noses in it.  Advanced indeed.  Two stars.

The Last Element, by Hugo Correa

Editor Davidson touts Sr. Correa as a brilliant find from Chile.  Sadly, this meandering piece involving (I guess) space soldiers who are undone in their attempts to mine a psychotropic mineral from a distant planet, feels incompletely translated from the Spanish.  It reads like an Italian sf film views.  Two stars.

The End of Evan Essant… ?, by Sylvia Edwards

A cute piece, more The Twilight Zone than anything else, about a fellow who is so determined to be a nebbish that he psychosomatically disappears.  It’s no great shakes, but at least it has a through line and is written in English.  Boy, my standards have dropped.  Three stars.

Shards, by Brian W. Aldiss

The editor advises that one give this story time to make sense lest you judge it prematurely.  He has a point.  This piece innovatively describes a traumatic out-of-body experience, and when you know the context, it’s not bad.  On the other hand, the context is laid out with surprising artlessness especially given the effort Aldiss puts into the first part (which is only readable in hindsight).  Three stars for effort, though your meter may hover at one star through most of the actual experience.

The Kit-Katt Club, by John Shepley

Something about a young, serious boy who abandons his starlet mother’s dissipated hotel life to frequent a bar with a literal menagerie of clientele.  I didn’t understand this story, nor did I much like it.  Maybe I’m just bitter at being made to look foolish.  Two stars.

To Lift a Ship, by Kit Reed

One of the few bright lights of this issue is Reed’s take on love, hope, greed, and despair involving two test co-pilots of a psionically driven aircraft.  I love how vividly we see through the eyes of the protagonist, and the subtlety (but not to the point of obtuseness!) with which the story unfolds.  Four stars.

Garvey’s Ghost, by Robert Arthur

I haven’t seen much from Arthur lately.  His stories have all been pleasant, fanciful fare and this one, about a most contrary ghost and the grandson he haunts, is more of the same.  Three stars.

Vintage Wine, by Doris Pitkin Buck

The English professor from Ohio is back, this time with a piece of ‘cat’terel (as opposed to the canine variety, which is not as good) that I actually quite enjoyed.  Four stars.

Moon Fishers, by Nathalie Henneberg

Charles Henneberg was a popular French fantasist who, sadly, passed away in 1959.  His wife, with whom he collaborated, has taken it upon herself to flesh out a number of remaining outlines for publication, Damon Knight providing the translations.  She has written well before, but her talents fail her this time.  This tale of time travel, Atlanteans, and ancient Egypt fails to engage at all.  One star.

The Weighting Game, by Isaac Asimov

The Good Doctor takes on the subject of elements and how we determined their mass.  Just discovering that elements had mass was a critical step in understanding the nature of atoms.  Sadly, this article is really a highly abridged and much compromised version of his excellent book, The Search for the Elements, which came out two months ago.  I recommend you grab a copy and skip this article.  Still, substandard Asimov is still decent.  Three stars.

Test, by Theodore L. Thomas

A vignette about failing a driving test.  There’s the germ of a good story here, but the ending is too abrupt and affected to work.  Two stars.

Three for the Stars, by Joseph Dickinson

This piece is noteworthy for having one of the least intelligible Davidson prefaces.  Other than that, its a rather overwrought story about a chimp sent to Mars and back, and the scars he bears of the Martians he met.  Satire or something.  Two stars.

***

This issue ends up with a lousy 2.4 star score – by far, the worst magazine of the month, and possibly the worst F&SF I’ve read!  It’s a disappointing turn of events.  F&SF used to be the smart sf mag, and last month’s issue was a surprise stand-out.  With the arrival of Davidson, F&SF seems to be careening back toward smug self-indulgence.  I see that the back cover no longer has pictures of notables heaping praise on the book.  I wonder if they’re jumping ship… 

[Nov. 26, 1961] End of the Line (December 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s the end of the year!  “What?” you exclaim, “but it’s only November!”  True that, but the date on my latest Fantasy and Science Fiction says December 1961, and that means it is the last science fiction digest of the calendar year that will go through my review grinder.

F&SF has been the best magazine, per my ratings, for the past several years.  Going into this final issue, however, it has lagged consistently behind Galaxy.  Would this final issue be enough to pull it back into 1st place?  Especially given the stellar 3.8 stars rating that Galaxy garnered last month?

Well, no.  I’m afraid the magazine that Bouchier built (and handed over to Mills) must needs merit 8 stars this month to accomplish that feat.  That said, it’s still quite a decent issue, especially given the rather lackluster ones of the recent past.  So, with the great fanfare appropriate to the holiday season, I present to you the final sf mag of 1961:

Damon Knight seems have gotten a gig as editor Mills’ favored French translator.  Perhaps the job was in compensation for Knight’s having been laid off as book editor for his scathing (unpublished) review of Judith Merril’s The Tomorrow People.  Claude Veillot’s The First Days of May is a grim story of a Parisian survivor after the devastating invasion of the bug people from outer space.  Beautifully told, but there are no happy endings here.  Four stars.

My friend, Herbert Gold, returns with The Mirror and Mr. Sneeves.  Well, I shouldn’t say returns given that this rather unremarkable story, about a frigid husband who swaps bodies with more vivacious men, was first published in 1953.  Notable mainly for its literary gimmicks and copious sexual teases, I was first inclined to give it just two stars.  However, I found myself remembering the story long after I’d finished it, and that’s usually a sign of quality.  Three stars.

You’ll definitely remember Anne Walker’s The Oversight of Dirty-Jets Ryan for its almost impenetrable future slang (which reads a lot like current slang with a few space-related words thrown in).  Well, it’s also a good story, this tale of a none-too-legal trading expedition from Callisto to an alien world.  I’d expect nothing less from the lady who brought us the high point of the August 1959 Astounding.  Three stars.

On the other hand, Will Stanton’s You Are with It! is pretty lousy.  Something about a game show in which persons become thoroughly absorbed in the role they play.  Two stars.

The Fiesta at Managuay is an excellent piece by John Anthony West, a metaphor for the destruction of native culture by more “civilized” societies.  If you find yourself in the tourists of Managuay, be justifiably concerned.  And if you do not, look harder.  Four stars.

Isaac Asimov’s science fact piece this month, The Trojan Hearse, is an interesting article on Lagrange Points, those points of relative gravitational stability one finds between a big world and an orbiting companion.  For instance, the Sun and Jupiter, or the Earth and the Moon.  The timing is fortunate given that I plan to write about Jupiter (and its “Trojan Points”) next month!  Four stars.

I can’t quite tell you why I loved Hal Draper’s Ms Fnd in a Lbry: or, the Day Civilization Collapsed so much.  Perhaps for its frightening, if satirical, plausibility.  Or maybe because I’m an archivist as well as someone who went through a graduate program where the professors were more interested in the cataloging of knowledge than knowledge itself.  Read it and tell me if it strikes you as it struck me.  Five stars.

Last up is the conclusion to Brian Aldiss’ “Hothouse” series (soon to be a fix-up book), Evergreen.  Sadly, what started out so imaginative and interesting has degenerated to near unreadability.  The more said about this future, sun-blasted Earth, the less plausible it gets, and the strained dialogue makes this apocalyptic travelogue a slog(ue).  Two stars. 

And so ends the year for F&SF, and with that, the magazines for all of 1961.  At last, I can dig out my graph paper and copious notes and start compiling data for this year’s Galactic Stars awards!  I hope you’ll look forward to them as much as I do!

[August 26, 1961] Introduce Yourself!  (September 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)


by Gideon Marcus

Just what is the Galactic Journey?  Who is this mysterious “Traveler”?

Every so often, it’s good idea to remind my readers who I am and why I do what I do.  This weekend, I am presenting at a local science fiction gathering, so it makes sense that the first article they see makes sense of all of this.

My twin passions are science fiction and outer space.  I live with my wife and daughter in San Diego, the fairest city in the Golden State of California.  From 9 to 5, I run a mid-sized electronics company.  In my off time, I maintain this column, writing about current books, magazines, movies, and science news (as well as other miscellany).

Oh yes.  I live in 1961.

Normally, I wouldn’t have cause to mention this fact.  For the longest time, I was the under the impression that we all lived in the same time.  Some of the mail I’ve been getting, however, suggests that a few of you come from the future — 55 years, to be exact. 

It’s quite exciting to have a fan-base from the far-flung time of 2016.  They report on all sorts of far out advances, some of which have been conceived in science fiction, others of which are beyond our wildest dreams. 

Happily, they report that global overpopulation has not been realized.  On the other hand, global warming has.  They say that Pluto is not a planet; well, that’s nothing new.

I suspect, of course, that this is all a fannish game.  No one really can know the future.  The best we can do is write down our speculations and hope we’re right (or in the case of scary visions, wrong!)

And that leads nicely into the subject of this article, the September 1961 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  For those of you who don’t know, F&SF is one of several monthly science fiction digests, each containing a slew of stories.  The story length ranges from single-page vignettes through serialized novels that run over several issues.  Digests used to be the way science fiction was delivered to the public.  They’ve been on the decline since their peak in 1953, however, and the science fiction novel appears to have taken its place. 

There is still plenty of good stuff to be found in the magazines, however.  Here’s what I found in this issue:

Gérard Klein is an author for F&SF‘s French edition, and his The Monster in the Park was deemed good enough to be translated into English (thank you, Virginia Kidd!) It is a worthy piece, this tale of an alien’s landing in a Parisian park.  The pacing is excellent, with the largely expositional setup interpreted through the lens of a worried Frenchwoman’s grief over the possibility that her husband has been abducted.  The story builds the tension quite nicely, and the resolution works, though it is a bit abrupt.  Four stars.

Moving on, we have Herbert Gold’s satirical The Day They Got Boston, about the diplomatic tit-for-tat that might ensue should the Soviets ever accidentally blow up one of our cities.  His name may be unfamiliar to you if you’re the kind who never leaves our particular genre.  In fact, Gold writes a lot, but most of his stuff ends up in the “slicks” — high-paying outlets like Playboy.  Hefner politely declined the offer to print Boston, but his loss is our gain. 


Herbert Gold

Gold, a friend of mine, told me he wrote this genuinely funny little yarn as a reaction to all the panic about The Bomb, which he doesn’t personally buy into.  Boston is not really science fiction, but then Gold isn’t a science fiction writer.  As he puts it, “the world is bizarre enough without inventing a fantasy science fiction alternative.”  A fair assessment from a man who writes with a stylus dipped in his own blood stored in a skull of Goethe he keeps on his desk (or so he claims!) Four stars.

The Timekeeper is Michael Young’s first story, an odd vignette about a fellow who escapes mortality by shuffling into the timeless place of waking dreams.  Strangely enjoyable.  3 stars.

Floyd Wallace used to write a lot more, but if saving his strength means we get more stories like Privates All, then I don’t begrudge him his rest.  Imagine a stultifying world of scarcity where production is in the hands of a myriad of monopolies: General Housing, General Apparel, General Entertainment, General Food, etc.  A person can work for any of them, but only one at a time.  Within each unit, goods can be secured with relative ease, but without, they cost dearly.  How does one get ahead in a world where wealth in one economic field means poverty in all others? 

Wallace writes powerfully, evocatively, and I’m a sucker for stories set in caste-based societies.  I imagine, rather like Orwell’s 1984, that Privates is less a prediction of a future time than a depiction of an existing place — namely, the Soviet Union.  Good stuff.  Four stars.

Pecking Order is a tale of witchcraft, humility, and pride from a virtually unpublished author, Nils Peterson.  Macabre in its mood, wicked in its finale, it is a quintessentially F&SF-ish story.  Three stars.

Hamlin is by another unknown: Rosemary Harris.  She has the sad distinction of being the only female author appearing in the digests I read this month.  Hamlin is the re-telling of an old fable, gussied up in scientifiction trappings.  It’s my least favorite story in the issue, but that’s more due to the quality of its competition, than any lack on its part.  Three stars.

Now, all of the Big Three digests (F&SF, Analog, and Galaxy) include a science fact column.  F&SF‘s is the best as they managed to secure the works of a certain Isaac Asimov, a fellow with a broader breadth of knowledge than Da Vinci. 

I like science fiction, but I love articles that can inspire science fiction stories.  Not As We Know It describes elements and solvents that could be alternatives to our boring old carbon/oxygen/water mix as the basis for alien life.  It is a treasure trove of ideas.  Five stars.

Rosser Reeves, a writer/businessman like me, has made a name for himself with his poetry.  He returns with two more pieces: the mournful Effigy and the inconsequential
E=MC².  Not as good as his last outing, but I wouldn’t mind seeing more.  Three stars.

Finally, we have Brian Aldiss’ Timberline.  This is the next installment in his “Hothouse” series of novellas, which form a continuous sequence set on an Earth of the far future.  The sun has swelled with age, and our planet has frozen into tidal lock with one face always presented to its parent star.  The Earth’s surface has been conquered by vegetable beings, and only a few animals remain — including a diminutive race descendant of once mighty humanity.

Aldiss’ is an imaginative world, but this outing in particular felt more travelogue than complete tale.  It might be all right as part of a book (I imagine there will be a compilation when the last novella is completed), but by itself, it feels shallow.  Three stars.

Last month, I lamented that the quality of my favorite digest was declining.  This issue seems to reverse that trend: It scored 3.6 of 5 on the Star-o-meter (TM), easily beating out IF‘s 2.9 and Analog’s 2.6.  It also had the best story (Privates All), the most women (a whopping one), and the best non-fiction.  Pretty good for a magazine with such a large number of authorial first outings!

By next article will be a photologue of my trip to the convention.  If I meet you this weekend, do drop me a line.  I love making new friends!

[March 30, 1961] F&SF + XX (the April 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

If you’ve been a fan in the scientificition/fantasy genre for any length of time, you’ve likely been exposed to rumors of its impending doom.  The pulps are gone.  The magazines are dying.  The best writers are defecting for the lucre of the “slicks.” 

And what is often pointed to as the cause of the greatest decline of an entity since Commodus decided he liked gladiating more than emperoring?  The visual media: science fiction films and television.  Why read when you can watch?  Of course, maybe the quality’s not up to the standards set by written fiction, but who cares?

All this hubbub is silly.  There are two reasons why printed sf/f isn’t going anywhere, at least for the next few decades.  The first is that the quality isn’t in the films or television shows.  Sure, there are some stand-outs, like the first season of The Twilight Zone, and the occasional movie that gets it right, but for the most part, it’s monsters in rubber suits and the worst “science” ever concocted. 

But the second reason, and this is the rub, is the sheer impermanence of the visual media.  If you miss a movie during its run, chances are you’ve missed out forever.  Ditto, television.  For instance, I recently learned that an episode of Angel (think I Love Lucy, but with a French accent) starred ex-Maverick, James Garner.  I’m out of luck if I ever want to see it unless it happens to make the summer re-runs. 

My magazines, however, reside on my shelves forever.  I can re-read them at will.  I can even loan them out to my friends (provided they pony up a $10 deposit).  They are permanent, or at least long-lived. 

And that’s why I’ll stick with my printed sf, thank-you-very-much.

Speaking of permanence, I think April 1961 will be a red-letter date remembered for all time.  It’s the first time, that I’m aware of, that women secured equal top-billing on a science fiction magazine cover.  To wit, this month’s Fantasy and Science Fiction features six names, three of which belong to woman writers.  Exciting stuff, particularly given my observation that, while female writers make up only a ninth of the genre’s pool, they produce a fourth of its best stuff.

Case in point: Evelyn Smith’s Softly while you’re sleeping is a clever piece about a young woman from the old country who is wooed by a passionate vampire.  She ultimately resists his advances, unwilling to undergo the transformation that is the inevitable end of his draining attentions.  The story is older than Stoker, but the writing and the social commentary are entirely modern.  Four stars.

The Hills of Lodan, by the newish Harold Calin, on the other hand, is a comparatively clumsy piece.  Think The Red Badge of Courage, but with a different kind of enemy.  I appreciated the message, but the execution needs work.  Two stars.

The next story is something special.  Every so often, a story comes along that introduces something truly new.  The Ship Who Sang, by new author Anne McCaffrey, brings us the lovely concept of sound-minded but hideously crippled children given mechanical bodies and groomed to become the “brains” of interstellar ships.  These are two-person scout vessels, the other crew-member being the “mobile” element.  Inevitably, the relationship is a close one, and this bonding makes up much of the plot (and charm) of Ship.  In fact, if I have a complaint at all about this story, it is that it is too short; such an intriguing courtship should have more fully developed.  McCaffrey’s detached style feels a bit too impersonal for the piece, as well.  Still, Ship gets an unreserved four stars.

If Anne McCaffrey had gotten the space reserved for the succeeding piece, a reprinted Robert Graves story called Dead Man’s Bottles, I imagine the issue would have been much improved.  Bottles features a minor kleptomaniac (a matches and pencil thief), an unpleasant wine aficionado, and the mysterious haunting that succeeds the latter’s death.  It’s standard, low-grade F&SF filler.  Two stars.

The third woman-penned piece of the book is Kit Reed’s Judas Bomb, a sort of Post-Apocalyptic parable of the Cold War with gangs taking the role of nations.  It’s a quirky, layered piece, and I look forward to seeing more by this San Diegan turned Connecticutian.  Three stars.

My Built-in Doubter is Isaac Asimov’s article for this month, all about how science’s apparent rigidity to crackpot ideas is a virtue, not a liability.  Less information, more editorial, but a fun read, nevertheless.  Four stars.

Richard Banks’ Daddy’s People is a stream of consciousness wall of words about an overlong bedtime story and the weird folks one meets when crossing the planes.  It is difficult reading, and my first temptation was to give it a one-star review.  Something restrains me, however.  So I give it two stars.

Finally, Brian Aldiss is back with the sequel to the superb Hothouse: the superior, if not quite as excellent, Nomansland.  This novella is set in the same steambath Earth of the future, when the Sun has grown hot, and the tidally locked Earth is dominated by semi-intelligent plant life.  We get to learn what happened to Toy and the other human children after the departure of the adults into space.  It’s all a bit like Harrison’s Deathworld without the high technology.  Once again, Aldiss delivers the goods, although the third-person omniscient expositions, while informative, break the narrative a little.  Four stars.

The overall score for this magazine is just over 3 stars — less than Galaxy’s 3.5, and more than Analog’s 2.5.  Yet, despite the uneven quality of its contents, I feel it is in some ways the worthiest of this month’s magazines.  It takes risks; thus, its highs are higher.  As predicted, most of the highs were provided by the female authors — and to think the State of Alabama still won’t let women serve on juries…

As for this month’s best story, I think Aldiss gets the nod, but just barely.  I’d almost call it a tie between Nomansland and The Ship who Sang

What do you think?

[January 29, 1961] Take a little off the bottom (February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Greetings from sunny Kaua’i!  It seems like only yesterday I was reporting from this island’s idyllic shores.  Much has changed, of course–Hawai’i is now a state!  50 is a nice round number, so perhaps we won’t see any new entries into the Union for a while.

Accompanying me on this trip is the last science fiction digest of the month, the February 1961 Fantasy and Science Fiction.  On a lark, I decided to read from the end, first.  In retrospect, I’m glad I did, but it certainly made the magazine a challenge.  You see, the stories at the end are just wretched.  But if you skip them (or survive them, as I did), the rest of the magazine is quite excellent.

Let’s get the drek over with straight-away, shall we?

Some unknown named C. Brian Kelly offers up the disgusting and sadistic The Tunnel, three pages about a vengeful cockroach that you need never read. 1 star.

Meanwhile, the normally excellent Robert F. Young offers the strangely prudish Storm over Sodom, which somehow rubbed me the wrong way all the way through.  2 stars.

Whew.  Now let’s go to the beginning and pretend the last 20 pages never happened. 

Brian Aldiss, who wrote the variable fix-up Galaxies like grains of sand is back with what I hope is the first in a series of tales about life on Earth in the very distant future.  Hothouse portrays a hot, steamy world dominated by vegetable life.  Indeed, a single banyan tree has become a global forest, and within it reside a myriad of mobile plant creatures that comprise almost all of the planet’s species.  Humanity is a savage race, clearly on the decline.  Their only hope, perhaps, will come from the outer space they once called their own domain. 

It’s a beautifully crafted world, the characters are vivid, and if the science stretches credulity, it does not entirely break it.  Five stars

Time was is a pleasant piece by Ron Goulart involving a homesick young woman, the trap that tries to lure her back to the 1939 of her childhood, and the dilettante detective of occult matters who tries to save her.  Four stars.

I’ve said before that Rosel George Brown is a rising star, and Of all possible worlds is my favorite story of hers yet.  A beautiful tale of an interstellar explorer and the almost-humans he meets on a placid, emerald-sand beach.  They seem to be primitives, but sometimes the end result of scientific progress is a pleasant, contemplative rest.  Anthropology, biology, love, and loss.  Five stars.

Marcel Ayme is back with his The Ubiquitous Wife, about a young woman who can multiply herself infinitely and thus live a thousand lives at once.  Like his other stories, it is droll and engaging.  The translator did a good job of conveying Ayme’s clever turns of phrase.  Three stars.

Theodore L. Thomas provides The Intruder, a subtle time travel story featuring a backpacker fishing trilobites at the dawn of the Devonian era.  In a nice touch, it turns out he is not the intruder; rather it is the little blot of algae that threatens to inevitably populate the fisher’s pristine, lifeless world.  Four stars.

Finally, we have Isaac Asimov’s non-fiction article, Order, Order!, on the subject of entropy (the amount of energy unavailable for work; or the amount of disorder in the universe). It’s a topic that everyone knows something about, but few have a real handle on.  The Good Doctor does an excellent job of explaining this esoteric matter.  Four stars.

What a pity–if not for the two lodestones at the end of the issue, this would be a rate 4-star magazine.  Still, even with them, the score is a comfortable 3.5 stars, which makes F&SF the best digest of the month.  It also has the best story of the month: Hothouse.  Finally, it features fully 50% of the month’s woman authors; sadly, there are just two. 

See you on February Oneth–if NASA’s hopes are fulfilled, I will have an exciting Mercury Redstone mission to talk about!

[July 7, 1960] Frankenstein’s Timeline (Brian Aldiss’ Galaxies like Grains of Sand)

Themed collections, a book containing stories by the same author in a common universe, are interesting things.  Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is one of the more famous examples, and when a collection of Zenna Henderson’s The People stories comes out, that will be one of the best ever.

Sometimes, an author is tempted to shoehorn a number of unrelated stories into a single timeline.  Then the stories can be re-released as a “novel” rather than as just a compiled group of shorts (of the type Sheckley releases). 

It can work, but not always.  Every story is written with a set of assumptions in mind, and it is often difficult to do a polished rewrite such that the original assumptions can be masked.

Galaxies Like Grains of Sand is a new book from seasoned young British writer Brian Aldiss.  It contains eight previously published stories stitched together in timeline chronological order with italicized linking text.  The book ostensibly covers some forty million years of future history.  It’s a cute conceit, but does it really hold up under scrutiny?  Let’s look at each of the parts and see if the whole is greater than their sum (it should be noted that I hadn’t read most of these stories before since they came out primarily in British mags):

The War Millenia was originally published as Out of Reach in Authentic Science Fiction.  In this first story, humanity is in the midst of atomic destruction and has burrowed into shelters deep beneath the Earth where they convalesce in a narcotic dream haze most of the time.  On the eve of the global war, Earth is visited by a race of advanced humanoids called “Solites”, who take a keen interest in salvaging as much of Earth’s creatures and cultures as possible.  One Solite even marries a human and transports him to the Solite world, a futuristic but bleak place.  Tired of being kept in the dark as to the true nature of the secretive Solites, he hijacks a matter-transmitter and beams himself back to Earth, where he ends up in a dream house for therapeutic treatment.  The kicker to the story (and it’s easily predicted) is that the Solites are not aliens–they are simply evolved humans from thousands of years in the future. 

In The Sterile Millenia, (All the World’s Tears, published in Nebula Science Fiction), it is four thousand years after the war described in the first tale.  The “color war” is over, and the “Blacks” have won.  But only just.  The Earth is largely a wasteland, and breeding is strictly, coldly controlled by committee.  Emotionless logic (with the occasional stimulated bout of hatred to promote vigor) characterizes human personality.  One prominent politician has a daughter who is a throwback: not only does she feel, but she’s an albino to boot.  Her abortive affair with another throwback ends abruptly and fatally, genetic freaks being equipped with bombs to preclude their breeding.

Flash forward countless thousands of years to The Robot Millenia (Who Can Replace a Man from Infinity Science Fiction), my favorite story of the book.  Humanity has been on a continuous decline since the war, increasingly supported by vast networks of more-or-less sentient robots.  When it is rumored that the last human has died (at least on Earth–the stitching text describes an exodus to the stars) the robots attempt to strike out on their own.  They make something of a hash of it.  Aldiss captures the conniving relationships of an emotionless race quite nicely.

This is followed by The Dark Millenia (Oh Ishrail! in New Worlds Science Fiction).  It is not specified when this takes place, but it is some time after the Solite period of ascendancy described in the first story.  The tale revolves around Ishrail, a fellow banished to Earth by the interstellar confederation of galactic colonies.  At least, we’re led to believe it is Earth, recolonized by one of the diasporic groups. 

Close on this story’s heels, chronologically, is The Star Millenia (Incentive in New Worlds Science Fiction), in which an emissary of the aforementioned confederation visits the Earth, on a whim changes its name to “Yinnisfar”, and teaches us “Galingua”, a universal language that not only allows mutual intelligibility throughout the galaxy, but also instant interstellar travel.

This proves problematic, however, in The Mutant Millenia (Gene-Hive or Journey to the Interior in Nebula Science Fiction) when it turns out that too much facility with Galingua leaves one vulnerable to assimilation into a cancerous mutation of humanity that tries to absorb everyone it touches.  Per the subsequent interstitial explanation, baseline humans win by giving up Galingua.

That takes us to The Megalopolis Millenia (Secret of a Mighty City in Fantasy and Science Fiction, which I do remember reading).  This story is really a satire of the modern television industry, in which the work of a visionary filmmaker/anthropologist, who exposes the seamy underside of a sprawling megacity, becomes the subject of a new show twenty years later–with all the meaningful bits removed.  Of all of the stories that make up the book, this one’s inclusion feels the most contrived, and it is probably not a coincidence that it is preceded by the most new linking material.

Finally, we have The Ultimate Millenia (Visiting Amoeba or What Triumphs from Authentic Science Fiction).  It turns out that the energy of our galaxy is slowly dwindling toward heat death, though its inhabitants are unaware of this decay.  It also develops that the human diaspora went beyond our galaxy, and humanity’s children exist in other island collections of stars.  One of them contrives to assemble a large fleet on the edge of the Milky Way, blast his way spectacularly to old Earth, and deliver the message that humanity, at least all of us in our home galaxy, are doomed.  Thanks.  So ends forty million years of history.

Does it work?  I have my reservations.  The style is inconsistent throughout.  Sometimes Aldiss takes care to create alien lexicons and names.  Others, he seems to fall on 20th Century convention.  There is no chronological rhyme or reason to his choices.  Also, I feel as if baseline humanity stays awfully human throughout–except when we evolve into unbelievably different creatures as described in the Mutant and Ultimate Milennia. 

So, as a whole, it isn’t a complete success.  As for the pieces, with the exception of story #3 (and perhaps #7), I found the book to be something of a difficult bore to plow through.  And while I find it admirable that Aldiss includes non-Whites as protagonists in some of his stories (a thread that disappears by story #4), women are virtually absent. 

2.5 stars.  As always, your mileage may vary, and I welcome your thoughts.

I’m off to another convention this week, but I am taking my trusty typewriter with me.  Expect pictures and more fiction reviews in a few days!