Brian Aldiss was an enormous figure in the Science Fiction field and it was with great sadness that we learnt of his passing on 19th of August this year, at the age of 92.
Brian was born in Norfolk, East Dereham to be exact, in August 1925, the period between the two great wars that shaped the modern world. His upbringing was common among those of his class at the time, being shipped away from the family business to attend a series of boarding schools, both in Suffolk and further afield in Devon.
After turning 18 in 1943 he, along with all others his age, joined the war. Aldiss served in the Royal Corps of Signals and spent the majority of the war in India, training for an invasion of the Japanese mainland. After the end of the war, Aldiss served in India for 2 more years before returning to England and settling in Oxford.
These early years of his life were the inspiration for his bestselling Horatio Stubbs trilogy, telling the story of a young man’s journey from boarding school to the battlefield it is quite clearly a semi-autobiographical work.
Upon his return to England, Aldiss first began working in a bookshop while pursuing his dream of being an author.
With his autobiographical style, Aldiss’ first success came following a series of comical pieces about the life of a bookshop assistant. This eventually led to his first novel, in 1955, The Brightfount Diaries, a novel in diary form about the life of a sales assistant in a bookshop.
This novel was successful enough for him to leave the bookshop and take up writing as a career, while also working as an editor on the Oxford Mail.
His first forays into the Science Fiction world was Non-Stop, about a multigeneration spaceship on a long journey between the stars.
Aldiss first became known to the Science Fiction world at large with his recognition at the Hugo awards in 1959, where he was nominated for the award of “Best New Author of 1958”, however no winner was ultimately chosen from the five candidates nominated.
From there, his writing continued to grow and throughout the following years he produced some outstanding works of Science Fiction.
The 1970s saw him leave the worlds of SF&F to embark on his aforementioned Horatio Stubbs trilogy. Aldiss himself said of the first book:
“Young Horatio Stubbs suffers the pangs of adolescence, but is weaned from the pleasures of masturbation by the delights offered by his school’s nursing sister, who is not all she seems. The novel became a great scandal in England, where it was rejected by thirteen publishers, and caused a lawsuit – as a result of which it became a bestseller.”
But it was the 1980s that saw Aldiss produce undoubtedly his greatest triumph, the celebrated Helliconia trilogy. The trilogy focuses on the planet itself, rather than a main character, and the peculiarity of the planets nature is at the core. Taken directly from the blurb of the SF Masterworks edition of the trilogy:
A planet orbiting binary suns, Helliconia has a Great Year spanning three millennia of Earth time: cultures are born in spring, flourish in summer, then die with the onset of the generations-long winter.
Appropriately, the three books in the trilogy are entitled Spring, Summer and Winter.
Helliconia is rightly lauded as one of the great works of world-building in the genre and is considered a true classic.
Aldiss continued his work in the many years since, although he never quite reached the heights of the Helliconia trilogy again.
His legacy eventually reached the mainstream with the production of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster AI: Artificial Intelligence, as happens far too often with Hollywood productions the source material goes unnoticed and barely mentioned. In this case it was a 1969 short story by Aldiss, entitled Supertoys Last All Summer Long.
Throughout his long career, Aldiss managed to find time to write considerable amounts of Non-Fiction, characterised mostly by his autobiographies and books about the Science Fiction genre. In his later years he took to writing poetry, with his first poetry collection, Home Life with Cats, published in 1992.
His legacy is best seen through the honours that came late in his life and celebrated, not individual work, but his authorial career as a whole.
He was made a GrandMaster by the SFWA in 2000, inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2004 and received an OBE in 2005.
Most recently, he was awarded the 2013 World Fantasy Convention Award which is a special award given in some years for “peerless contributions to the fantasy genre”.
There can perhaps be no better description of the man, a peerless contributor to his field.