Brian Aldiss: Interview and Reflections

Brian Aldiss by Wendy Aldiss 17862 (3)

*Image used with permission

Brian Aldiss, is one of the grand masters of science fiction with a career that has spanned nearly 60 years. He has written over 100 books, including novels, poetry, short story collections, and non-fiction. In the early 1960s Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison founded SF Horizons to provide serious discussion and criticism of the SF genre. The journal produced only two issues, in 1964/65, but includes work by some noted writers including Kingsley Amis and C.S.Lewis. He also co-edited, again with Harry Harrison, The Astounding Analog Reader, a collection of work from Analog Science Fiction (formerly Astouding) one of the premiere magazines in the SF field. His career has brought him into contact with some of the greatest names in the arts including JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg with whom he collaborated on the adaption of his work SUPERTOYS LAST ALL SUMMER LONG into the film AI: Artificial Intelligence.

Aldiss was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2000 and inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2004. He has received two Hugo Awards, one Nebula Award, and one John W. Campbell Memorial Award.

To mark the release of his last novel, FINCHES OF MARS, HarperCollins imprint The Friday Project are republishing 50 titles which will form The Brian Aldiss Collection.

With the gracious permission of the publisher and Mr. Aldiss, we are happy to be able to provide a brief interview based on a composite of questions to Mr. Aldiss about his career, science fiction, and where he intends to go from here.

Q. Although laced with great humour, FINCHES OF MARS appears to serve as a stark warning to humanity about the way we’re conducting ourselves on this planet. How much do your own thoughts tally with those of Mangalian as set down in the appendix?

ALDISS: Well, does anyone think that we conduct our affairs well in this world? – On the whole, I mean. The 20th Century was Hell, with two world wars and with a raging form of Nazism in Germany and Communist oppression in Russia.  I spent many years of my life behaving badly (mainly in the British Army).  Who am I to talk, I who have sat here writing 70 or 80 books? We’ve killed off so many animals. Now we’re killing off the bees. Surely anyone with half a mind could see….

Heavens, you’re an SF reader, you know what a mess we’re making of the planet.  Even my study is a bit untidy…

Q. There are signs here and there that a mission to Mars might take place soon. Do you think it’s inevitable (supernovas in five billion years notwithstanding) that humanity’s future lies in the stars? And if so, how soon should we think about leaving home?

ALDISS: We should probably start running now!  Look, I’ve just published my FINCHES OF MARS, but I have no belief we will actually get to Mars. SF is full of assumptions, all perfectly reasonable at the time. When Mr Godwin wrote his very successful book, THE MAN IN THE MOONE, in 16-something, he believed that Earth and Moon shared their atmosphere.

Why not? Perfectly reasonable, utterly wrong.

Back in Gernsback’s days, another assumption,-that there would be predicted cities on the moon.  The fact is that it was all but impossible to get to the Moon, and terribly expensive to do.  And what can you do when and if you’re on the Moon?  Bugger all… Just stand about and be photographed. Here we suffer from a Victorian assumption.  We speak and think of space.  Space is what you may find in a cupboard. In actual fact what’s out there teems with raging destructive particles.  Read ‘Finches of Mars’ if you don’t believe me.

Q. Your career spans 60 years in publishing. Ebooks are becoming more and more common – are digitised books something you are comfortable with, or do you have any reservations about the possibility of the physical objects disappearing into hard drives?

ALDISS: Thank heavens, I was born after the days of the quill pen! – Well, just…I love hard covers. My shelves are lined with them. And I miss the old independent paperbacks. But so what?  I like what goes on today, with its great variety.  What about Google? Couldn’t live without it.  Google makes me appear intelligent.  Folk like something to clutch. [What am I saying!!?] I’d guess your hard drive needs physical company. Till next Christmas at least.

Q. What would you say sets the science fiction genre apart from all other forms of writing?

ALDISS: Good question. It’s better in the States, folks.  They are not so snobby.  They never had a Dr Johnson or a Shakespeare. I’ve been reading the TLS for half a century; it is rare to get reviewed there.  So elitism is a problem.  Isn’t another problem that so much SF is mere sensationalism? (Do I watch ‘Dr Who’ Christ, no!)  Philip K.  Dick felt as I do.  He wanted to address everyone.

 He and I hope to address the world. [Well, some of my books are published in China…] But the best Phil Dick movie is “The Trueman Show” – brilliant! – made after Dick had died. And when I’ve said all this, I must reply more directly to your question. We write SF because it’s different and expresses something different…

 Q. In The Brightfount Diaries, Peter speculates on whether books are written from the heart or the head.  Since writing The Brightfount Diaries, you have written a great deal more works of many genres. Can you now clarify? Heart or head?

 ALDISS: How can I answer for something in “The Brightfount Diaries”, my first book?  Of course I can make up an answer.  Books generally come from both heart and head. I have often used personal misery, making it take human form.  There was a time my marriage broke up and I lost my children.  Life was all deserts.  I sat in one room in an Oxford slum and wrote “Greybeard”. There England crumbles into formless forest.

Because…Because not a child survives.  When writing, I thought. “This is so miserable.  Nobody’s going to want to read this.”  Now, a lot later, I have my children (adult now, of course) back and ‘Greybeard’ is a Penguin Modern Classic. This is not a boast (well, a bit, I suppose) but it shows that many people suffer from broken marriages and loss of beloved kiddies, So one hopes that Greybeard” has proved a comfort to them – and to Penguin,

 Q. Following the publication of Finches of Mars, will you continue writing and if so, what?             

 ALDISS: Yes, thanks, one does continue writing because one can’t help it.  I keep a voluminous Journal.  Now on Vol 76.  That makes two yards of shelfspace.  It will go to the Bodleian Library when I die.  Not a penny do I get for it. Oh. And I’ve started another novel, this one is marvellous…

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6 thoughts on “Brian Aldiss: Interview and Reflections

  1. Glad you both enjoyed it! I discovered Brian Aldiss relatively late reading Supertoys and Helliconia Spring.

  2. I met Brian Aldiss at a Sydney convention long ago and he was so approachable. I had just bought a new camera, and without practising beforehand, tried to take his photo. It wouldn’t work. I could see his growing impatience as I grew redder, more embarrassed and clumsier. Finally, Brian walked away towards a window, where we wouldn’t need the flash and posed there. I took a great pic of him. He was a lovely gentleman with an attractive voice.I like his books too.

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