12) Cultural Breaks, by Brian Aldiss
I gloated a bit when I got hold of one of 52 limited edition copies of this book at Worldcon, autographed by Aldiss himself, Andy Duncan who wrote the foreword, and John Picacio who did the cover illustration. I’ve always liked Aldiss’ work, especially his short stories; we’re told that three of these are brand-new, but not which ones, and anyway I don’t think I’d read any of them.
There are a dozen pieces here, seven of them less than ten pages, and if I was to ever to try writing myself, I think I’d want to write short vignettes of life like Aldiss does – not all of them sfnal, some of them just glimpses of other cultures (I still rate his Cities and Stones as one of the best books about Yugoslavia I’ve read). The book ends with two much longer pieces, “Total Environment” and “A Chinese Perspective” at 50 and 80 pages each. The latter returns to the Zodiacal Planets environment of his collection “Last Orders”, and features Anna Kavan as a character, but also features a love story between a woman of Chinese background and a man of European background (shades of Horatio Stubbs, perhaps, as well). But I particularly enjoyed “Total Environment”, which features a UN project in which hundreds hundreds of people are sealed into a building for decades as part of an experiment; the central character is charged with investigating the project to provide evidence for it to be shut down, and duly does so, but we readers are left firmly with the impression that it is the wrong decision. I thought the story was a fascinating update of Aldiss’ own classic Non-Stop, with a dose of TV’s Big Brother and a setting in India which I took to be both literal and allegorical – though I’ll have to defer to
It will be on my Hugo nominations for Best Novella. It would certainly have been on my 2006 Hugo nominations for Best Novella, except it appears to have been first published in 1968 and made both Hugo and Nebula shortlists in 1969. I don’t think the book is actually published yet, so if you weren’t one of the other lucky 51 people who got it at Worldcon, you’ll have to wait a few weeks.