13) Aldiss Unbound: The Science Fiction of Brian W. Aldiss, by Richard Mathews
A very brief, 60-page pamphlet, published in 1977, in other words not even half way through Aldiss’ writing career (he was born in 1925, and first published in 1954). There’s a bit too much retelling of the plot and quoting favourite lines from Aldiss’ books and short stories. One particular concept that I found interesting, the idea of “slouch” as a particularly Aldiss brand of humour, simply wasn’t explained well enough for me to make up my mind. The one point that made me sit up and think about why I enjoy Aldiss’ work so much was Mathews’ quotation from Aldiss’ contribution to the 1975 volume of sf writers’ reminiscences, Hell’s Cartographers, which I quote here in its original form, but with my added emphasis:
I have written a number of books which I believe contain something like a creative vision, no matter in what other ways they may be flawed. Although I see my true strengths to lie in he short story field, I have novels for which I cannot but feel some warmth; most of them are involved with the portrayal of landscape, such as A Soldier Erect, Report on Probability A, Barefoot in the Head, and Greybeard, all of which depict figures in landscape. Non-Stop and Frankenstein Unbound show figures swallowed by their landscapes. So, I suppose, does Hothouse, a novel from which I have always felt distanced, perhaps considering the miserable circumstances under which it was written. Cryptozoic (An Age) has landscape as surrealism, Male Response landscape as comedy. Eighty Minute Hour has an exploded landscape.On rereading those words in Mathews’ abbreviated (but better contextualised) presentation, I suddenly realised that I am a real fan of books with a carefully thought out landscape behind them. I suppose (from the fact that books I hated because their fictional landscapes made no sense to me, such as Cherryh’s Downbelow Station and Cyteen, nonetheless have devoted fan followings) that this is not universal. But it helps me realise what sort of book, what sort of writer, appeals to me, personally. It’s related to the concept of dinnseanchas, as Ciaran Carson explains it. I’m trying to write something substantial about Irish sf and fantasy at the moment and it all helps to firm up the picture for me.