HOZ STAP SAN: A writer’s attitude to other writers
LAHAH SHIP: Taking fresh air after one has worked several hours at one’s desk
SHAK ALE MAN: The struggle that takes place in the night between the urge to urinate and urge to continue sleeping
SHEM: A slight cold afflicting only one nostril; the thoughts that pass when one shakes hands with a politician
TOK AN: Suddenly divining the nature and imminence of old age in one’s thirty-first year
This collection of short stories won the BSFA Award for 1970; I first read them as a teenager, and found them mindblowing then. I still find them mindblowing now – maybe it’s just that Aldiss got to me at a vulnerable age, but there’s something about his laconic yet cosmic vision that sucks me in, almost uncritically.
Not completely uncritically. The story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long”, which was the basis for Spielberg’s film A.I., is the weakest of the collection, and “Swastika!”, about a documentary maker catching up with a disguised Hitler living in Ostend, was surely in poor taste then and worse now. And the stories about the crumbling veneer of civilisation in former British colonies are rather of their time. But beneath the surface detail, Aldiss’s preoccupation with the future of humanity, explored through language, grabs me as viscerally as ever.