This is a somewhat belated Deathblog I’m afraid, but I actually recently learned of the death of Brian Aldiss, who passed away last month, one day after his 92nd birthday.
Although I don’t currently know enough about Aldiss’s personality, private life or beliefs to discuss him on that level, or to really miss his presence on earth in an emotional sense, I have nonetheless been in the process of familiarising myself with his core science fiction novels over the past couple of years, and have been enjoying them immensely.
Of course, ‘Frankenstein Unbound’ (1973) was always one of my favourite time/reality-bending ‘headfuck’ novels from back in my teenage years, and I’ve always enjoyed Aldiss’s short stories here and there, but, more recently, I’ve caught up with ‘Non-Stop’ (1958), ‘Hothouse’ (1962) and ‘Greybeard’ (1964), and can recommend all three in the highest possible terms; in fact I think you’d be hard-pressed to find as excellent a trio of SF books completed by any author within a five year period. Needless to say, I have a small pile of other Aldiss’s lined up to read in the near future, beginning with 1969’s presumably somewhat psychedelically-inclined ‘Barefoot in the Head’.
Though Aldiss never really crossed over into mainstream success or cult legend in the manner of Dick, Ballard, Kneale or Moorcock, his combination of wildly unhinged imagination, rich aesthetic vision and genuine literary chops increasingly make me feel that he really deserved to.
Frankly, I can only assume it was only the highly varied and profligate nature of his output – combined perhaps with the square/low key nature of his public persona – that keeps him confined to the dusty hearts of the hardcore SF crowd, rather than filtering through to Penguin Classics lists, student bookshelves and conferences about what it means to be “Aldiss-esque”.
Seemingly a veritable writing machine throughout his life, Aldiss’s work also encompasses vast quantities of literary fiction, criticism, essays, auto-biography and miscellaneous non-fiction, not to mention his successful trilogy of saucy, quasi-autobiographical ‘Horatio Biggs’ novels – all of which I am, again, not currently well placed to comment upon, but I can at least point you in the direction of Christopher Priest’s excellent obituary for The Guardian to fill in the gaps.
For the lack of anything else to add, I’ll simply treat you to a quick gallery of various Aldiss paperbacks that I currently have scattered around my shelves. They’re not necessarily always the most attractive designs that graced his books (although I love the Four-Square ‘Earthworks’ cover), and they’re definitely not in the best condition for the most part, but I hope they might at least give newcomers a feel for the breadth of his SF writing and the challenges it posed to cover designers.
(Dates given below are for the edition pictured, not the dates of original publication. Cover artists are all unknown/unaccredited, sadly.)