Brian Aldiss: Helliconia

My Sci-fi summer went into overtime, but now I am done. I will return with a wrap-up post shortly but first a few words on this book.

Oh dear, what a disappointment this book was. As I wrote earlier, Aldiss’s writing seemed to be going in an interesting direction, and the premiss of this book sounds so interesting, but unless what you are looking for in a book is a really accurate and realistic description of life on a planet that revolves around two stars, this really does not deliver.

First of all, it is way too long. Three books (In one volume in my case) of a combined 1050 pages is a lot of text when all you got is essentially one idea to explore. That idea is admittedly interesting: It is the concept of a planet that has a very long year, about 2500 earth years, and thus goes through a long cycle of cold ice-age type climate, then a long spring, a very hot summer of several hundred years and so on. And Aldiss develops this concept on several levels, geology, biology, ecology and culture. The problem is that he is so fascinated with these elements of the book that he forgets to develop characters, story or anything else to keep us interested through all those pages. Essentially this would have been a great novella.

It fails on several other levels as well. For example, how come that a culture that develops in such a different environment from earth seems to develop technology in exactly the same order as us?

Aldiss has this idea about realism. He writes in an interesting little text about how the younger generation avoided ”the rational” in order to write more fantastic fiction with heroes and faster than light travel. They do not follow the rules! While this might be considered a noble cause (maybe), Aldiss rational is little more than boring. We get characters that do not know what they are doing and do not accomplish much. That is ”realistic”, and could be interesting if done well. Here it is just boring.

The other idea that I thought would be interesting is that earth watches this strange planet, and this activity has some profound effects on life on earth. Or so we are told. In fact there is a separate story about earth that especially in the third book turns into one of the most awful versions of the Gaia-theory (and it is pretty awful to begin with) I have run across. And the reason it is not really related to the main story is ”realism”. It takes a thousand years for the signals to travel between the two planets!

Maybe I am just to old – there was a time when I could read endless volumes and just enojoy it. I have read Edding’s Belgarion series twice I think, and it is quite weak at times. I have read most of what Stephen Donaldlson’s writings, but they are brilliant all the way. Here the only thing that kept me reading was, again, that I finish books I read, and that I was hoping for some kind of magnificent tragedy in the end when Helliconia approaches winter again.

It didn’t deliver.

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