On Thursday evening, I was privileged to attend the book launch of veteran author Brian Aldiss’ latest novel Comfort Zone at Blackwells in Oxford.
Given that it, and his entire backlist is being published by imprint The Friday Project, I also got to meet TFP’s head honcho Scott Pack for the first time too. Scott’s blog Me and My Big Mouth was one of the first I discovered when I dipped my toe into the blogosphere all those years ago, and we’ve been Twitter and FB friends for ages, but never met. He was lovely, (and his wife makes gorgeous ceramics, see here – a pair of her Christmas tree ornaments are now hanging on our tree, hopefully out of kitten reach!).
Back to Brian … I read a lot of his books in my twenties, notably the wonderful Helliconia Trilogy which is epic SF following a civilisation over a thousand years on an Earth-like planet with seasons which last for centuries. I recently bought a copy of Hothouse – an eco-SF novel from 1962, when Penguin Modern Classics brought out an edition a few years ago. Apart from that the only other book by Aldiss residing on my shelves is Science Fiction Art (right), a history of SF illustration from the 1920s to the 1970s, published in the mid 1970s. All those wonderful pulp SF covers and magazines – fab stuff with a mixture of colour and monochrome illustrations; being a large format softback it was too big to fit in my handbag to get signed though.
Although most famous for his SF, Aldiss has written many non-SF works, poetry and is also an accomplished artist. He has said that the Finches of Mars published earlier this year will be his last SF novel, and his latest book Comfort Zone is certainly set close to home – in his immediate neighbourhood of Headington, Oxford. It explores what happens when plans are made to close down the local pub and put up a mosque in its place – Brian is not scared of controversy, and it also looks at ageing. I’ve heard it compared to Jane Gardam’s Old Filth in that respect so am looking forward to reading it a lot. You can read more about Comfort Zone and Brian in this article from the Oxford Times.
Rather than read extracts from the book, Brian, recumbent in a leather armchair, regaled us with tall tales – telling how he got started as a magazine columnist, writing a weekly humorous column for a publishing magazine for starters. Then, in a bit of a shaggy dog tale (obviously much loved and a bit of a party piece), he told how he got to rewrite Russian history on a visit to the USSR. If I remember correctly, he was waxing lyrical to his minder about Stalin’s favourite film being Springtime in the Rockies (1942) starring Alice Faye. This story came full circle back to him some time later, when someone expressed surprise at knowing what Stalin’s favourite film was. He chuckled at the retelling, as did we.
When I got him to sign my books, I told him about my treasured book of SF Art. He recounted how he had collected the covers for ages, keeping them in photo albums with his text about the books opposite – he chuckled as he remember how some of his text for that was quite abrasive, as not all the books were very good. I then said how my favourites of his books to read (so far) are the Helliconia trilogy, and he told me his story about having done two years research for them, and it was great to write them in Oxford, for you could knock on a door and find an expert to answer questions for you so easily in those days. He was great fun to meet, and I hope he keeps on writing and entertaining for years to come.
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To explore titles mentioned further on Amazon UK, please click below
Comfort Zone pub 19.12.13 by The Friday Project, paperback, 300 pages.
Helliconia: Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer, Helliconia Winter: “Hellonica Spring”, “Helliconia Summer”, “Helliconia Winter” (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Hothouse (Penguin Modern Classics)
6 thoughts on “Brian Aldiss, still going strong at 88”
This sounds great! I read a really good article in the Guardian the other week about how he only reads Tolstoy these days… needless to say I now have a soft spot for him! http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/dec/13/brian-aldiss-science-fiction-author-review
He is a real character, and obviously has built up a stock of great stories over the years – given his age, he is entitled to – tee hee!. Great article in the Grauniad too.
This is going to sound both terrible and a terrible cliché but I didn’t realise that he was still alive. I also have to admit to never having read anything by him. I read a lot of science fiction as a teenager but have really lost touch with the genre since then. Is Helloconia the best place to start?
I loved the Helliconia books in my 20s – epic scope and all that, but I’d probably choose a single slimmer novel like Hothouse (which I’ve not actually read) – but is in Penguin Mod Classics! Greybeard is another of his in the SF Masterworks series, but I can’t really remember it! Not much help am I?!
Lovely post Annabel – I kind of feel that Aldiss should get more kudos than he does for flying the flag for British sci fi all these years – he was on the Lessing documentary that was on TV recently and was very articulate!
He was a great friend of Lessing’s, and went to her funeral. Apart from writing all his own novels, he was a great anthologist and edited and compiled many volumes of classic SF short fiction too.