Thursday, 22 November 2018

Helliconia Spring - Brian Aldiss (1982)

Rating: Excellent

Finally after decades of vague intentions I've begun reading the Helliconia trilogy. I picked up all three volumes, featuring the superb cover artwork from the late 1980's, dirt cheap when WA's Mostly Books was closing down. Firstly the novel was not as I imagined it to be, the storytelling style is kind of old fashioned, blending realism and science with some fantasy elements. Aldiss had written some pretty wild novels in the sixties and seventies, but Helliconia Spring is fairly tame in comparison. Having said that the storytelling is enriched with mostly splendid world-building, including a 122 page prelude called Yuli, which was one of the most enjoyable sections of the novel. For the most part Helliconia Spring reads like an exploration of Neolithic life, but set on an alien planet in orbit around a star called Batalix, which is in orbit around a much larger star called Freyr. The lengthy elliptical orbit means that seasons last many centuries and life on Helliconia has to adapt in fascinating ways. Aldiss' depiction of Helliconia is extremely detailed, taking in the life cycles of non-humanoid life both large and small. But it is the struggle between the human-like aliens and the inhuman Phagors (large Yeti like creatures with horns) that drives the novel's narrative and provides the most interest. 

The novel is certainly flawed, with long periods spent establishing the culture and politics of the humanoids which borders on the tedious, yet overall the narrative is absorbing and rewards the dedication needed to get through its epic length. I'm not sure when I'll get to Helliconia Summer (1983), which is even longer, and Helliconia Winter (1985), but I will definitely be reading them due to Aldiss' skill in creating an epic narrative. Also of interest is the fact that humans are watching the planet from a space station and are broadcasting everything back to Earth, where it is watched by humanity as 'reality TV', a concept that, as unwelcome as it turned out to be, was ahead of its time.

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