Monday 5 August 2019

Helliconia Summer - Brian Aldiss (1983)

Rating: Excellent

Helliconia Summer, the second volume in the Helliconia trilogy, is superb old-school science fiction. The novel is superior to Helliconia Spring (1982), partly because the world it depicts is far richer in summer than it was in its emergent state in spring. The novel also contains much more detail about humanity's observational satellite - Avernus, in orbit around the planet, as well as Helliconia's stellar and biological history. The novel's world-building is splendidly detailed, fascinating and ultimately entirely satisfying. During summer the planet's human-like life forms are dominant and their civilization is akin to that of Earth's late middle ages. The planet's other intelligent inhabitants, the Phagors (as pictured on the book cover) are much more passive during summer, surviving and biding their time until winter returns. The Phagors are curiously compelling aliens, despite being mostly impassive and enigmatic. Although Phagor culture is less sophisticated than that of the 'humans' they make them seem childish and vain in comparison.

Part of what makes Helliconia Summer so satisfying is the weave of complex multiple plot strands that also feature well rounded and believable characters. The characters are generally dynamic and relatably human in both their motivations and flaws. I couldn't help but get caught up in the characters individual stories as they struggled to cope with the planet's continual cultural and geographical shifts. Like the first novel there are long sections detailing particular narrative threads, however there is much more dynamism to the narrative in general, making it far more compelling than the first novel. Despite being nearly 600 pages in length I really did not want Helliconia Summer to end, it was thoroughly enjoyable and I couldn't help but wonder why it has never been made into a series akin to something like Game of Thrones; it certainly has the complexity and scope to satisfy most modern viewers, even those who failed to understand Game of Thrones denouement.

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