Monday, 18 March 2013


Brian Aldiss Non-Stop (1958)

As I recall, I came across an overview of the career of Brian Aldiss in the short-lived Death Ray magazine, and - self-consciously aware of my being a bit of a science-fiction ignoramus beyond a ton of Philip K. Dick and things relating to a certain discredited TV show - I decided to give him a go by reading Non-Stop. I absolutely loved it, so I bought Hothouse which turned out to be even better. For the next couple of months I snapped up any Brian Aldiss title I happened upon whenever browsing second hand book stores. Unfortunately, when I actually came to read the things I discovered that whilst his novels tend to be excellent, he's written some of the worst short stories I've ever forced myself to finish; and although Non-Stop is a full-length novel, I've a feeling all those crappy space Vikings and special kinds of atom have somewhat soured me against the Aldiss; because second time around I just wasn't feeling this shit, as I explained to Lil Wayne last time we hooked up at the swap meet.

It looks fine on paper - the tribal society which somehow manages to forget that its world is really a vast spaceship crossing the interstellar void, and that its spear-wielding people are the distant descendants of a generation of once technologically literate colonists. Considering how this kind of story has since become something of a cliché - slow-witted cave dwellers offering sacrifices to Saint Thomas the Cooper in order that the crops should grow just like that - Non-Stop stands the test of time in terms of committing nothing too excessively cock obvious, being reasonable well told, and a half-decent tale to boot. Brian Aldiss seems to have a thing for humanity in alien environments, and his best novels tend to be accordingly themed: this novel, or the bizarre future Earth of Hothouse, or the impoverished inhabitants of the nightmarish Total Environment; and whilst Non-Stop probably is amongst his best...

I don't know. It seemed to drag its heels, and for something set amid such strange surroundings amongst such people, it was curiously lacking in description or characterisation. The book had its moments, but whatever made it seem so exciting during the first sitting was apparently only good for one serving; and weirdly, considering how this is probably the novel that got me reading outside my comfort zone in the first place, it's a struggle to find anything else I can say about it, except that Total Environment does much the same thing but to significantly greater effect.

1 comment:

  1. I like this book too. For me the subtext was about the unexpected long-term effects of a specific technological advance; in this case, the use of hydroponics needed to sustain the crew of a spaceship for a long haul flight. The fact that the hydroponics went mad and turned the whole ship into a jungle is quite a nice idea, and the result was a generation which, as you say, had forgotten its own origins.

    At one level that’s how all speculative fiction works, extrapolating possible results from a particular scientific development.