Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Helliconia Summer

Brian Aldiss Helliconia Summer (1983)
By way of a recap, this is the second of three doorstops describing a year in the history of Helliconia, a world very similar to Earth in many respects, aside from these humans sharing their world with the Phagors - a semi-civilised race of carnivorous goats, sort of - and the fact of their year lasting several thousand of our own. They've survived the long, long winter to emerge in Helliconia Spring as a reasonably intelligent stone-age culture, and by the time we rejoin the story in this novel they're going through something vaguely equivalent to our own renaissance. Somebody has invented a primitive firearm, whilst others discuss the motion of celestial bodies, evolution, or are busy having Galapagos-themed adventures.

As with the previous volume, the emphasis is on human political interaction as a sort of geological process, although I had more difficulties with this one and its focus on the Borgia-esque intrigues of various ruling families full of characters with impenetrable names visiting places identified by what often looks like a bad hand at Scrabble. Having myself committed the supposed sin of populating a novel with funny foreigners, I generally don't find this sort of thing a problem. Just repeat the name to yourself a few times out loud, and you soon build up some sort of impression of, for example, JandolAnganol as an individual. However, I feel the problem may run a little deeper here. This I deduce from my copy missing half of chapter nine. I popped along to the local library and was luckily able to borrow an intact edition, thus allowing me to read the bits I'd been missing. Then when I returned to the pages of my own copy, I realised I'd already read the next few chapters as they had appeared prior to chapter nine, so my version was missing about thirty pages, with another hundred or so collated in the wrong order which was as I'd read them, and I'd barely noticed.

That said, Helliconia Summer does enough to keep you reading, or it did for me, which is slightly peculiar. At times I found it quite boring, but at no point was I tempted to pack it in and read something else instead. I suppose the crucial point is that it works as intended, as a broad sweep of allegorically human history, so whilst it may be the details which hold the immediate interest, or at least some of them, it isn't actually necessary to care about, for example, the king or the convolutions of his divorce; and most importantly, it ends with just enough revelation and drama to have left me looking forward to the final part.

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