Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Journey to the Goat Star

Brian Aldiss Journey to the Goat Star (1991)
This was quite a nice find, just fifty pages and evidently one of a series of short stories published by Pulphouse as self-contained paperbacks, others in the range having been by Poul Anderson, Michael Bishop, Joe Haldeman and so on. That said, I've generally loved the novels of Brian Aldiss whilst hating most of his short stories for one reason or another, but every so often he comes out with one which reads like a novel, or which is at least bereft of Space Vikings or special kinds of atom. Journey to the Goat Star probably isn't quite top ten, but it's weird enough to be worth a look. Our story opens with a theoretical physicist brained at his writing desk by a burglar, a burglar who, noticing that which the theoretical physicist was writing, waits for his victim to come round and then engages him in debate on the subjects of matter as consciousness and the nature of reality as supposedly examined in the art of Georges Braque.

He turned earnestly back into the room, gesturing with his hands. 'Braque's shadows have substance, while the whole substance suddenly turns out to be a shadow of it. Forms are flattened, flatness has form. Planes merge, what is opaque becomes transparent and vice versa. Lines define nothing, yet everything is defined. If that isn't a vivid picture of contemporary science—execute before the first World War—then I don't know what is...'

This is also a description of how Aldiss tells the story, roughly speaking, which blends seemingly unrelated scenarios into one another - the forty-six year voyage to a distant star, psychoanalysis of a child rejected by parents - using coincidence and repeating thematic patterns to imagine our first meeting with an extraterrestrial intelligence. At least I think that's what it does. Journey to the Goat Star is bewildering and yet somehow left me with the feeling of having understood something, even if the above is as good a description as I can manage. It also makes me wonder if I've been expecting too much traditional sense from those of his other short stories which I found such a chore. Maybe I need to take another look.

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