THE ‘NEBULA’ STORIES
Across a relatively short space of time Brian W Aldiss
entered the SF arena with a series of vividly disconcerting
tales primed with thermonuclear phrases and ideas.
This was his entrance strategy, marking him out
above and beyond other toilers in the strange-fiction field.
Science Fiction readers enjoy being disconcerted. Hence it’s part of a writer’s remit to disconcert them. This is to paraphrase the foreword Brian Aldiss wrote for his ‘Space Time And Nathaniel’ (1966, Four Square Books edition). Following this line of logic, what happens to old Science Fiction? Once it’s done its quota of disconcerting reader-expectations, is it to be considered simply as expendable as last year’s calendar? I’d say not. Right from the very beginnings of his amazingly prolific writing career, Brian Aldiss had the ability to confound and disconcert unsuspecting readers. Even his very earliest stories pack an enduring shock and awe that retain their relentless readability.
As one of the two previously-established writers championed by the New Wave that gathered around Michael Moorcock’s insurrectionary banner, it may have been JG Ballard who established the bleak modernist architecture, but it was Aldiss whose skill and literary daring had a wider spread. And he’d already been doing that for some considerable time. ‘Apart from being admired for his talent, Brian Aldiss is also amongst the most well-liked SF writers’ claims Moorcock, going on to list the Aldiss qualities as ‘charming, ebullient, fluent, not unhandsome, a gourmet and man of good taste and humour, he is as interesting to meet as he is to read. His criticism, in ‘The Oxford Mail’ and ‘SF Horizons’, is intelligent and pithy, matched only by a few’ (editorial to ‘New Worlds’ no.154, September 1965).
He would have noted the Gerard Quinn cover illustrating the lead novelette “This Precious Stone” by HJ Murdoch showing a girl pilot assisting a fallen spacer through a portal in the bleak Martian landscape. There was a back-page panel for ‘Science Fantasy’s Nova Publications companion title ‘New Worlds’ (advertising “Wild Talent” by Wilson Tucker) and there were supporting stories from A Bertram Chandler and EC Tubb, while author JT McIntosh contributes a guest editorial ‘Something New Wanted…’ Well, perhaps readers flicking through those pages searching out reassuringly familiar names didn’t realise it yet, but that ‘Something New’ was taking its first tentative steps on p.54 of the issue. For “Criminal Record” proves that Aldiss’ precocious self-estimation was well-grounded. The plot escalates from the narrator’s innocent purchase of what he assumes to be an LP record of classical music from an antique shop, which then reveals a startling glimpse of a future time-war fought against Smoofs – genetically reshaped misfits originally created to colonise the hostile environment of Venus.
That first story uses a helter-skelter mix of plot-elements entirely adequate for those conventional SF stories, yet Aldiss adds sophisticating veneers, not only the build-up discovery of the ‘Criminal Record’s true nature, but a nail-biting open-ending as the Smoof approaches his flat to reclaim the mislaid artefact. He also tucks in a throwaway mystery that his companion – Harry Crossway, somehow features in that troubled future! There was no reader’s letter page in ‘Science Fantasy’, and no chart denoting which of the issue’s stories proved most popular, so it’s difficult to gauge how well the story was received, except that it was rapidly followed by a second. “Breathing Space” (in ‘Science Fantasy’, no.12, February 1955) is built from myths and legends of a devolved tribal future which, only gradually is revealed to be set in the partially derelict Tycho Crater Missile Station base – although there are sufficient hints scattered along the way to alert even the most leaden reader, clues seeded in much the same manner that the truth about his generation ship emerges only as the story develops in debut novel ‘Non-Stop’ (1958, Faber And Faber).
For “Pogsmith”, he takes a proper fiction-step sideways into that same ‘Authentic SF’ (no.57), and the story displays an even more playful attitude to SF conventions, featuring a pig-like alien shape-shifter held in a galactic zoo based on an imperfectly-terraformed Mercury. The creature had first been discovered by the one-eyed bewhiskered radio-operator after whom the planet – and the story is named, flexing a knowing humour as ‘he disappeared over that low hill which is always near any spaceship about to encounter danger in all the science-fiction stories I have read.’ There’s an expectation that the creature will escape by assuming the identity of one of the visiting characters, Dusty Miller or his fussy wife. The teasing mystery of which identity it will take, is withheld right through to the closing paragraph.
“The Great Time Hiccup” is set in an orbiting Space Station as all time breaks loose throughout the solar system. It was subsequently commended by reader Mike Wallace of Hull because although ‘I’m not usually very keen on stories dealing with time… I think I enjoyed this story because there was no real hero.’ No hero because, counter to the prevailing problem-solving ethos of 1950s SF the ‘desperate plan’ fails. There’s no eccentric scientist setting up a protective contra-tachyon shield or temporal repeller array. The disruption that is swallowing the Earth accelerates, and Aldiss uses experimental prose-repetitions to illustrate the process, anticipating – in miniature, the groundbreaking techniques he would employ for the late-sixties New Wave, and in particular his ‘Report On Probability A’ (1968).
‘His earliest stories adhered to the strict logic-conventions of ‘pure SF’’ writes Peter White. ‘He says he saw science fiction as ‘a kind of poetry’, and his stories were as formal as classical verse. “T”, first published in 1956, and the first of his stories to be accepted for publication (though published after some others had already appeared), was about semi-sentient missiles that travelled in time. It cleverly avoided any time-paradox by assuming a rigidly deterministic universe in much the same way as Heinlein’s similar stories’ (an essay in ‘New Worlds’ no.154, September 1965). “T” – often cited as his finest early short, could eventually be found in ‘Nebula SF’ no.18, an impressive tale of an alien automaton’s journey back over five hundred million light years to the Silurian Age, programmed by a highly-evolved race called the Koax to destroy Earth before human evolution could begin. Oddly, the miscalculation that saves Earth is dependent on Pluto being classified as the ninth planet. Since its demotion to ‘dwarf planet’ status, T’s target seventh world would indeed turn out to be Earth, with tragic results for humanity! “Dumb Show” followed in the very next issue (no.19, December 1956), both stories later reprinted in Aldiss’ first volume ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957).
Then, “All the World’s Tears” from no.21, achieves the status of a name-check stripped across the foot of James Stark’s front cover-art, albeit shared with Eric Frank Russell. The art shows a huge gantry-mounted device that resembles a red dish pointed at the starry sky, some kind of radio-telescope attended by tiny human figures, or perhaps one of the sonic-attack weapons from the previous story? Yet the new tale raises the game to an entirely new level.
Voted second-best story in the issue, Peter Hamilton adds that ‘in this story he created so vivid and unusual a setting and atmosphere that it not only caused a minor sensation among ‘Nebula’ readers but was immediately chosen for inclusion in the Autumn 1958 edition of the well-known and discriminating digest ‘Pick Of Today’s Short Stories’.’ “All the World’s Tears” went on to form part of his ‘The Canopy Of Time’ (1959) future history sequence, in which – according to its blurb, the stories are ‘all slices off the enormous carcass of the future, arranged chronologically from a date a century or two ahead right up to the end of the galaxy.’ But other tyro-Aldiss pieces from ‘Nebula’ remain un-anthologised and hence form a bright constellation of undiscovered fantasy. “Ten-Storey Jigsaw” in no.26 is – for Aldiss, a fairly pedestrian tale, although its theme could easily be reworked into a Judge Dredd Megacity-One strip. During a nine-year war in which light ‘suitcase’ H-Bombs are dropped by satellite-to-Earth Depressors, Badger Gowland and his amnesiac companion Tosher Ten-Toes are ‘scrap merchants’ in Sydney, authorised looters who enter bomb-shattered buildings extracting what they can before the hazardous blocks are demolished. In one of the towers, Tosher finds a woman survivor who he hallucinates to be his lost ‘Judy’, then that he is Norton Sykes, ‘the minister they called The Man Who Started It All’. He throws himself to his own death as a result.
At his best Aldiss deals with the big issues of Life, the Universe and Everything, and “Journey To The Interior” (the lead novelette in ‘Nebula’ no.30) is retitled “Gene Hive” for its inclusion in ‘The Canopy Of Time’ where he adds the linking-note ‘then came the blow that forced man to alter his attitude to himself. His metaphysical view of being had of course been constantly subject to change; now the terrible moment arrived when he was revealed to himself in an entirely new light.’ It starts with a crewman exposed to lethal radiation on an undersea trawler, which subsequently docks in the Cape Verde Sub-port undersea city where Dr Cyro Gyres – a kind of ‘Medical Meditation’ psychic healer, is summoned. She uses the ‘standard professional procedure’ of submerging herself into him on a cellular level in order to correct the faulty tissue. Fortuitously primed by an earlier discussion on para-evolutionary theory, accelerated by a mid-story trial transcript over their disappearance, the metamorphosis into a new mutation, in which each cell is malleably self-aware, constitutes the new replacement species for humanity. A vast scope condensed down into a compellingly concise story with inventive sub-aquatic future-tech and horror overtones. With Aldiss, his profligate imagination tosses off ideas with apparent ease that lesser writers would kill for, and then barely pauses before moving on to the next pyrotechnic display of dazzling invention.
Australian writer Nigel Jackson – who contributes the story “The Colonel’s Last Safari” to ‘Nebula no.40’ (May 1959) sends a ‘Guided Missives’ letter from Melbourne analysing the reasons ‘that Aldiss is down so far in my ratings,’ in that ‘he sacrificed too much in his efforts to maintain an off-trail originality.’ Nigel specifies the ‘inability to be explicit about the new art form in “Ninian’s Experiences”’ which ‘gave the story an impression of unreality.’ While the ending to “They Shall Inherit” is ‘impossible. Isn’t language an acquired skill rather than an inherited power? Even in animals? Are there any biologists reading ‘Nebula’ who could give us an answer on this?’ Perhaps Nigel doesn’t appreciate the power of literary suggestion? There’s also something of an odd, and not entirely successful tale, “Fourth Factor” (in no.34) which follows Dora James as she rides her stallion into a bizarre culture equally divided between Doctors and patients, perhaps its ‘Treatment’ buzz-words is intended as a satire on some New Age theories of psycho-healing? The people take case-notes continually and arrive at collective decisions only through long conferences, with such continual preoccupations determining they are socially stagnant. It’s finally revealed that Dora is intended to be the infiltrated agent of change from an outside Regrowth Force.
Later on, “Sight Of A Silhouette” (in no.36) tells of a nursing sister called Venice Rollands aboard an orbital Luna hospital, enamoured by Norman Dall, an immortal explorer-archaeologist. Although centred on the genetic-impossibility of her partnering him, there are intriguing sub-plots. He is investigating the mystery of a set of two-thousand-million-year-old alien artefacts – anticipating Frederik Pohl’s ‘Heechee’ by a decade-and-a-half. Although discovered in excavated caverns beneath the moon’s surface, the Ganymede-Atara-Ira ship had originally landed on Earth when the planet was ‘still hardly out of the molten state’, when ‘Luna had not then been pulled from what is now the Pacific Desert.’ These two startling images are delivered almost in passing with typical Aldiss flair. “The Arm” (in no.38) carries a thread of dark humour, with discontented housewife Royse and absentee husband Wilfred in the Touchdown colony on planet Tachatale. Her attempts at escape result in her being bitten by a yellow-and-black-striped beetle, despite her self-surgery the wound becomes gangrenous and is treated by the neighbourhood vet. Even her attempts to send the amputated arm back to Earth are frustrated by Customs Regulations who classify it as ‘food’.
The final issue of ‘Nebula’ – no.41, emerged in June 1959, with a dramatic cover showing two battling dinosaurs, perhaps the magazine’s own unintended extinction metaphor? It features “Legends Of Smith’s Burst”, Brian Aldiss at his most audacious, with the bizarre exploits of Jamie Lancelot Lowther on gloomy squalid Glumpalt, a world where mutation is the norm. Peter Hamilton muses in his introduction about the story being ‘perhaps, science fantasy, rather than the more orthodox science fiction.’ Aldiss’ own preamble agrees, suggesting that ‘like many other traveller’s tales, this narrative has frequently had its veracity impugned.’ Yet Hamilton concedes ‘nevertheless, if you can suspend your natural disbelief as you read it, you may think, as I do, that it is a charming and amusing fantasy.’ He’s correct, the story is a firework display of outrageous invention, fizzing and sparking with detonations of ideas. The malfunctioning ‘Matter-mitter’ – a ‘beam-me-up’ interstellar transmitter which pitches Lowther into the ‘small intergalactic nebula situated in arm Alpha of the home galaxy’, anticipates the wordplay Aldiss will use in ‘Hothouse’ (Faber And Faber, 1962), with its tree-bees, plant-ants, trappersnapper, whistlethistle, the tummy-belly men and burnurns. While Lowther’s resourceful cunning is as ingenious as Jack Vance’s ‘Cugel The Clever’ in his ‘Dying Earth’ series. Part-composed of contra-terrene matter, Glumpalt is a world that causes even creatures of the same species to have wildly varying physical forms, and on which the ‘monstrous impossible… black sun still rises.’ The story neatly ends the run of Brian Aldiss contributions to ‘Nebula SF’ on a stratospheric high. Book-ending this significant first era of his breakthrough early stories.
Uniting the feuding factions the being – addressed as ‘You’, guides and motivates the thrust towards Yinnisfar (originally Yinnisfair), with an arsenal of Superfusers, to be met by thirty-mile-long battle cruisers armed with molecular ceetee, and a beam-grid that ignites to weaken the very fabric of space. ‘Sol III’ is mentioned when it alerts Schiaparelli Base in the first version of the story, but Earth becomes Yinnisfar itself in the collection, orbited by the shattered Luna-ring, it is a world of ‘tears and pleasure, stuffed with forgotten memory and protracted time.’ Ruler ‘the Highest’ becomes ‘the Highest Suzerain in the city of Nunon’ where ‘You’ delivers the truth of its mission. Humans are evolution’s highest point in this ageing fading galaxy, but for the new evolution just beginning, the human form is the ‘amoeba’ ignition point. To Aldiss himself, musing in ‘The Twinkling Of An Eye’, he recalls how ‘the hypothesis advanced by Fred Hoyle of a universe of continuous creation, fuelled by hydrogen atoms popping into existence, was poetically ingenious. That interest resulted in a story called “Visiting Amoeba”. It was told in the second person singular: a fresh way of telling a story as far as I was concerned.’ The very final paragraph vaults even head-spinningly further into future-time, ‘we who have already superceded you record these scenes now in your honour, as you once honoured man. Requiescat in pace.’ When I first read this story as an impressionable teenager, painstakingly filling my own SF bookshelf with works of mind-stretching wonder, this revelation seemed intoxicatingly profound, and it stands repeated reading today. Brian W Aldiss was a narcotic that could amaze, taking me higher than a kite on Saturn.
After originally complaining that ‘Authentic SF’ had ‘refused every story I have offered them’ he then went on to use the magazine as a vehicle to list the happy field that SF offers to the writer, ‘stories may end in a bang or a whimper; settings can range from Southend to Sirius; characters may be men, mice or Martians and have as many hands or feet as required. Any subject is potential material, from toothache to tarantulas, provided the approach is fresh and original.’
Brian W Aldiss displayed a curiously equivocal attitude to the staid literary establishment. At once delighting in the slightly disreputable aura of cheap SF, mischievously revelling in its trashy outlaw status, yet later mildly envying JG Ballard’s acceptance by academe, and making his own shot for mainstream literary credibility. As his style evolved ‘a Cambridge paper praised one of my early collections, ‘The Canopy Of Time’ saying the stories showed ‘classical perfection’.’ The self-styled Lit-rebel chose to protest their generous estimation. That ‘would never do. That was not quite what I wanted, so my stories began to grow wilder, less dependent on the tread of logic, more amenable to the flight of fancy.’ And yes, they did, into the brilliance to come. Meanwhile, if there’s more than a whiff of period charm hanging over these early flights of fancy, to paraphrase Brian Aldiss in his foreword to ‘Space Time And Nathaniel’ (1966), it’s a whiff well worth re-inhaling every once in a while.
IN THE TWINKLING
OF AN EYE: THE EARLY
Commenting on ‘The Pit My Parish’ John Carnell says
‘during his short but meteoric rise as an outstanding new
Science Fiction author Brian Aldiss has managed to break
most of the editorial taboos with which Science Fiction editors
hedge their requirements’ (‘New Worlds’ no.67)
1942 – ‘THE RAIN WILL STOP’, aged sixteen, or possibly seventeen, Brian W Aldiss wrote and illustrated a short story “The Rain Will Stop” in his notebook, it was eventually published by The Pretentious Press in 2000 in a limited edition of just eighty-five copies, signed by the author
November 1953 – ‘NOW CONSOLIDATE’ (‘Authentic SF’ no.39) editor HJ Campbell notes ‘I consider this letter to be interesting to all readers, so I am printing it in full.’ Praising ‘Authentic SF’ for providing a platform for British SF, Aldiss adds ‘the implications of time and space travel and of life on other planets are so vast that their challenge to a writer of merit must be limitless. It is in their philosophical implications that I think the richest vein lies.’ The address is from Brian W Aldiss, 107 Hazel Crescent, Kidlington, Oxford.
February 1954 – ‘A BOOK IN TIME’ (‘The Bookseller’ magazine), non-SF, Brian Aldiss’ first professional sale, to the trade publication, uncollected until 2013 in ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’. There was also an otherwise uncollected short story ‘Index To Life’
May 1954 – ‘ON WRITING SCIENCE FICTION’ (‘Authentic SF’ no.45) a ‘letter’ printed in full as a separate feature.
July 1954 – ‘CRIMINAL RECORD’ (‘Science Fantasy no.9’) ‘junk shops often produce highly interesting, if somewhat antiquated, articles. Like old and rare gramophone records. A ‘record’ from the future could be a rare item, too.’ Aldiss writes of Curry Passage, his favourite Cambridge haunt where ‘over the three doors the word ‘junk’ is spelt A-N-T-I-Q-U-E-S’. He buys what he thinks is Borodin’s ‘Second Symphony’, but it turns out to be – after a lot of technical detail, a Police record from a run-down future station ‘built into and around the asteroid Eros,’ hunting biomodified terrorist Smoofs capable of breathing poisonous Venus air, and of time-sliding ‘where tomorrow flickered helplessly to keep up with the brutal revision of yesterday’. As the story closes they helplessly await for the Smoof to arrive. Later collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
January 1955 – ‘NOT FOR AN AGE’ (‘The London Observer’, 9 January) one day in the life of Rodney Furnell, ‘A Twentieth Century Teacher In Love’, has been time-scooped by Chronoarchaeology Ltd, and endlessly replayed as a sideshow amusement ‘Nothing expurgated, nothing added! Better than the Feelies! All in glorious 4D – no stereo required’, like a ‘Groundhog Day’ (1993) repetition of ‘The Truman Show’ (1998), then the projector malfunctions, he escapes and finds himself adrift in the AD2500 future-world with a ‘Total Recall’ (1990) auto-mode robo-taxi – until he’s abruptly snatched back into the show. Story collected into ‘AD2500: The Observer Prize Stories’ (William Heinemann, October 1955) later collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
1955 – ‘THE BRIGHTFOUNT DIARIES’ (Faber and Faber), working in an Oxford bookshop called ‘Parker’s’, Aldiss wrote a series of humorous columns under the pseudonym ‘Peter Pica’ for ‘The Bookseller’ journal, the ‘long-standing periodical of the book trade’, about a fictitious provincial bookshop. At the invitation of Faber editor Charles Monteith he adapted it into a successful two-hundred page diary-form novel, which encouraged him to become a professional writer February
1955 – ‘BREATHING SPACE’ (‘Science Fantasy no.12’), for Grant and Wilms ‘the sky will fall here soon’ as their Mating Fight in the Outflanks is monitored by Fliers controlled by the omnipotent M’chene. Frustrated by her suitor’s lack of vision, Osa decides to discover the truth about their enclosed realm herself… leading inadvertently to its destruction. The story collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
June 1955 – ‘OUR KIND OF KNOWLEDGE’ (‘New Worlds SF no.36’), the Preacher, Aprit, Woebee, Calurmo and Little Light are exploring the Arctic flora when they discover a four-thousand-year-old spaceship, which they fly towards the Central Stars. There, after the collapse of the First Empire, humans fight the Everlasting War against the shape-shifting Boux. Story later collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
December 1955 – ‘PANEL GAME’ (‘New Worlds SF no.42’), a light consumer satire, now overtaken by events with three twenty-four-hour wall-screen TVs showing ‘Mr Dial’s Dairy’ (a pun on radio Soap Opera ‘Mrs Dales’s Diary’) – with ‘wave-bounce’ so ‘viewers could sit and watch themselves viewing telly’ (anticipating ‘Gogglebox’?), Rick and Neata Sheridan are interrupted by escaped criminal former Prime Minister Black Jack Gabriel, who is both telly-trickster, and saboteur. Later collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
1956 – ‘TRADESMAN’S EXIT’ (‘The London Observer’) winner of the 1956 Observer Short Story Competition, uncollected until 2013 in ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’
February 1956 – ‘THERE IS A TIDE’ (‘New Worlds SF no.44’), an African hydroelectric project causes the bed of Lake Victoria to collapse leading to flood disasters elsewhere, seen through two half-brothers, the progressive K-Jubal, and the more eco-sensitive narrator Rog who mourns the despoliation of nature – yet has nevertheless been to lifeless Venus. Only the final line reveals that ten years previous ‘every member of the white race had been slain’ in the Massacre, and ‘now we negroes, in our turn, stood at the bar of history.’ Later collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
May 1956 – ‘THE FAILED MEN’ (‘Science Fantasy no.18’), an Aldiss classic spanning eternities of future-time with a genuinely disorientating sense of strangeness, told by Surrey Edmark ‘one of the poor devils off… the Time-Ship’ to a Chinese bar-singer in Singapore. The Paulls of the IRC – the Intertemporal Red Cross of the Three Thousand, One Hundred and Fifty-Seventh Century arrive, co-ordinating aid from five different ages, to which the present twenty-fourth century are The Children, to rescue the Failed Men – ‘many hundred millions of years ahead, or thousands of millions’ years ahead. In an existential crisis they call ‘struback’ they’ve buried themselves in ‘cemetery areas’ from which they are exhumed and revived. Unable to comprehend the terminal bleakness, the Time-travellers return in shock, ‘another cartload of nervous wrecks coming home.’ Collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
July 1956 – ‘PSYCLOPS’ (‘New Worlds SF no.49’), ‘Uh…? Distance? Sight? Colour? Form? Definitely do not like this. Frightened. Frightened of falling, insecure… Must immediately retreat to safe mmmm. Mmmm’, later collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
September 1956 – ‘CONVICTION’ (‘New Worlds SF no.51’), David Stevens uses a ruse intended to fool the Diet Of The Ultralords Of The Home Galaxy, they are ‘amused’ by the ‘bluff’ but decide that ‘the warped brains of Earthmen might be useful in coping with the warped brains of the enemy Eleventh Galaxy’ in ‘an expedient war-time measure’, later collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
December 1956 – ‘DUMB SHOW’ (‘Nebula no.19’) ‘Could death be so terrible in this world of screaming silence?’, voted no.5 in the ‘One Guinea Prize’ readers poll, later collected into ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (1957)
December 1956 – ‘WITH ESMOND IN MIND’ (‘Science Fantasy no.20’), when Laurie Roberts of ‘Radiopsi Repairs: I’ll Mend Your Illusions’ attempts to repair lonely Granville Esmond’s Illusion Room – a kind of memory-generated Holodeck, his head between the prongs which hold the memory reels implant Ezzie’s presence into his own memories, then – through the city’s muon-links, into everyone’s memory. Collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
February 1957 – ‘NO GIMMICK’ (‘Science Fantasy no.21’), art by Quinn, with the bleakness of ‘1984’ or Arthur Koestler’s ‘Darkness At Noon’, Britain has been invaded by unnamed totalitarian Eastern power (although the guard has a ‘Boskonian countenance’), with SF writer Sladden interrogated by the ‘Questioner’, are other SF writers also being held ‘under their filthy wings? Clarke, Sam Youd, John Brunner, Wyndham, Carnell, Tubb…’ or ‘even the minor writers, Hawkins, Aldiss, Morgan’ – he mentions ‘when the fen gathered at The Globe’ and his first story ‘It Breathed Down My Necking Session’ in ‘New Worlds (December 1957) and selected by Crispin for ‘Best SF Five’. Dogmatic and unimaginative the invaders fear imagination, and possibly pyrokinesis! The story collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
May 1957 – ‘ALL THE WORLD’S TEARS’ (‘Nebula SF no.21’), art by Arthur Thomson, ‘Love and joy had died – slowly, but who could wonder at the stirrings of the corpse?’, voted no.2 story in the issue, then collected into ‘The Canopy Of Time’ (1959), where it opens ‘it was the last day of summer in the last year of the eighty-third century AD’ and, as Ployploy and the Wild Man detonate ‘just for a second, a new wind lived among the winds of the Earth’
June 1957 – ‘LET’S BE FRANK’ (‘Science Fantasy no.23’), a startlingly original novelty-concept tale, it begins ‘four years after pretty little Anne Boleyn was executed in the Tower of London, a child was born into the Gladwebb family – an unusual child.’ Asleep until age nineteen Frank II wakes to share consciousness with Frank I, which continues as further ‘freak chromosome’ ‘Franks’ are born, adding to the single consciousness as the family expands through unfolding history, until Britain – then the Eastern hemisphere consists entirely of ‘Franks’… with the America’s populated by a rival ‘separate shared consciousness’ Hispaniola Frank, then they venture out into space, reaching Venus. The story is chosen for Dell’s ‘Science Fiction Year’s Best’, and collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
1957 – ‘SPACE, TIME AND NATHANIEL’ debut collection subtitled (presciences), (Faber And Faber with original Aldiss ‘Introduction’ dated April 1956, then Four Square May 1966 paperback edition with introduction by Tom Boardman Jr and Aldiss ‘Foreword’ dated December 1965) divided into ‘SPACE’ with ‘T’, ‘Our Kind Of Knowledge’, ‘Psyclops’, ‘Conviction’, then ‘TIME’ with ‘Not For An Age’, ‘The Shubshub Race’, ‘Criminal Record’, ‘The Failed Men’, and ‘NATHANIEL and other people’, with ‘Supercity’, ‘There Is A Tide’, ‘Pogsmith’, ‘Outside’, ‘Panel Game’, ‘Dumb Show’. Leslie Flood’s review in ‘New Worlds no.58’ calls it ‘an incredibly mixed bag from one author, with an odd and unconventional approach the only common factor, and considering that this collection contains most of his fantasy stories published to date, Mr Aldiss’ future seems very bright indeed’
1957 – ‘SUPERCITY’ original story included in ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (Faber And Faber, 1957, Four Square Books paperback May 1966), addressed to ‘Nathaniel’ it tells how, due to the spiteful revenge of the scorned Virgin Vera Manchester IXA, Alastair Mott becomes Resident Governor of Acrostic I – ‘one of two planets circling a yellow sun on the periphery of Smith’s Burst, which is a small intragalactic nebula many light years from any form of civilization.’ Nathaniel is warned that there is no ‘megapolis covering an entire planet’ – no, it is a word coined by Mott ‘the greatest supercitist of them all, to denote the art of becoming indispensible through being thoroughly useless,’ as he connives his domain to prominence
1957 – ‘THE SHUBSHUB RACE’ original playful light-fantasy included in ‘Space, Time And Nathaniel’ (Faber And Faber, 1957, Four Square Books paperback May 1966), sickly King Able Harkon Horace of ‘a small Earth kingdom on the edge of the North Sea’ trades his staff with the Oracle – pseudo-man Klaeber Ap-Eye, for a dish inscribed with ‘On Globadan I Won The Shubshub Race’, on the happy planet Upotia with pardoned wrongdoer Swap he meets Priestess Colinette Shawl who tells him about planet Globadan. There’s some changeling revelations, Swap is the real heir to the throne, and due to a dubious interpretation of the Döppler effect in which time moves more slowly at the galactic rim than it does at the centre, he ‘flashed past the winning post’ of the Shubshub race
August 1957 – ‘FLOWERS OF THE FOREST’ (‘Science Fantasy no.24’), as if flipping from genre to genre, trying a taste of each, this compressed florid supernatural tale draws on Aldiss’s own Sumatran experience as guilt-ridden Hopkins seeks witch Subyata ‘the spirit of the jungle’, with her leopard spirit-animal. Discorporate, he’s drawn back to the incident where he disfigured former lover Carol with a knife, in anger he knifes Subyata, only to find himself out-of-body – Subyata now within the dead leopard, his own body occupied by the soul of the leopard… which proceeds to drown him in a foul ‘insect soup’ in a rafflesia plant, collected into ‘Best Horror Stories 2’ edited by John Keir Cross (1965, Faber And Faber) then ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
December 1957 – ‘THE ICE MASS COMETH’ (‘New Worlds SF no.66’), another silly 900-word fanzine-style romp, Antarctica (misprinted Antractic at one point) is not a continent, but ‘just a big iceberg’, and the Russians tow it away! Can we tow Britain to safety into the Mediterranean, near Cyprus? voted no.6 best story is issue, then collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
January 1958 – ‘TEN-STOREY JIGSAW’ (‘Nebula SF no.26’) announced as ‘another grim and utterly convincing little gem’ but only voted fifth best story in the issue, ‘He was an ordinary bloke doing an honest job when, suddenly, he remembered the past’, collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
January 1958 – ‘THE NEW FATHER CHRISTMAS’ (‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And SF no.80’) collected into ‘No Time Like Tomorrow’ (July 1959, US Signet)
January 1958 – ‘THE PIT MY PARISH’ (‘New Worlds SF no.67’), ‘the taboos this writer successfully breaks become more amazing with each new story!’ announces ‘The Literary Line-Up’, with elements of William Burroughs’ ‘Wild Boys’ as well as ‘Clockwork Orange’ nadsat – a geek-speak of jildy, mizzle, badger off. A near-future war pulls back from nuclear strikes in fear of retaliation, ‘so the nations killed one another slowly with explosive bombs instead,’ with blitz-overtones as the Pit is a vast London crater around Paddington ruled by delink (juvenile delinquent) gangs with names like Tubby, Sponge, Frogseyes and Chuck the Chucker, while Rev Edward Mullion disastrously plans a rocket ‘Ark’ escape to Venus, voted no.3 best story in issue, collected into ‘The Best Of New Worlds’ edited by Michael Moorcock (1965, Compact Books), then ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
April 1958 – ‘THE CARP THAT ONCE’ (‘Science Fantasy no.28’) credited as an ‘Article’ on the contents page, and ‘a brief piece of nonsense’ in the pre-title blurb, this knock-about comedy concerns the construction of the Bashenham reservoir – ‘a sheet of water, as suave and unruffled as a George Sanders villain’, which will drown Pennine village Bashenham West, once they’ve rescued the Mayor’s Red Cichlid tropical fish from the Town Hall aquarium!, collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
April 1958 – ‘POOR LITTLE WARRIOR!’ (‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And SF no.83’), chosen for Doubleday’s ‘Best From Fantasy And Science Fiction: Eighth Series’ and collected into ‘No Time Like Tomorrow’ (July 1959, US Signet)
May 1958 – ‘THE GENE-HIVE’ (‘Nebula SF no.30’), published as ‘Journey To The Interior’ and voted second most popular story in the issue, ‘Into that nightmare world of floating death the life-saver projected herself – to precipitate the downfall of mankind’, the undersea trawler Bartholomew becomes the Bartlemeo, and Jean Regard becomes Je Regard when the story is retitled for its appearance in ‘The Canopy Of Time’ (1959)
May 1958 – ‘SECRET OF A MIGHTY CITY’ (‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And SF no.84’) published as ‘Have Your Hatreds Ready’, solids are a kind of 3D Supernova cinema, with some now-outdated satire on the movie industry. Harsch Benlin intends to complete a failed project undertaken by neglected genius Art Stayker into the city’s dark underside, ‘behind a façade of civilization, the night life of Nunion had a primitive ferocity; the Jurassic wore evening dress’, collected into ‘The Canopy Of Time’ (1959)
June 1958 – ‘NINIAN’S EXPERIENCE’ (‘Nebula SF’ no.31), announced as ‘yet another startlingly unique short story and will, I am convinced, even further enhance the reputation of its author’ and voted third-equal best story in the issue, ‘It was a completely new art form, built of the mental emanations from the human mind and the experiences of its creator’, collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
June 1958 – ‘WHO CAN REPLACE A MAN?’ (‘Infinity SF Vol.3 no.5’), with the last human supposedly extinct, a robotic party of a Field-Minder, a pen-propeller, Quarrier and a radio-operator debate what to do in machine logic, they avoid the chaos of fighting machines in the cities and reach the Badlands… where the last man commands their obedience, originally titled ‘But Who Can Replace Man?’, collected into ‘The Canopy Of Time’ (1959) where ‘the savages were coming, and the machines continued with their own purposes on the tired land…’
July 1958 – ‘THEY SHALL INHERIT’ (‘Nebula’ no.32), ‘Mankind had fought its way to the stars, basically unchanged, but now pressure from the Outside dictated adaptation or decadence’, ‘humans developed their damper system as a safeguard against precocity – hence, compared with animals, the long period required to mature. Now that the world is long past its adolescence, precocity is exactly what we need’, voted no.3 best story in the issue, then collected into ‘The Canopy Of Time’ (1959)
September 1958 – ‘FOURTH FACTOR’ (‘Nebula SF’ no.34), a Novelette illustrated by Arthur Thomson ‘She had stumbled upon a culture, stranger than her wildest imaginings. Could there be any hope of integration for these people?’, voted no.1 best story in the issue, published simultaneously in the USA in the Robert AW Lowndes-edited ‘Science Fiction Stories Vol.9 no.3’ (September 1958), and later collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
November 1958 – ‘CARRION COUNTRY’ (‘New Worlds’ no.77) the closest to formula SF Aldiss had written, a sequel to ‘Segregation’ (in no.73) with the same three PEST operatives, Tim Anderson, Barney Brangwyn and Craig Hodges retaining their taste for Aldebaran wine and cheroots, surveying placid Lancelyn II where slow-moving centaurs literally ‘play dead’ – with full ‘black and green traceries of putrescence’ and decay when pursued by slow-moving predator puma-ox. Again, parasites provides clues. Voted no.3 most popular story in the issue, and collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013). ‘New Worlds no.77’ also a Brian W Aldiss ‘Postmortem’ letter supporting the controversial experimental Brian Lewis art-covers for ‘New Worlds’
November 1958 – ‘SIGHT OF A SILHOUETTE’ (‘Nebula SF’ no.36) voted no.2 best story in the issue with 22% of the votes, ‘She was as inconsiderable to him as a butterfly, as transient as the snowflake on the river,’ collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
December 1958 – ‘INCENTIVE’ (‘New Worlds SF’ no.78), Isolationist Farro Westerby argues with Galactic Minster Jandanagger why Earth – or Yinnisfar as it must be renamed, should not join the expanding Galactic Federation, with the opening and closing paragraphs metaphors of why lemmings plunge into the sea, ‘these creatures were not heading for some especial promise in their future, but merely fleeing from some terrible fear in their past,’ ‘Incentive’ is voted no.4-equal in the issue, and collected into ‘The Canopy Of Time’ (1959)
January 1959 – ‘THE ARM’ (‘Nebula SF’ no.38), ‘Try as she might, it was impossible even partially to escape from the terrible surroundings in which she found herself’, voted no.4 best story in the issue, collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
January 1959 – ‘THREE’S A CLOUD’ (‘New Worlds SF’ no.79), published here as ‘The Unbeaten Track’, lonely forty-four year-old drifter Clemperer, who has a speech impediment that causes him to insert wrong words – as in the story title, meets Spring and Alice on a Greek island, and together they form a gestalt unity, although ‘the sort of slight verbal slip he often caught himself making’ is there, the phrase – and subsequent title ‘Three’s A Cloud’ is absent from this original version of the story. Voted no.2 best story in the issue, rewritten and collected into ‘The Canopy Of Time’ (1959)
February 1959 – ‘INTANGIBLES, INC’ (‘Science Fantasy’ no.33), a poignant narrative with Ray Bradbury overtones of the travelling huckster or mysterious carnival illusionist. Slow but good-natured auto-repairman Arthur and wife Mabel accept a wager – never to move the salt and pepper pots from their place on the table, from ‘the crinkled man’ who never changes but visits them at intervals across the rest of their lives, as they grow, prosper, have children who mature and leave home, then decline as the Hapsville community evolves. ‘Intangibles’ is the random events that shape lives. Story collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
February 1959 – ‘THE LIEUTENANT’ (‘Nebula SF’ no.39) illustrated by John J Greengrass, ‘This vile and evil life-form which would conquer Earth was capable of actions unthinkable to man’, collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
April 1959 – ‘ARE YOU AN ANDROID?’ (‘Science Fantasy’ no.34) jokey fanzine-style short, ‘Aldiss’ suspects his wife is an android robot, and tries to catch her out with itching powder. She accuses him of ‘reading too much science fiction’ – Pohl And Kornbluth. She is revealed when a scone crumb sticks in her soundbox. But Aldiss is also an android, and ‘springs apart’. collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
April 1959 – ‘THE OTHER ONE’ (‘New Worlds SF’ no.82), despite token SF scheduled year-long trip to Pluto Station and back, the story of Eric Lazenby is pure psychological horror. Is he mad? No, he has a cyst composed of self-aware brain-matter buried in his own brain, which is the ‘other’, haunting him with squeamishly unsettling riddles. Exorcised by Dr Siddall – in shock-horror dénouement, it has transferred to him! Voted no.2 best story in the issue, then collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
June 1959 – ‘FORTUNE’S FOOL’ (‘Science Fantasy’ no.35), ‘ask yourself, my dear Breakbane, how much is understood about the laws of chance. Say those laws are themselves subject to chance?’ When a monkey types out the complete ‘The Two Gentlemen Of Verona’ – albeit ‘here and there, I admit, a misprint had crept in’, there are odd coincides at Marlborough College, a game of conjecture, collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
August 1959 – ‘SAFETY VALVE’ (‘Future Science Fiction’ no.44) collected into ‘The Complete Short Stories: The 1950s’ (2013)
1959 – ‘THE CANOPY OF TIME’ collection (Faber And Faber, 1963 Four Square Books paperback), John Wyndham writes ‘anyone who likes to see an intelligent imagination weave people and ideas together and finish the result with craftsmanship, should enjoy ‘The Canopy Of Time’,’ (in ‘The Listener’), includes ‘Author’s Note’, with stories linked into a future-history by inserted brief bridging passages, ‘Three’s A Cloud’, ‘All The World’s Tears’, ‘Who Can Replace Man?’. ‘Blighted Profile’, ‘Judas Danced’, ‘O Ishrail!’, ‘Incentive’, ‘Gene-Hive’, ‘Secret Of A Mighty City’, ‘They Shall Inherit’, ‘Visiting Amoeba’