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Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction

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Britain's most illustrious SF writer, Brian Aldiss, provides a witty and perceptive history of this extraordinary phenomenon, set in its social and literary context. Crammed with fascinating insights, this generous spree takes us through decades of treats for the imagination: escape to other dimensions, flights to other planets, lost worlds, utopias, mechanical creatures a Britain's most illustrious SF writer, Brian Aldiss, provides a witty and perceptive history of this extraordinary phenomenon, set in its social and literary context. Crammed with fascinating insights, this generous spree takes us through decades of treats for the imagination: escape to other dimensions, flights to other planets, lost worlds, utopias, mechanical creatures and intelligent aliens. Amusing, intelligent and authoritative, it takes us on a tour through that zone where literature and science engage in an eternal flirtation. Examining the great writers SF has produced, and the images that have become the cultural wallpaper of the present day, this comprehensive expedition is for buffs and tenderfoots alike.


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Britain's most illustrious SF writer, Brian Aldiss, provides a witty and perceptive history of this extraordinary phenomenon, set in its social and literary context. Crammed with fascinating insights, this generous spree takes us through decades of treats for the imagination: escape to other dimensions, flights to other planets, lost worlds, utopias, mechanical creatures a Britain's most illustrious SF writer, Brian Aldiss, provides a witty and perceptive history of this extraordinary phenomenon, set in its social and literary context. Crammed with fascinating insights, this generous spree takes us through decades of treats for the imagination: escape to other dimensions, flights to other planets, lost worlds, utopias, mechanical creatures and intelligent aliens. Amusing, intelligent and authoritative, it takes us on a tour through that zone where literature and science engage in an eternal flirtation. Examining the great writers SF has produced, and the images that have become the cultural wallpaper of the present day, this comprehensive expedition is for buffs and tenderfoots alike.

30 review for Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    JOIN ME AND TOGETHER WE CAN RULE THE GALAXY! The tenacity of poor SF is renowned. It has unfortunately formed the hallmark of the genre. THE QUICK VERSION FOR THOSE IN A HURRY This could be a rather long review so for those with more time pressure here’s a summary : This is a splendid history of SF from whenever it started (disputed) up to the mid of the 1980s. It was an update of his earlier Billion Year Spree, and I am only sorry that Brian Aldiss hasn’t done a Gazillion Year Spree yet. He is stil JOIN ME AND TOGETHER WE CAN RULE THE GALAXY! The tenacity of poor SF is renowned. It has unfortunately formed the hallmark of the genre. THE QUICK VERSION FOR THOSE IN A HURRY This could be a rather long review so for those with more time pressure here’s a summary : This is a splendid history of SF from whenever it started (disputed) up to the mid of the 1980s. It was an update of his earlier Billion Year Spree, and I am only sorry that Brian Aldiss hasn’t done a Gazillion Year Spree yet. He is still with us (now aged 91) so really there’s no excuse. Come on Brian! Get off your backside! I can’t see any other useful history of SF out there. You the man! MY PROBLEM WITH SF I could write you a list of my favourite sf short stories as long as your arm but I still wouldn’t call myself a fan because such a large amount of sf, especially sf novels, is obsessed with war! What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin’. Except providing the plot for every other damned SF novel. Usually between or within Galactic Empires!!! And I’m like …. Yawwwwwwnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn…… FORTRESS ROUND MY ART In the olden days Frankenstein and Jules Verne and HG Wells and RL Stevenson and Olaf Stapledon were not recognized as science fiction because the genre did not formally exist. Then it was invented in in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback who called it “scientifiction” and launched the magazine Amazing Stories which amazingly enough is still in existence (online since 2006). Brian calls Hugo One of the worst disasters ever to hit the science fiction field because by creating a magazine which published nothing but SF he created a ghetto. And as an editor he was “without literary understanding” and set “dangerous precedents” which have been blindly followed. Brian says that when he made these remarks in the first edition of this book he thought they merely expressed a truth apparent to any reasonable mind. Instead they aroused fury. My book was widely condemned. So SF built itself a ghetto (an American ghetto) and all the magazines which followed and authors who filled them up were considered by non-fans as the worst kind of pulp and totally ignored. (“Pornography got a better press.”) It took 30 years for SF to climb out of its self-imposed isolation. A great novel like 1984 was not published as science fiction. In 1960 Walter Miller’s brilliant A Canticle for Leibowitz was published and was immediately greeted with the warmest praise by reviewers – i.e. they said it was so good it couldn’t possibly be SF Aldiss is a wonderful commentator on every aspect of the long history of SF because he doesn’t hold back, he’s waspish and sometimes irascible. Here are a few of his opinions which pleased me. ALDISS ON ISAAC ASIMOV What does one say in his praise that Asimov himself has not already said?... He is a great producer. He enjoys enormous popularity. He has become monstrous. ALDISS ON FOUNDATION (Aldiss describes the Galactic Empire, the Foundation and the concept of psychohistory) Neither of these ideas bears a minute’s serious investigation. Yet upon these structures Asimov builds his huge house of cards. … what Asimov presents us with is Rome in Space… an epic in true Hollywood tradition, with extras hired for the day, rather wooden actors and plastic props. ALDISS ON ASIMOV’S MERGING TOGETHER OF THE ROBOT NOVELS AND THE FOUNDATION NOVELS INTO ONE GIANT SERIES What can one say about this painful obsession? ALDISS ON HEINLEIN He is not a particularly good storyteller and his characters are often indistinguishable. ALDISS ON THE LATER A E VAN VOGT (HAVING LAVISHED PRAISE ON THE EARLIER) Van Vogt produced a number of novels in the seventies, few of which made any real sense. ALDISS ON PHILIP K DICK Between life and death lie the many shadow lands of Dick, places of hallucination, perpetual sumps, cloacae of dim half life, paranoid states, tomb worlds and orthodox hells. All his novels are one novel, a fatidical A la recherche du temps perfide. [fatidical, fa-tid′ik-al, adj. having power to foretell future events: prophetical.] ALDISS ON STAR WARS It was apparent from the first that Star Wars was an outsize elephant with the brains of a gnat (Having said that he then goes on to shower praise on it.) ALDISS ON THE 1980s Even a cursory examination of the mass of SF currently being published reveals one striking phenomenon immediately. Much of it is not SF. It is fantasy. ALDISS ON FANTASY (I paraphrase). The fate of the world depends on some poor slave girl and a man of low birth with mystic powers and an amulet. And by the way, why are so many fantasy novels set in a feudal culture? Because the authors have no knowledge of economics. And also, they’re writing for adolescent boys who have no knowledge of economics. A TYPICAL STORY OF INJUSTICE Dimension of Miracles (1968) was Robert Sheckley’s best novel in the 60s. …It puts the Big Questions as perhaps they ought to be put – comically. Some of us grieved when Douglas Adams came along with his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) and grew rich doing the Sheckleyan things which appeared to keep Sheckley poor SECOND STAR TO THE RIGHT, AND STRAIGHT ON TIL MORNING I finished this with a weighty sensation of the vast amounts of SF written up to the 1980s, and this was before SF REALLY took off and began to eat everything else. I felt like Spiderman in issue number 33 (“The Final Chapter”, 1966) In this analogy, I am Spiderman crushed by the weight of all the unread SF. Then add another 25 years of the stuff….. But perhaps the problem is not so big, if you exclude all the GALACTIC EMPIRE rubbish AND SF-which-is-really-fantasy, PLUS all the unreadable technophile stuff which can only be read by people who actually know something about science (not me, not me) – maybe you’re only left with 17 books! I could manage that.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    If you're at all interested in SF, this is a must-read. Absolutely the best history of the genre that I know, written by an insider who is passionate about the subject. Aldiss has a broad take on the question of what science-fiction is, and there is a strange, eerie theme running through the book: a fascination with ice. Anna Kavan's Ice, a novel I have still not read, but which Aldiss describes with passion. Dante's traitors, buried in the ice of the innermost circles of Hell. And this stanza fr If you're at all interested in SF, this is a must-read. Absolutely the best history of the genre that I know, written by an insider who is passionate about the subject. Aldiss has a broad take on the question of what science-fiction is, and there is a strange, eerie theme running through the book: a fascination with ice. Anna Kavan's Ice, a novel I have still not read, but which Aldiss describes with passion. Dante's traitors, buried in the ice of the innermost circles of Hell. And this stanza from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which he quotes with approval as constituting the very essence of great science-fiction:And through the drifts the snowy clifts Did send a dismal sheen: Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken-- The ice was all between.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Glen Engel-Cox

    It's no easy task to write a history of science fiction, as amorphous a publishing category as there is, so I hesitate to call this book a failure on those terms alone. What it attempts to do, it does handily and usefully: it brings to light a strand that stretches from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to William Gibson's Neuromancer, the darling of the 1980s (when this book was published). Along the way it pauses long enough to note certain knots in the strand that have made it stronger (woah, I It's no easy task to write a history of science fiction, as amorphous a publishing category as there is, so I hesitate to call this book a failure on those terms alone. What it attempts to do, it does handily and usefully: it brings to light a strand that stretches from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to William Gibson's Neuromancer, the darling of the 1980s (when this book was published). Along the way it pauses long enough to note certain knots in the strand that have made it stronger (woah, I'm really stretching that metaphor out-a-kilter, aren't I!). Aldiss (who wrote the original version of this book, Billion Year Spree) and Wingrove smartly spend most of the book before the 1960s, focusing on the twin progenitors of modern SF: the intellectual, philosophical style that came from the U.K. from writers like H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley with the pulp, mechanistic format favored by America and championed by Hugo Gernsback. However, and likely due to the fact that both authors here are also creators, this is not necessarily the most objective critical treatise on the field. Aldiss comes across as someone miffed by the American ascendency in a field that was born with an English authoress, in a kind of literary reflection of the change in world hegemony after the second world war. He shoots a fish in a barrel when he rightly points out that Harlan Ellison's introduction to Dangerous Visions was marketing controversy, counterpointing it with a quite understated and humble editorial by Michael Moorcock from New Worlds. But this one example doesn't mean that Moorcock wasn't himself involved in flaunting convention for attention, nor the true power behind some of the stories championed by Ellison (including some of Ellison's own writing). That is, Aldiss's obvious bias, likely stemming from where his own publications appeared, is this huge mote that sticks in the reader's eye once he hits the 1960s, and it's hard to remove it for the rest of the book. It's unfortunately, because I think he's not too far off in his analysis of many of the (at the time of writing) more recent authors, including noting that Gibson was more style than substance. (The funny thing about the latter opinion is that he had just spent the entire chapter on New Worlds praising the New Wave's addition of style to what had been a gee-whiz-gizmo literature beforehand.) Perhaps if Aldiss had confronted his bias head-on (in no section does he remind the reader that he is, himself, the Aldiss that he mentions in passing in several chapters), it might have been more palatable, or maybe I'm just used to Gardner Dozois' method of commentary that appears in the introduction to his Year's Best volumes where, once he comes to the magazine which he himself edited, he simply lists the authors there "without comment." Trouble is, for Aldiss not to comment on that section of the book would have made for a much shorter work. A conundrum indeed. What I enjoyed most here was learning a bit more about authors whom I may have read, but didn't know as much about their history, such as H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A.E. Van Vogt, and Michael Moorcock. As a voracious reader of SF in the 70s and 80s, I thought I had a fairly good grounding in the "classics," but this book revealed some of my deficiencies, albeit none that I'm necessarily interested in correcting at this late date. It did remind me of why I was attracted to science fiction in the first place, and given me an idea of what I've been finding missing in the few titles I've read recently. Finally, this is the first book that I've read in a long time that has ever tempted me to re-read novels and stories, to view them with new critical eyes having obtained a new perspective from Aldiss on them, such as Tim Powers's The Anubis Gates, Frederick Pohl's Gateway, and Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer. A final note: I ordered this book from Mark Ziesing, whom I used to order books from regularly not to mention briefly writing a book review column for his print catalog, which he still produces. When I received this book, it had a tipped in review slip from the publisher and Mark had written on a post-it note, "Hi, Glen--I thought you'd enjoy knowing this was Damon Knight's copy." It's a silly thing, but that little bit of knowledge made me feel a part of that science fictional strand that Aldiss wrote about here.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ampat Varghese

    My book shelves are liberally peppered with science fiction novels. Right now, in front of my eyes, I can see a William Gibson trilogy peeking back at me mischievously. Pattern Recognition. Spook Country.Zero History. I taught Art and Design in India for 12 years. These books must become part of the curriculum of any cutting edge art and design school across the world, I think to myself. But, not many will care. Because, firstly, are there any Gen X or Gen Y kids who read? Should they read at all My book shelves are liberally peppered with science fiction novels. Right now, in front of my eyes, I can see a William Gibson trilogy peeking back at me mischievously. Pattern Recognition. Spook Country.Zero History. I taught Art and Design in India for 12 years. These books must become part of the curriculum of any cutting edge art and design school across the world, I think to myself. But, not many will care. Because, firstly, are there any Gen X or Gen Y kids who read? Should they read at all? As for that older generation that wants to “teach” them , who reads science fiction? They have the lines blurred between SF and Fantasy; unable to discern between the two and the changing of both times and the guard, they throw out the baby with the bathtub, water, scented oils, soaps, bubbles, towels and all. Stop. Think. All that talk of Futurology and Sustainability and New Age Pedagogy that disturbs you, not to mention the students, is driven subtly from behind the scenes by the Iluminatii and, horror of horrors, what if I told you that these are the writers of SF? Gibson is a “cyberpunk”, or so I have heard some say despisingly, as if he was meant to be Shakespeare! Do they know their genres? What about Bruce Sterling? From his fictional Schismatrix to his non-fiction work Shaping Things, he has emerged as a “design guru”. Both Gibson and Sterling are intuitively and learnedly drawn to the influences and convergences of art, design, science and technlogy, psychology and business on the shaping and the making of human futures and the mutation or expansion of the species’ vision and capabilities in the coming phase of entropy/extropy, Utopia/Dystopia/Trans or Post-humanism. But then I pause, for instance, to ask myself “Where did all this begin?” or rather “Where did all this emerge from?” And so it was that by means of synchronicity one of my “unknown-to-the-world” book-loving and reading friends placed into my hands this erudite book by Brian Aldiss. Hey Presto! I found myself travelling back and forth through the swing doors of the Past and the Future via the Present, through an intricate tapestry of the notions and networks of “Amazing Stories” and writers from across several centuries woven into a semantic web (with SF inscribed across its nodes) of a breadth and depth that held me in its thrall. What’s more, this particular history of SF has been written by one who is not exactly a “genre conservative” but comes, as it were, from the deeper and interior spaces of the “ghost in the machine” involved in combinatorial conspiracies with those grappling with paradoxes relating to la condition humaine in terms of form and content driving the process of the generative art that is writing SF. I particularly laud this earlier extraordinary contribution to understanding the impulse to SF – and it’s role in mainstream literature and even scientific speculation, simulation, discovery and innnovation – in the light of having come across a more recent anthology of “Amazing Stories” titled The Secret History of Science Fiction, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (2009 Tachyon Publications). The case that Brian Aldiss makes in Trillion Year Spree subtly is provided a megaphone in The Secret History of Science Fiction. Aldiss has the subtlety and sensitivity to both identify and articulate the soul, nerves, circulatory systems, bones and flesh of what constitutes SF with a more generous, bountiful and deeper understanding of the larger Purusha of literature with a capital ‘L’. Kelly and Kessel are driving the definite agenda of a rapprochement between what they perceive as the deliberate building of a Great Wall between SF as a genre and Mainstream Literature. Their concern is the facilitation of the breaking down of such boundaries. “The loss of the future as home ground for sf has bothered some writers, readers, and critics who embrace sf culture. It seems to us that one of the consequences of the rapprochement between sf and the literary mainstream is this move to set stories in the present, and to reduce the extrapolative element in favor of experimental structure or emphasis on characterization,” they assert. The argument is on the side of those writers who “came to use the materials of sf for their own purposes, writing fiction that is clearly science fiction, but not identified by that name” and an appeal to “genre conservatives” to abandon their preconceived ideas of and definitions of SF. While the anthology Kelly and Kessel have produced is nothing less than exquisite to illustrate their argument, Aldiss doesn’t bother to enter this “game”. So I say it would be wise to read Aldiss before entering the space of the argument put forth by Kelly and Kessel. What is it that Aldiss is attempting? He lays out the panoramic landscape of SF and takes one on a leisurely walk through it and points out the various landmarks, milestones, the castles, the moors, the fences, the cattle on the hillsides, the trees and the seasons …It is a stroll through the history of SF not just chronologically, but touching upon the lives and thoughts, dreams and deeds of the actors upon the stage, mapping out the layers, the mosaic, the similarities and differences in approach from era to era or movement to movement, the shifting paradigms and yet continuously coming upon and perhaps even deliberately evading “the one ring to bind them all”. To cut the longish review in my mind to a short one in word-processor social media space, I will mention that the book is a whopping 512 pages. What’s more, while one takes the Nautilus into the depths of the sea of central ideas that enabled, over time, the creation and “concretisation” of the SF genre, one also comes to terms with the even more powerful undercurrents that drive good literature. So one is able to suddenly, with new eyes, traverse known landscapes like Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Erewhon, Beowulf, the Odyssey, the Book of Ezekiel or Revelation, and so on and so forth, and recognize them as close kin and contributors to the emerging body of literature known as SF. And tongue in cheek Aldiss describes ordinary fiction as “hubris clobbered by mimesis” while SF is fiction that is “hubris clobbered by nemesis”! As for those who engage with and/or are addicted to SF of the pulp fiction variety, I suppose that is “hubris clobbered by pop” but the genre is inclusive of such too, since it piggybacked to fame upon the shoulders of such before heavier discussions took place as to its stature and future and its comparative advantages or disadvantages vis a vis mainstream literature. The point is, if you have read thus far, it is most likely you will pick up a copy of this book and its younger, questioning companion, and settle down to a week of fascinating reading. Why so? Because Aldiss will cue you into this strange world with a certain ease and finesse while the stories in Kelly’s and Kessel’s anthology will better prove his point that SF and great literature are inevitably intertwined. What destiny has put together, let no man cast asunder. I emphasise this point, because the world in which we are embedded is coming together in ways which are being imagined, shaped and made, especially for the vast ignorant masses, by “seers” who dare forsee the expediting of their SF dreams and nightmares. If you want to really draw a connection between SF imagination and technological innovation, just surf to http://technovelgy.com/ct/ctnlistPubD.... Don’t be too surprised! The list of “seers” is Leviathan. Mary Shelley and her “monster” Frankenstein, Erasmus Darwin genetically forwarding Charles Darwin down the tunnel of time in memetic mode, William Gibson and “console cowboys”, Bruce Sterling and Spimes, Arthur C Clarke and the yet to be Rendezvous with Rama in “Space, the Final Frontier”, Isaac Asimov who laid a different Foundation from Philip K Dick’s in the Valis Trilogy, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson and Terence McKenna sending forth their psychedelic consciousness altered/altering projections, Doris Lessing and the combining of space and spirit travel across planets and zones, and on and on and on ….This is the Trillion Year Spree …a roller coaster ride that does not end …a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the (SF) Galaxy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    MichaelK

    If you love SF, you will at least like this book. Aldiss researched and wrote the first version of his history, 'Billion Year Spree', in the 70s. Back then there was a popular belief that science fiction began with the American SF magazines edited by Hugo Gernsback (the Hugo Awards, the Oscars of the SF world, are named after Mr Gernsback). Aldiss found this belief annoying: he wrote his history as a corrective, and it was one of, if not the, first major single-volume history of science fiction. If you love SF, you will at least like this book. Aldiss researched and wrote the first version of his history, 'Billion Year Spree', in the 70s. Back then there was a popular belief that science fiction began with the American SF magazines edited by Hugo Gernsback (the Hugo Awards, the Oscars of the SF world, are named after Mr Gernsback). Aldiss found this belief annoying: he wrote his history as a corrective, and it was one of, if not the, first major single-volume history of science fiction. The history was revised in the 80s and re-released as 'Trillion Year Spree'. SF arose out of Gothic storytelling: the oldest SF story that we know of is Frankenstein (1618) by Mary Shelley, a story about forward-looking science replacing the old ways of learning and giving humans dangerous godlike powers (creating life). Aldiss also looks at SF's 'honourable ancestors': works that have some similarity to SF, because of their major influence on the genre, but which lack any awareness of the scientific worldview which is integral to the genre. The first half, 'Out of the Gothic', covering SF from its honourable ancestors to Frankenstein through to the end of the 1940s, is great. Aldiss shows us a strong European SF tradition - through Shelley, Verne, Wells, Stapledon, Huxley, Conan Doyle, and many others who have been forgotten - and his enthusiasm for the SF classics is infectious. He thinks of SF having two poles: the critical pole, authors and stories which aim for intellectual satisfaction (such as Huxley and Wells), and the dreaming pole, those which aim for emotional satisfaction, producing terror or excitement or a sense of wonder (such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lovecraft). SF stories and authors sit somewhere between these two poles; Aldiss reckons Shelley's Frankenstein is somewhere in the middle, for example. While European SF was mostly an upper class affair, full of social criticism and anxiety about the future, American SF arose out of pulp novels, which arose out of dime novels: thus, American SF was predominantly about fun action adventure produced for the masses, rather than literary merit. The oldest American SF story is The Huge Hunter, Or, the Steam Man of the Prairies, about a steam-powered mechanical man who fights Native Americans and outlaws on the American frontier. The stories of early American SF magazines were extremely propagandistic: they showed the glorious future that awaited technological man. British SF, on the other hand, has generally been more pessimistic about the future. Visions of the future age faster than stories set in the present day. SF takes elements of the present and extrapolates them into an imagined future; novels set in the contemporary world look back on history to explore the present. SF is for the now, looking forward. Aldiss thinks the best pessimistic SF as a prodromic effect: anxieties expressed in SF provide an early warning, giving us more chance of preventing that future from coming about. Orwell's 1984 is an anti-prophetic book: the less reality matches it, the more successful in its purpose. In the final pages of her feminist classic The Female Man, Russ states that the book will have achieved its purpose when the writing loses its sting and becomes irrelevant to reality. SF is occasionally accurate with its prophecies. In the two decades leading up to the First World War, the 'Future War' subgenre of SF was flourishing. There were myriad novels and stories about a major European War destroying the continent. Reality outdid these predictions; WW1 killed that subgenre. In 1943, Cleve Cartmill thought it would be cool to write a story about the Allies developing a futuristic super bomb. He researched nuclear fission using publically available science journals. The story was published in a 1944 issue of 'Astounding Stories': it described the science behind the atomic bomb in detail, and the crux of the story was the scientists arguing about whether the bomb should be used. FBI agents investigated the magazine and authors associated with it, fearing espionage or a security breach, because the story was eerily similar to what was actually going on in the Manhattan project, but eventually accepted the similarities to reality were coincidence. The second half, 'Into The Big Time', covering SF from the 50s to the 80s, is weaker. SF flourished from the 50s, grew into a mass market. It's impossible to fit all of the developments into a single book: the chapter on the 50s contains long passages which are just lists of authors and titles, giving an impression of how much was written in that period. In the post-war world, American SF also became more pessimistic, gone was the age of science propaganda. Modern society was dehumanizing, and could destroy us all. In the 60s, SF changed to focus on lifestyle changes in the future, reflecting the interests of the hippie movement. Sex, drugs, and literary style entered SF: the 'New Wave' movement, championed by Michael Moorcock and Harlan Ellison, pushed the boundaries, courting controversy and moving SF forward. (Norman Spinrad was called a 'degenerate' in the House of Commons for publishing an SF story featuring swearing, sex, and words such as 'cunnilingus'.) Aldiss gives a brief survey of SF in film, TV, and video games. Since there was so much written SF produced in this time, Aldiss struggles to pick out which are the most important (bar the obvious ones such as Dick and LeGuin, etc). The chapters on the 70s and 80s are weakest; it is too close to Aldiss' present, at time of writing. He discusses authors who have fallen into total obscurity in the 30 years since the publication of Trillion Year Spree, and who made less of an impact than Aldiss thought. It's harder to see general trends looking back without much temporal distance. These chapters, while still entertaining, are too much like a list of stuff Aldiss & Wingrove read recently: 'this book is good, this author is OK, this one is pretty impressive but has flaws, I like this one, this one is overrated, etc'. It is here that the book's age (30 years old!) shows most clearly: nowadays we would be able to see the trends, the major influences, etc, in the 70s and 80s. There's also 30 years of new SF since then: the 90s space opera boom led by Simmons' Hyperion and Banks' Culture series, 21st century SF, etc. My 5-star rating covers the history up to and including the New Wave of the 60s. I would deduct a star for the later chapters, but they are a relatively small part of Aldiss' history. Overall, it's a great book and highly recommended to SF fans. I feel like my nerd level has increased due to reading this book; that's a good feeling.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Artur Coelho

    Onde começa a FC? Qual o texto seminal de onde germinou esta forma literária? Aldiss é muito preciso. Rejeita textos clássicos fantasistas como o de Luciano de Samosata ou as viagens fantásticas dos autores enciclopedistas do iluminismo e focaliza-se em Frankenstein como a raiz da imensa floresta da FC. A confluência do romance gótico com visão científica, os traumas pessoais da autora sublimados através de narrativas que fogem ao ocultismo mágico e contemplam as possibilidades científicas, bem Onde começa a FC? Qual o texto seminal de onde germinou esta forma literária? Aldiss é muito preciso. Rejeita textos clássicos fantasistas como o de Luciano de Samosata ou as viagens fantásticas dos autores enciclopedistas do iluminismo e focaliza-se em Frankenstein como a raiz da imensa floresta da FC. A confluência do romance gótico com visão científica, os traumas pessoais da autora sublimados através de narrativas que fogem ao ocultismo mágico e contemplam as possibilidades científicas, bem como a responsabilidade, arrogância e consequências imprevisíveis do progresso que confluem no drama do Viktor Frankenstein, e o seu lado de romance-périplo que através das aventuras dos personagens leva o leitor numa viagem dupla por entre cenários fantasistas e ideias progressistas são os elementos que Aldiss acusa como elementares para o género. Para lá de Shelley, Aldiss leva-nos a Poe como outro dos nomes germinais do género. Mas não o faz cegamente. Observa que a grande força narrativa de Poe está no seu lado mais tenebroso e obsessivo e reflecte que as suas incursões na proto-fc são intencionalmente patéticas, como se recusasse ir tão longe nos domínios especulativos quanto vai nos das trevas obsessivas. Então porque é que Aldiss o salienta? Pela sua mestria no domínio do conto, onde de facto foi precursor. Note-se que a capacidade sintética da narrativa curta é uma das grandes características da FC. Aldiss não esquece outros textos que exploram diversas temáticas que irão coalescer na Ficção Científica. Regressa aos périplos planetários com Luciano de Samosata, Kepler e Voltaire, vai aos proto-universos paralelos de Margaret Cavendish e analisa a longa tradição das utopias e distopias num arco literário que inclui Platão, More, Swift, Defoe, Butler e Zamiatin. As raízes do totalitarismo mecanicista de We encontram-se na utopia esclarecida da República platonista. Na era Vitoriana Aldiss estabelece a génese do ideário que gerou a FC contemporânea. Não é uma afirmação inocente. Esta é a era em que o conceito de progresso se afirmou, com a ideia que o progresso científico geraria progresso tecnológico e social. Este é um substrato a partir do qual podem nascer visões de futuro, e foi o que aconteceu. Quer a partir do progressismo social de Gilman, da visão de superioridade tecnológica de Bulwer-Lytton, ou da caricatura que traduz um fascínio visceral, difícil de definir, com o artefacto tecnológico patente em Hoffmann ou Villiers d l'Isle Adam. É deste substrato que partem Verne e Wells, de formas diferentes mas profundamente influentes. Verne, como Robida e outros escritores similares, repensa a tecnologia, a grande novidade da época, e utiliza-a de forma particularmente eficaz como elemento em narrativas de aventuras que têm cativado gerações. Verne não é um verdadeiro futurista, colocando visões tecnológicas arrojadas ao serviço de uma visão de contemporaneidade. Wells parte de uma base similar, mas consegue projectar mais longe as preocupações da emergente era industrializada do progresso técnico. Verne deslumbra-se, Wells preocupa-se com as consequências e a sua mensagem é a de que serão profundamente transformativas. E, no caso das passagens mais fortes de Time Machine, irrelevantes. No longo amanhã tudo será reduzido a pó. Para além de Wells Aldiss traça o desenvolvimento da FC enquanto forma de literatura popular, onde a preocupação literária fica para segundo plano e a ciência e tecnologia são os elementos chamativos para atrair os leitores. Neste saco Aldiss coloca obras tão díspares como as Edisonades, robots a vapor nas pradarias ou antevisões de guerras futuras que se tornariam horrendamente prescientes poucos anos depois na I guerra. Aldiss também faz notar uma atracção progressiva pelo exótico e selvagem, pela decadência da visão limpa da utopia invadida pela selva primeva. Fala-nos aqui do aventureirismo selvagem de H. Ridder Haggard, do renascer do mito telúrico primevo de Stoker ou dos horrores tecnológicos de M.P. Shiel e até o espírito libertário de Jack London. Parecem nomes curiosos para debater a génese da FC mas Aldiss tem uma visão abrangente, sabendo que o género vai muito para além da ficção especulativa de base científica, indo beber a variadas fontes que por sua vez o modelam e transformam. Esta é a ponte que leva Aldiss ao trabalho de Edgar Rice Burroughs. Escritor prolífico, foi talvez o primeiro escritor profissional a viver da sua prosa de aventuras exóticas. Não o primeiro, claro, mas talvez o primeiro dos escritores de best sellers constantes que mina até à exaustão uma ideia que agradou ao seu público. Aldiss foca-se particularmente neste aspecto, demonstrando que em Burroughs o rigor científico se esfuma, a visão progressista é deixada para trás pelos conceitos orientalistas do fascínio pelo exótico. Mas legou-nos histórias que perduram, e um gosto pela narrativa de aventura que está mais para o lado do fantástico do que de uma FC que exige rigor científico. É esse o outro ponto onde Aldiss foca: Burroughs está na fronteira entre a narrativa de aventuras com bases progressistas e a pura fantasia de sabor exótico. É com este argumento que o autor olha para Hogdson, Clark Ashton Smith ou o incontornável Lovecraft, como fornecedores de visões proto-surreais do fantástico que não são estritamente horror ou fantasia. Ao olhar para os anos 30 é impossível fugir aos pulp, e Aldiss não o faz. Antes, opta por um ataque visceral a Hugo Gernsback, editor da seminal Amazing Stories. Detestar não é conceito suficiente para descrever o ataque de Aldiss. Ódio abominável aplica-se melhor. Para este autor, Gernsback representa as duas vertentes que mais detesta nas concepções de FC: a bastardização do género, banalizado em histórias simplistas de aventuras com adereços futuristas, e a escrita a metro sem preocupações de qualidade. Fica claro que Aldiss abomina aquele futurismo optimista retro que William Gibson satirizou com elegante nostalgia no conto Gersnaback Continuum. Despachando a génese dos pulps, Aldiss volta-se para o trabalho de autores considerados parte do cânone literário tradicional mas cuja prosa roça, toca ou mergulha descaradamente na ficção científica. É nesta luz que analisa o absurdo surreal de Kafka, o humanismo de Kapec, ou o proto-psicadelismo social-progressita de Aldous Huxley. Não esquece C.S Lewis, que sendo mais conhecido como fantasista é o autor de uma curiosa e bem urida triloga de FC que mistura o misticismo mítico com uma visão aventureira do sistema solar. Aldiss interliga o trabalho destes autores pela constância de uma visão que vai além do real e pela óbvia reacção ao horror da primeira guerra, muro onde se estamparam os futurismos radicais que prometiam um amanhã construído com fé cega na tecnologia. Termina com uma curiosa comparação entre a FC mítica e fortemente poética de Olaf Stapledon com as pretensões mitológicas do mais popular mas de prosa mais banal Tolkien. Se as visões a metro de aventura fantástica/futurista editadas ao estilo de Gernsback são aberrantes para Aldiss, o estilo editorial marcante de John W. Campbell dá o mote para uma análise dos autores da ficção pulp que se tornaram grandes mestres da FC. A preocupação do editor com uma boa mistura de especulação ´com qualidade literária legou-nos o trabalho de Jack Williamson, Pohl, Van Vogt, Gunn e Bradbury, entre tantos outros, ao longo de uma influente carreira como editor. Mas fica sublinhada a dicotomia entre duas grandes vertentes da FC. Temos a aventura futurista, onde a plausibilidade não é importante e a prosa é muitas vezes sofrível, apesar dos altos expoentes de EE Doc Smith; e a FC com preocupação literária, pensada a partir de ideias e ambientes que não são necessariamente dependentes de um artifício tecnológico. Abre-se o caminho para os anos 50, onde o optimismo começa a esfumar-se perante o rescaldo da II guerra e das novas super-armas capazes de destruir a humanidade. Perde-se a fé cega no progresso e na perfeição tecnológica. A razão aplicada, ao contrário do quadro de Goya, é geradora de monstros e estes encontram lugar no melhor da ficção de Asimov, Bester, Vonnegut, Miller Jr., Damon Knight ou Blish. Aldiss sublinha o negativismo e paranóia subjacentes à FC nos anos 50 com uma visita ao incontornável 1984, onde se mostra a queda de todas as utopias. Mas nem tudo é obscuro nesta época e Aldiss avalia o crescimento literário de Bradbury, que nunca abandonou o deslumbre infantil para com o futuro, embora lhe reconheça os fantasmas, e o sublimou num realismo mágico que ultrapassou as fronteiras do género com uma invejável candura. Essencialmente, Aldiss mostra que independentemente das preocupações dos autores a FC atinge a maturidade literária nesta época. O livro termina com três notas. Primeiro, Alidss vê-se obrigado a olhar para os grandes sucessos do cinema que trouxeram a FC para as luzes da ribalta. É claro que a estética e o ideário de filmes como Star Wars, Blade Runner e 2001 não lhe agrada. Vê-os e ao seu sucesso como uma simplificação bastardizante do género, que se afasta do intelectualismo pelo qual luta ao longo do livro. O torcer de nariz é tão pronunciado que se sente. A finalizar o século XX (e o livro) Aldiss olha para o lado mais intelectual da FC, o movimento iniciado por Moorcock na revista New Worlds que nos legou uma visão de FC experimentalista, literáriamente complexa e em busca de novos temas e estéticas. Analisa a herança de Moorcock e Ballard e o seu reverso, o regresso dos clássicos Asimov, Heinlein e Clarke como detentores do estatuto de visionários multimilionários graças aos best-sellers repetitivos que vendem como pães quentes. Para encerrar, Aldiss faz um longo apanhado dos autores e tendências da FC nos anos 80. É curioso ler sobre vozes hoje estabelecidas como Greg Bear, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, David Brin e outros como jovens promessas cujas estéticas apontavam para possíveis novas vertentes de exploração da FC. Outros nomes desvaneceram-se, e outros renderam-se ao comercialismo que Aldiss tanto critica ao longo desta obra. Ufa. O título aponta para o vasto alcance ambicionado por Aldiss. Esta é de facto uma história da FC, pesquisada e contada por um dos seus praticantes. Não é uma narrativa isenta. Aldiss não se coíbe de opinar e fazer transparecer o que pensa ao longo do livro. Isto é particularmente visível na forma como arrasa Gernsback, Hubbard ou qualquer vertente da FC com que discorde. Mas não deixa de ser um observador presciente, capaz de auto-criticar os vícios do género, entre os quais a predisposição para lutas internecinas. Pela abrangência e profundidade, este é um livro incontornável para quem quer ficar a conhecer bem o que é a ficção científica.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    A revised and updated version of "Billion Year Spree" - a history of science fiction through the early 1980's. I previously read "Billion Year Spree" (published 1973) and enjoyed it. This book is a revision of the first one and an extension of it to the early 80's. It was fun to see what Brian Aldiss thought were the up and comers - some of them are still around (Sterling, Bear, Gibson) and a few of them I'd never heard of (Richard Cowper, Rudy Rucker). His few paragraphs on George R. R. Martin m A revised and updated version of "Billion Year Spree" - a history of science fiction through the early 1980's. I previously read "Billion Year Spree" (published 1973) and enjoyed it. This book is a revision of the first one and an extension of it to the early 80's. It was fun to see what Brian Aldiss thought were the up and comers - some of them are still around (Sterling, Bear, Gibson) and a few of them I'd never heard of (Richard Cowper, Rudy Rucker). His few paragraphs on George R. R. Martin made me smile: Martin was "...the youngest of the writers grouped together here" and "As a novelist Martin is less successful". I wish Aldiss had written an updated, updated version of this that reached through the 90's and early 2000's before he passed away.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Karl Bunker

    This is not so much a true history of science fiction as it is a history-spanning piece of literary criticism of SF. Which is to say it's more about Aldiss presenting his opinions of authors, stories, novels, editors, etc., than it is about laying out the who, what, and when of history. And this is not a bad thing, especially speaking from a time some 26 years after the book was published. As a history of an ongoing phenomenon, those missing years up to the present day would steeply diminish the This is not so much a true history of science fiction as it is a history-spanning piece of literary criticism of SF. Which is to say it's more about Aldiss presenting his opinions of authors, stories, novels, editors, etc., than it is about laying out the who, what, and when of history. And this is not a bad thing, especially speaking from a time some 26 years after the book was published. As a history of an ongoing phenomenon, those missing years up to the present day would steeply diminish the value of this book. But Aldiss's opinions -- which are immensely educated, thoughtful, and based on a deep love of science fiction -- are not withered or staled by the age of this book. They're as informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining as ever. (Which is not to say that I agreed with all of them, nor that I think any single human being is ever likely to.) That said, I'll give over the rest of this review to a sampling of some of those opinions: About the love readers often have for authors they first read in their youth: "Konrad Lorenz has shown how young ducklings become imprinted by their mother's image at a certain tender age (when even a false mother will do the trick), after which they can accept no substitutes for her. The same effect is observed in many species, not excluding our own. Tastes in the arts may be formed in this way. It is hard to understand otherwise the furore that greeted the early works of Abe Merritt, Lovecraft, and Otis Adelbert Kline." "[H.G.] Wells is teaching us to think. [Edgar Rice] Burroughs and his lesser imitators are teaching us not to think. "Of course, Burroughs is teaching us to wonder. The sense of wonder is in essence a religious state, blanketing out criticism." "Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) created a brawny bone-headed hero called Conan, whose barbarian antics are set in the imaginary Hyborian Age, back in pre-history when almost all women and almost no clauses were subordinate." On Olaf Stapledon: "Reading his books is like standing on the top of a high mountain. One can see a lot of planet and much of the sprawling uncertain works of man, but little actual human activity; from such an altitude, all sense of the individual is lost." "It is easy to argue that Hugo Gernsback (1894-1967) was one of the worst disasters ever to hit the science fiction field. Gernsback's segregation of what he liked to call 'scientifiction' into magazines designed to contain nothing else, ghetto-fashion, guaranteed the setting up of various narrow orthodoxies inimical to any thriving literature." (As Aldiss notes, this opinion "aroused fury" when Billion Year Spree (the predecessor to Trillion) was released.) On science fiction magazine editors: "A few of them have been very good, many have been competent, and a lot have brought to their craft the creativity of a toad and the intelligence of a flatworm. John [Campbell] stands above them all." "Ray Bradbury was the first to take all the props of SF and employ them as highly individual tools of expression for his own somewhat Teddy-bearish view of the universe." About Asimov's Foundation novels and "psychohistory": "This highly mechanistic sociological reductionism -- a kind of quantum physics applied to human beings -- has been developed with one aim only: to prevent a ten-thousand-year Dark Age wherein the Galaxy might fall into technological barbarism. Neither of these ideas bears moderately serious investigation. [...] "Very often Asimov didn't even bother with the grand visual aids -- his is a non-sensual universe. We see little of it. We can't touch it. His principal actors talk much more than they act, and notice very little of their surroundings." On Robert Heinlein: "More nonsense has been written about Heinlein than about any other SF writer. He is not a particularly good storyteller and his characters are often indistinguishable. There is always a mouthpiece in his later work. His style is banal, highly colloquialized, and has not changed in its essence in the forty-odd years he has been writing." On the British vs. the U.S. versions of "New Wave" SF: "for all the mumblings and grumblings of the 'Golden Age' writers, Ellison's mock revolution [the Dangerous Visions anthology] was accepted without too much fuss, while most of what [the UK magazine] New Worlds attempted was -- at least in immediate terms -- rejected out of hand. Put it all down to showbiz razzamatazz, perhaps, but the emergent fact was clear: experiments with style were fine, perhaps even fun. Experiments with a style that reflected content matter was ... well, it was different, unacceptable to most of the traditional readership." On the shortcomings of fantasy vis-a-vis SF: "And, because such fantasies are always unsatisfying, it is also the reason why publishers need to keep up the supply of the drug, month by month. The Gor novels are for addicts, not adults." On Stanislav Lem: "There is a coldness of intent, a weakness in characterization, and an overall inability to engage the whole of what we are, which makes Lem's writing much less significant than it ought to be. Lem's intellect may be vast. It is also cool and unsympathetic."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Hiddleston

    Der letzte Quellentext für meine Bachelorarbeit und ich wünschte ich hätte das Buch als erstes gelesen, da es gesammelt alles hatte, was ich brauchte und vorher mühsam alles zusammen gesucht hatte...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Clark

    I came to this book, off and on, over a period of five years and have just turned the last of its dense 444 pages. This is an amazing and exhaustive history of Speculative Fiction (SF) by one of its Grand Masters. Any serious reader of SF should tackle this amazing map of the foundations, trends, and pit-falls of our most expansive and awe inspiring genre of fiction. Aldiss not only navigates the varied coastline of the literature of "What if...", but is not in the least afraid of keel-hauling t I came to this book, off and on, over a period of five years and have just turned the last of its dense 444 pages. This is an amazing and exhaustive history of Speculative Fiction (SF) by one of its Grand Masters. Any serious reader of SF should tackle this amazing map of the foundations, trends, and pit-falls of our most expansive and awe inspiring genre of fiction. Aldiss not only navigates the varied coastline of the literature of "What if...", but is not in the least afraid of keel-hauling those stowaways that he feels are over-rated or undeserving. Sometimes his criticisms of other authors made me audibly wince. Aldiss is so very candid about writers of every era, most notably his own, that it is hard to imagine how he might manage to mingle with his peers without constantly checking to see if anyone might be about the business of poisoning his drink. But, in the end, it doesn't come off as bitchiness for its own sake; Aldiss is a task-master because he believes that if the task is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If Aldiss doesn't like a work, he plainly states that he doesn't and then meticulously explains why. Thankfully, his enthusiasms are rendered with equally passionate detail. It's plain from this exhaustive survey that he doesn't worship this genre as a monolithic-ally pure idol, but that he deeply wishes to see the macro-story of all SF aspire to great heights, and should the genre prove itself worthy, to then ultimately achieve them. So, I have now finished "The Trillion Year Spree" after a long, intermittent, slow, and very deep read, and yet I find that I can't put it back on the shelf. It presently sits beside to my bed on my "currently reading" shelf as an absolute treasure trove of thousands of worthwhile stories that could potentially occupy me for the rest of my stay in this particular physical and temporal dimension. A life's worth of potential wonder is no small fortune. I have learned that the story of Science Fiction is a very, very big one. This is a huge, enjoyable, and important work of enthusiastic scholarship. It is well worth all the time and effort any SF enthusiast might be able to devote to it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nhw.livejournal.com/1013390.html[return][return]It is a big big book about the history of science fiction from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to 1986 (with a very brief postscript for the 2001 edition). I was surprised how much of the argument of the book was already familiar to me. I guess I must have internalised it from poring over the writings of John Clute. Still, Aldiss makes some very interesting points to fill out the basic lines about Shelley, Gernsback and what happened in between. http://nhw.livejournal.com/1013390.html[return][return]It is a big big book about the history of science fiction from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to 1986 (with a very brief postscript for the 2001 edition). I was surprised how much of the argument of the book was already familiar to me. I guess I must have internalised it from poring over the writings of John Clute. Still, Aldiss makes some very interesting points to fill out the basic lines about Shelley, Gernsback and what happened in between.[return][return]One really striking omission is the influence of broadcast sf - cinema does get a look in, as an essential part of the cultural background as Aldiss and Wingrove see it, but Star Trek and Doctor Who are barely mentioned, and Douglas Adams' name comes up precisely twice - first as making lots of money from Robert Sheckley's ideas, second as just making lots of money. (Indeed, the whole second last chapter is basically about how Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Hubbard and van Vogt were getting money for old rope in the most recent period, though there are kinder words for Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl.)[return][return]I'm sure there are gaps but I'm bad at spotting them; Aldiss berates himself in his afterword for completely missing Terry Pratchett in his survey of more recent sf, and there will of course be others. It's also interesting that I simply haven't heard of several of the writers described as up-and-coming in the 1970s and 1980s. More for my reading list, I guess. Anyway, it's a very interesting read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    Pretentious use of the royal we...author writes critical assessments of himself in the third person... writes about his reactions to literature with impersonal constructions ("At least one reader remembers this novel fondly..."). Many chapters are little more than lists of works with no real insight or analysis.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tom Buchanan

    What this guy likes he likes. Some of what he likes is very, very wack (Pohl) and some of it is cool to hear talked about properly, if a little gushingly (Stapleton)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Keith Davis

    A monumental history of science fiction. I read this to pieces in college. Unfortunately it only goes up to the 80's, but recommended for anyone interested in discovering the rich legacy of the genre. I likely would never have read Clifford Simak or Zena Henderson if Aldiss' book had not introduced them to me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott Golden

    Thorough overview of the history of science fiction, emphasizing books and magazine stories, by one of its most consistently excellent writers.

  16. 4 out of 5

    bluetyson

    Trillion Year Spree: The History Of Science Fiction by Brian W. Aldiss (1988)

  17. 5 out of 5

    bluetyson

    TRILLION YEAR SPREE by Brian and David Wingrove Aldiss (1986)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Faber

    An expansion of his earlier "Billion Year Spree", it's a quick jaunt through the history of science fiction, ending 30 years ago.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    3.5 stars Not the most engaging history ever, but a useful reference with some sharp insights.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Along with John Clute's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, this book taught me all about science fiction history. Indispensable.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Danceswithcats

    The best review of the history of Science Fiction that I have read. Aldiss is a sympathetic but fairly rigorous critic. It's a little out of date now, but for the period it covers, its superb.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Serdar

    Witty and comprehensive overview of SF up until about the late Eighties (my edition ends there, anyway). Essential for anyone curious about SF as a genre and a storytelling methodology.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    disappointing. I learned some about the history of SF, related to pulp fiction. But, I don't feel like I learned that much else.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Essential!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Oliver

    Obviously a little out of date now, but still a fascinating history of the genre. I don't agree with everything Aldiss says, but the praise assigned is generally deserved.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Powanda

    See my review here: https://wp.me/p9w4kV-28

  27. 4 out of 5

    Slay Dunderhead

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jim Saul

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carol Kerry-green

  30. 5 out of 5

    Amy

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