The author who wrote darkly imaginative science fiction
Brian Aldiss 1925–2017
Perhaps more than any other writer, Brian Aldiss helped persuade the literary establishment to take science fiction seriously. Equipped with a fertile imagination, the British author wrote scores of novels and short stories that used alternative realities to examine the human condition. In the 1964 novel Greybeard, a nuclear strike renders humans sterile; in the 1969 short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long—adapted into Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film A.I.—a woman denied biological motherhood struggles to bond with her adopted android son. Aldiss saw a pattern in his work. “In a crime or fantasy novel upsets happen but then things go back to normal,” he said. “In a good SF novel, all has changed; nothing is ever again what it was.”
Born in eastern England, Aldiss was an unloved child, said The Times (U.K.). His mother was grief stricken by the stillbirth of his older sister; his father was mentally scarred by World War I and “once threatened to drop his baby son out of a window unless he stopped crying.” Dispatched to prep school at age 6, Aldiss made up stories to entertain his schoolmates and stave off their bullying. After serving in the Far East in World War II, Aldiss worked as a bookseller in Oxford and began writing in his spare time.
Aldiss wrote more than science fiction, said The Washington Post. His “earthbound works” included 1970’s The Hand-Reared Boy, a fictionalized take on his school years, and an acclaimed 1998 memoir, The Twinkling of an Eye. In recent years, Aldiss’ work focused on the present. “Those of us who managed to survive the Second World War and the Cold War,” he said in 2001, “sense the future has already arrived.” ■