This will, Brian Aldiss has said, be his last science fiction novel. If so (and Aldiss is now in his late eighties), it will be the culmination of a stellar career, one that runs from the era of Arthur C Clarke and John Wyndham through the New Wave and onwards to the present day. Throughout, Aldiss has rarely been far from SF’s intellectual centre.
Along the way, he’s not been a writer who has constantly altered his style because of fashion, which may explain in part why Finches Of Mars has a far more, well, courtly atmosphere than a younger novelist might bring to a story of Red Planet colonisation. As the representatives of United Universities (UU) organise our expansion into the solar system against a backdrop of troubled times on Earth, there’s never any doubt that important work is being done by enlightened academics.
But there’s a problem. The lighter gravity of Mars affects foetal development. How can the colonists, who’ve all taken a one-way trip, build a society without children? The answer, as the title (which nods to Darwin’s trip to the Galápagos Islands) suggests, has something to do with evolution.
It’s a terrific yarn, but more than that; as Aldiss casually throws out ideas and speculations, it’s a reminder of why he’s one of the giants of the field. On the downside, some of the dialogue contains too much exposition. Nevertheless, if this really does turn out to be Aldiss’s SF valedictory, it’s a satisfying way to bow out.
Jonathan Wright twitter.com/Jonathanw101
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