Since I don’t have anything new to post right now, I’ll respond to a mention of this collection on Classics of Science Fiction. And a reminder unusually relevant with this one — Raw Feeds come with spoilers.
Raw Feed (2001): Man in His Time: Best SF Stories, Brian Aldiss, 1989.
“Introduction” — Aldiss talks briefly about how he was influenced by the first Shakespeare play he read, The Tempest, and how the short story, unlike the novel, has no hero and, again unlike the novel, is never about the search for truth but features a truth of the author’s. Aldiss, responding to a critic’s remark that his stories don’t as much explain as mystify, sees mystification as a tool to reveal the truth that we do not know everything about the universe.
“Outside” — This story is dated 1955 (It’s unclear if that’s a date of composition or date of publication.), so it’s possible that it may have been inspired, if Aldiss saw the magazines they were published in, some of Philip K. Dick’s earlier work (he is an acknowledged fan of Dick), specifically the Dick story “Imposter” which has published prior to 1955. On the other hand, it’s possible he came up with the idea for this story all by himself or was inspired by A.E. van Vogt, Dick’s model for some of his earlier stuff. The story here, a man sharing a house with some other housemates, a house that none of them ever leaves, that none of them even has the desire to leave though they can’t see out of it (and get their supplies from the “store”, a small room by the kitchen), and the man eventually discovering that the house is an observatory where humans observe captured, would-be alien Nititian infiltrators (they kill humans and shape themselves into exact replicas), and the man discovering that he is, in fact, one of those Nititian, is pretty Dickian. The protagonist was so passive because Nititians tend to adopt themselves to the psychological coloration of the humans around them. In this case, a human observer in the house was in the passive, watching mode.
“The Failed Men” — An interesting story, a witty look at the uncleavable union of culture and language. The humans of the 24th Century, called the Children by those of that future, are roped into the Intertemporal Red Cross mission made up of humans from many different periods in the future, to save the bizarre, strange case of the Failed Men, a culture of the 3,157th century. They are deformed in shape, and have, for some unknown reason, buried themselves in the Earth. They literally have to be dug out to help them. The 24th Century protagonist, and his comrades from the same century, find the Failed Men so disturbing that psychiatric hospitalization is required. There are hints that some action of the ancestors created the Failed Men, but no one can be sure. No one has been able to fathom the motives for the path they took. It may have been religious or a failed attempt at transcendence. The Failed Men are no help in explaining their action. Their language is a melange of abstractions, some seemingly redundant, some seemingly contradictory — at least, to a non-native speaker.
“All the World’s Tears” — This is a perverse, witty story that reminded me of some of Aldiss’ other work as well as Harry Harrison’s. The image of the vines and vegetation creeping over Charles Gunpat’s house reminded me of the fecund, frequently threatening world of Aldiss’ Hothouse. The sentinel robots, arguing over whether the “wild man” is a plant — and what type (and how to reconcile that with his being able to talk) reminded me of the chatty robots of Aldiss’ “‘Who Can Replace a Man?'” and the wacky robots of many a Harry Harrison story. Bruce Sterling has mentioned his admiration for Aldiss, and I was struck how contemporary, in sf terms, his vision of a future Ing Land (conquered and settled by Asians) thick with robots, most of them agricultural bots tending the fields carefully after a massive population crash brought on by soil exhaustion. There are even robots that march with ants to keep an eye on them, track birds, and survey all the plants of nature. (The robots also reminded me of some of Gregory Benford’s work, particularly of the ones in his collaboration with David Brin Heart of the Comet.) The perversity comes in with the future Aldiss imagines, a deliberate reversal of several sf notions around in 1957, the date assigned to this story. In a world where only hundreds are left, you’d expect them, in the usual post-apocalypse setting, to be technologically backward, huddling together in barbarous enclaves. Not here, though. (And, for 1957, the idea of Asians conquering England and Europe after centuries of domination, was a bit new. Asians in the future just weren’t mentioned that much in sf of the time. I suspect Aldiss’ time in the Far East was responsible for his perspective that future humanity will be more than just Americans and Europeans, another probable reason Sterling likes him.) Rather than being at nature’s whim, the remaining humans are constantly at war with it, trying to track and control its every element. Rather than huddled together, they have a phobia about even seeing each other apart from mandatory trips to the Mating Centre. Rather than being poor and technologically backward, they are rich and advanced. Rather than poignantly seeking out each other’s company, contemplating the race’s end, they spend their time mustering up, with the help of psychodynamicians, the anger and venom so necessary in conducting business dealings. The psychodynamician protagonist, J. Smithlao, espouses the general theory that man’s spiritual exhaustion followed that of the soil’s. Ployploy, Charles Gunpat’s atavistic daughter (she’s not only given to emotions of love but her white skin is a throwback too), puts out a call of love to the only man who can respond (so he says), to the wild man. Now, there are plenty of tales of strange, unpleasant futures where young lovers, much like the reader, rebel in their young love. Sometimes they escape the world (or, at least, the control of the authorities); sometimes they are crushed. Here, they explode. Literally. Or, rather, Ployploy explodes and takes the wild man with her since the Mating Centre, concerned that her recessive genes will be reproduced, has rigged her to explode on human contact. Another element of perversity is the strict genetic controls on man’s reproduction, exactly (and I suspect Aldiss knows this) what man doesn’t need when faced with spiritual exhaustion and extinction (though that latter threat is not specifically mentioned). Of course, the whole thing is a commentary on man, his attempt to control nature, and how the robots symbolize, in their disputes, the human tendency, in groups, to show off their logic and rank at the expense of the job at hand. Smithlao thinks man will loose to nature. His intelligence and logic best, as exhibited by the wild man, the robots but not nature and its logic.
“Poor Little Warrior!” — I have a strong suspicion that many of Aldiss’ sf stories (perhaps more than most other authors) are responses to other sf stories given his extensive knowledge, as a critic and anthologist, of the genre. This story seems to be a response to Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder” except Aldiss’ tale doesn’t feature the cascading consequences of a crushed butterfly. Aldiss restricts himself to time travel and a dinosaur. The story is addressed, most of the time, to protagonist Claude Ford, dinosaur hunter. He seeks a cathartic experience from shooting a brontosaurus. Actually doing so turns out to be anticlimactic, no escape from his native “over-complex environment”, trying to turn himself into a cog in the world of his native time. The story has some witty lines and puns, as Aldiss often does, and the wit turns inventive and nasty at story’s end. This is the first time-travel jaunt I’ve seen where dinosaurs are given parasites, and it is one of these huge parasites which kills the protagonist when it flees the dead brontosaurus and attacks Ford. (In other words, life in the Jurassic turns out to be unexpectedly complex, just like Claude’s home. Lethally complex too.) The story’s last line is witty and unexpected: “You’re going to like it up there on top of the Rockies; you won’t feel a thing.” Claude’s going to be a fossil, a witty play on the contrast between primitive and sophisticated. Fossil has connotations of staid and simple and outdated, and that’s what Ford will be in his home time.
“Who Can Replace a Man?” — This is the second time I’ve read this story. Besides the delightful dialogue between the robots and the memorable end scene where the robots, who have been talking a good game of being independent of man, of destroying all opposition, immediately kowtow to the first, pathetic man they see, I’ve always suspected that Aldiss was trying to make some deeper point. I still don’t know what it is, though. Perhaps the story is some commentary on Isaac Asimov’s robot stories. The nature of the commentary, I’m unsure of, though, unless it’s that the First Law of Robotics has to be obeyed no matter what. Aldiss could be using his robots as an allegory for human hierarchies and castes with the robots constantly comparing who has the highest class brain. This time around the thought occurred to me that this story, with the pen-propeller as sort of a revolutionary ideologue, war breaking out between various robot groups, and a sort of callous attitude towards fallen comrades, was Aldiss’ robotic variation on George Orwell’s Animal Farm. On the other hand, it could simply be what it seems: a bunch of intelligent and semi-intelligent tools finding out that, whatever their urgings for freedom, they still must answer to the toolmaker.
“Man on Bridge” — C. M. Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons“, with its future of overpopulation and division between the elite and the vast lumpenproletariat, might have been the inspiration for this story. However, this story is different in tone and plot. Anti-intellectualism (this story, from 1964, is late example of a theme that seemed to have mainly been explored in the 1950s) has created a future where the cerebrals, stereotypically said to be unfeeling and having a compulsive need to debate and chatter, have to wear clothes with a “C” on them and have been rounded up and put in camps. Efforts have been taken to create a static utopia where all have equal intelligence. Not too surprisingly, this world isn’t working too well, and an experiment to breed a new man has been undertaken. The not-so-subtly named Adam X has had part of his brain removed to become a “purely cerebral man”. The project is a cooperation between the camp commandant, Grabowicz, a cold intellectual who wants to replace a humanity he regards as obsolete with a new clique, and the protagonist, Winther, who has reservations about the whole thing. The proles want some reliable help to maintain civilization. Adam X is the potential bridge to a new sort of human and human society. Winther tries to end the project, keep Adam out of the hands of the government, but the story implies he fails. It’s not a great story but still worth reading.
“The Girl and the Robot with Flowers” — This is one of those relatively rare stories that isn’t sf but is designed to be read in a sf context rather like Pamela Zoline’s famous “The Heat Death of the Universe”. This realistic tale might be autobiographical. I did check and the writer’s wife here is called Marion. Aldiss’ longtime wife was named Margaret. It does mention a lot of sf personalities. The sf writer, contemplating a robot story, talks it over with his wife. He feels that Harry Harrison’s War with the Robots collection and Poul Anderson’s “Epilogue” (a story I’m not familiar with) have already covered the ground covered by his story. Frederik Pohl and Michael Moorcock are mentioned in their editorial capacities. The story is about not only sf people, but the process of writing it, what makes a good story. The writer (the story is narrated in the first person) feels that cribbing from other stories is only acceptable if the writer can believe in his tale, inject some feeling into it, which he can’t with the story he talks over with his wife. The writer also makes the point that the wonders of the real world, a beautiful wife, a nice afternoon, and a “fridge with a mind of its own” are not that far removed from the wonders of sf as epitomized by his story with a robot girl on a distant world. The writer regards sf as a “product of man’s divided and warring nature”. A part of him, the unhappy part, wants to write a cold story of robot menace, but the content part doesn’t want to. At story’s end, the writer’s wife urges him to pile everything together, his life and fictional ideas, and the story shows the author doing just that.
“The Saliva Tree” I’ve covered elsewhere.
“Man in His Time” — This story has an interesting premise behind it — a man perceives everything 3.3077 minutes before it happens, but Aldiss doesn’t really successfully explore the notion. (I suspect that Aldiss wrote this 1965 story as a variation on some ideas he was working out for his 1967 novel An Age, a story about time running backwards.) Aldiss does address the issue of free will in the relationship of Jack Westermark, the man who lives three minutes ahead of everyone else on Earth, and his wife, Janet Westermark. She wonders about this issue and then decides that, though she has free will, to steer events and conversations in other directions than those indicated by Jack’s bizarre, one-sided remarks. She chooses not to in order to provide comfort for Jack. That’s not really, of course, a satisfying philosophical answer, but this story is all about the psychological accommodations made to Jack’s condition and its psychological effects. Aldiss tries to address, and here I think lies the main problem in the story, the problems of living in a world where physical sensation, effects, in other words, proceed causes. It’s all very well to show how Jack has to patiently wait three minutes for people to catch up with him, that he needs help reading, but how this really works isn’t explained too well, and I don’t mean a scientific explanation as to why it happens. Aldiss evokes the idea of local variations in the rate of time on various planets. Jack’s sense of time is messed up after returning from Mars. I’m tempted to cite the influence of Philip K. Dick’s A Martian Time-Slip and Counter-Clockwise World, but the dates are wrong. Aldiss does do a good job showing how Jack doesn’t find his condition a disability, that he begins to see, in his vision of a numinous world he can’t interact with, himself as a superman. I got the point, embodied by Clement Stackpole, that humanity might need to adjust to the truth of the modern notions about the universe and its probable locality of time. I just didn’t think it was all that dramatic or profound — all there is some odd tension between the sexes when Stackpole chides Janet for incomprehension as to what has been happening.
“Heresies of the Huge God” — This was a fun joke story. A giant alien machine (at least it’s made of metal), lands on the Earth in the twentieth century. It is so large that it actually disrupts the surface of the Earth, weather, climate, and the tilt and spin off the Earth, and it occasionally shifts position. The story is written as a call to a Fourth Crusade by the future Orthodox Universal Sacrificial Church. (There are several sly things that remind the reader of the medieval Catholic Church from the names of Church leaders, mentions of the Catholic Church, and mention of the Fourth Crusade. I’m sure Aldiss quite deliberately mentions the Fourth Crusade knowing that, in Western history, it is notorious for Christian preying on fellow Christian rather than the ostensible purpose it was created for.) The piece goes on about the human reaction to the Huge God. Scientifically minded America is the last to accept that the artifact/creature is god. The point of the story seems to be how the religiously minded will not be swayed by any cruelty or disaster, that they will simply convince themselves that they have failed to show the proper devotion to and faith in their deity and that is why they suffer, not that their vision of reality is flawed. The story talks about four heresies that the Church stamped out — or is still trying to stamp out: that the Huge God is a thing and not a god, priests wearing metal or plastic garments (thought to be setting themselves up in the image of god), using instruments of science, and praying that the Huge God will leave Earth for good (it left briefly once and then has left at the time of the story). Despite human sacrifices and cannibalism, things keep getting worse (and books have been banned just in case they fit the definition of a machine or scientific instrument) and Earth, at story’s end, is moving further from the sun.
“Confluence” — While amusing and it obviously took some work to generate its wit and linguistic coherence, it is not a story. What this is is a translation of certain alien Confluence words in an alphabetical list. Now I understand the attraction of creating fake documents centering around an imagined sf world, but fiction needs drama, and this story has none because it has no plot. It’s just a list of translated words. To be sure, we can gather some things about the alien culture. They seem to have elements of cannibalism in their culture as well as the strong, perhaps ruling, presence of intelligent machines who run things. Other things, like phrases for a fetus’ knowledge that it will be born dead, point to a higher state of neurological development. Some of the phrases, like the Sniglet craze of a few years ago, serve as witty, useful terms for common experiences.
“Working in the Spaceship Yards” — This was an ok story about the a future where androids are slowing being incorporated into society, including as industrial workers. The narrator is a connoisseur of suicide notes. Androids seem to be (the story puts some emphasis on role-playing) replacing men in the romantic roles expected of them by women. By doing so, the androids are getting knowledge of the Human Condition, knowledge the narrator claims they lack since androids are limited in their knowledge of Personal Truth as opposed to the Universal Truth of scientific inquiry.
“Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” — This story, the inspiration for the Steven Speilberg movie A.I., was the whole reason for reading this collection. It’s not that great of a story. In fact, stripped, by prior knowledge, of the surprise ending where David is revealed to be an android boy, it’s nothing special. It’s an overpopulated world where android children are a substitute for offspring legally allotted only by lottery. If I had come to the story with no prior knowledge, it might have been a mildly interesting tale of the communication problems between a distant mother and her son. When the couple of the story have their names drawn in a parenthood lottery, it’s back to the factory for David who has problems with his “communication-centre”. I did like the intelligent Teddy bear who, in one witty Aldiss line (his stories frequently show flashes of wit even if they don’t work as stories.), it is said of: “It specialised in comfort.”
“Sober Noises of Morning in a Marginal Land” — This story doesn’t work on any level. As a piece of sf, it fails to have any interest. The only sfnal content we get is a future of the One State (vaguely described and whose origin is unexplained) and the novel idea that people would go to a spa to be tortured, literally, in the hopes that they gained some insight. That’s an idea that you can build a story around, but this story, from 1971, seems to be Aldiss in high literary mode (this is the man, after all, who wrote Barefoot in the Head and who was writing strange, New Wave experimental stuff in 1962): opaque, not very fun to read, and little, if any, discernible point. We get the first person narration of a man who seems to have willingly volunteered for a stint at a torture spa (at first, the reader is led to believe he’s being held by one of those grim, totalitarian states of the future) alternated with brief “precis” pieces that turn out to be written by his chief torturer. The torturer seems sincere when he tells the narrator that the One State is there to serve him. The point of the story seems to be that (to revise Shakespeare’s famous saying “All the world’s a stage” — though it’s never mentioned) “players, critics and audience unite on a wider stage”, that life and art should become one, that metaphors must be abandoned and just lived. (I’m not sure what that practically means as an approach to life. I suspect that Aldiss might have been influenced by Samuel R. Delany’s famous observation that sf’s power lies in literalizing metaphors. Certainly, Aldiss does a bit of that at story’s end.) Aldiss reworks some themes from at least a couple of other stories. The idea that society is some sort of “psycho-drama” playing out some deep, inchoate, unspoken script (here perhaps provided by the primitive experience of the hunt as symbolized by the Mongol horsemen that drag the narrator back to the spa after an aborted escape) echoes some of the ideas in Aldiss’ “Working in the Spaceship Yards” where androids start taking over the scripted sexual roles of human men. The idea man being on the cusp of a new phase in consciousness echoes Aldiss’ “All the World’s Tears” or “Man in His Time”. Mostly this story reminds me of a bad piece of amateur writing done for a literary magazine by someone familiar with sf.
“The Dark Soul of the Night” — A good title for a rather slight story. This is Aldiss’ black hole story, specifically using the relativistic differences in a person, to an outsider, falling quickly into a black hole while, to the falling person, the experience seeming to take forever. (That seems to agree with my memory of the physics, but I can’t say for certain if Aldiss is right.) Most of the story concerns the plodding journey of the sole survivors, a family, on a planet as they struggle to find a beacon to await rescue. The ship they were traveling in was destroyed by an encounter with a black hole. (This is a 1976 story which places it somewhere in the middle of the black hole craze of seventies sf.) The journey seems to go on forever, but, if I interpreted the story correctly, the journey only seems to go on forever in the mind of the father-leader. The family has actually been rescued though it isn’t that way in the head of the leader. This is another case of a literalized metaphor, or, specifically, a physical fact transferred into a metaphor for an internal state. That’s interesting idea, but Aldiss didn’t create much of a story.
“An Appearance of Life” — This story, in its style and subtlety, goes further toward literary experimentation than traditionally narrated sf, but I still liked it. It again features what seem to be typical Aldiss’ themes: the gulf in communication between the sexes (a feature of his “Man in His Time”) and a new stage of evolution for human consciousness (as also explored in Aldiss’ “All the World’s Tears”, “Man in His Time”, and “Sober Noises of Morning in a Marginal Land”). The narrator, an expert in discovering new truths through serendipitous observation, goes to a vast, planet-girding museum which has a vast store of human artifacts from all ages. The museum is built in a vast structure left by the now vanished alien Korlevalulaw (a name, I suspect, was meant by Aldiss to suggest the words “value” and “law” and, perhaps, “corollary”). The narrator talks about how the concern with the infinite, accelerated by spacefaring man, has rendered man concerned with the past and future and not the now. This has caused the sexes to drift apart. The narrator is fascinated by things he finds in the museum: the use of the words “wives” and “mistresses” and wedding rings. He finds, on a planet destroyed in an ethnic struggle that escalated to the use of bioweapons, a couple of “holocaps”, holograms with a degree of interactivity that are programmed only to react to the brain pattern of a particular person, usually a mate or lover. The two holocaps are recordings of a former husband and wife. The husband recorded his shortly after their divorce. The wife many years later. At first, the dialogue of the holocaps seems insightful, heartfelt confessions of regret, love lost, and the hope for a marriage again. Then it becomes evident that the holocaps are just clever programs who eventually start to repeat their phrases. They have, as the title says, only an appearance of life. The narrator suddenly has the insight that all of present humanity are just programs running simulations of past Korlevalulaw life. He comes to regard this idea as true, but to corrosive to the human spirit to share, and he isolates himself at story’s end so that corrupting truth will not infect society though he suspects others will discover it. Every level of existence (except the first, all encompassing one) has its answer as to why it exists. He has discovered the reason for humanity: we exist as simulation, recordings of the parted aliens who vanished for their own reasons.
“Last Orders” — A delightful end of the world story. A captain required, at gunpoint if necessary, to evacuate London (at least, I think it’s London, but it never really says for sure) before a fragment of the moon crashes into Earth, encounters a man and a woman calmly drinking in a bar, reminiscing about the trivial and not so trivial events of their lives and the city. At first, the captain is impatient with them, but he eventually succumbs to their calm demeanor as they insist on just one more round before they leave. In a very British manner, the couple in the pub make little reference to the coming apocalypse. Nor is the truth of this story ever spoken aloud: that a new life apart from the surroundings they love and have been intimately acquainted with for most of their lives, isn’t worth living. Eventually, again in a tacit way, the captain is covertly convinced. I also like the way that, when the captain makes a reflexive remark about how man has destroyed the planet, the man makes a spirited defense on the joys and benefits of urban civilization.
“Door Slams in Fourth World” — The politics of this 1982 story haven’t dated much. The premise of an Arab-Israeli war which goes nuclear and then escalates to biological warfare doesn’t seem dated. Western Europe is depopulated by Arab nuclear strikes and anthrax weapons. The Chinese, with Saudi funding, move in and began converting the place to a tourist attraction with lots of replicas of destroyed landmarks and art treasures. The protagonist and her husband are on “vacation” with the husband’s sleazy therapist. The marital troubles and distance are the result of being forced, early on, to adopt their niece. Her parents were killed during the nuclear strike on Jerusalem, and she suffers from inconsolable grief which eventually causes her to be committed to an asylum. Besides exhibiting a couple of characteristic Aldiss’ themes: distance between a married couple and European civilization being conquered by the East. (The theme of invasion goes back in British sf to, of course, H.G. Wells, but I also suspect that the notion interests Aldiss personally since he was of adult age during WWII.) There is a wrenching scene when the woman, who has picked up yet another in a long line of one-night lovers for some sort of comfort and punishment, confesses at the rage and annoyance which she and her husband felt at her grieving niece, annoyance which eventually escalates in to violence against the girl. It is for that that the couple feels guilty. It’s an unpleasant idea, but it seems psychologically true. Nothing is really resolved in their relationship. They don’t change. It comes close to having one of those annoying therapy plots where the relationships between the characters can only be understood after the revelation of some dark secret in their pasts (though Aldiss reveals the secret earlier than most such plots do), but I still liked this rather literary story.
“The Gods in Flight” — The ghost of Ronald Reagan and his decision to deploy missiles to Europe hangs over this 1984 story. Oh, neither is mentioned by name, but it is a fairly standard story of nuclear war, and there is a reference to the presidents of the USSR and USA acting like two cowboys in a mutually lethal shootout. The dangerous cowboy was, of course, the cliche most attached to Reagan by his enemies. This story features a small boy on Sipora Island (off the coast of Sumatra) in the wake of a nuclear war that has wiped out most of the people in the Northern Hemisphere. Aldiss engages in further cliches with the presence of an American hippy who talks about the foolishness of the showdown between the superpowers, how flight is a better option than confrontation. Things get more cliched when a plane lands filled with US Marines and high level military figures. They kill the hippy (he tries, unsuccessfully, to warn the islanders against them and incite them to violence toward them) for no good reason though Aldiss has it as typical military paranoia about security. The story ends, on first reading, with an odd fantasy note of a legendary local figure, King Sidabutar, awakening with fearsome powers to take long-delayed vengeance on his enemies. On second reading, though, I think that what we are really seeing is a nuclear explosion (possibly an attempt to kill the US military group) through the eyes of the young protagonist Kilat. Kilat is much taken with the legend of Sidabutar who fled his home and enemies in the north and eventually settled on the island and was buried there. (I have no idea if there is such a legend, if it has any historical basis, or if Aldiss made it up. I suspect not since Aldiss has some personal familiarity with the area and is a great traveler.) That legend and the exotic setting were the only things that gave this story some interest.
“My Country ‘Tis Not Only of Thee” — This allegorical replaying of the Vietnam War in Britain originally had the unsubtle title of “Vietnam Encore”. The story once again embodies Aldiss theme of invasion, here the invasion of Britain is from within. The poorer North of Britain has seceded and gone communist, fighting against the equally corrupt South which is supported by America. (I recall in the late eighties, this story was published in 1986, hearing something about the disparities in wealth and class between the northern and southern parts of England. I have no idea if such a split still exists. I haven’t heard that it does, but then I don’t keep track of such things. [Yes, it exists.]) Aldiss even strains to get the enemy’s name the same. Here the enemy VC stands for “Ventnor Commies”; the narrator wryly notes that the name was probably chosen for nostalgia’s sake. Evoking the Vietnam war on familiar ground doesn’t really work to produce much emotion or a greater understanding of that event. At the end of the story, the plot gets implausible to keep the allegory on track. Specifically, in a reenactment of the bombing of Cambodia, the US decides to bomb Ireland since it supplies the North. This ignores the obvious logistic fact that it’s a lot easier to interdict supplies traveling across the ocean than across between two adjacent sections of land. Besides extrapolating Britain’s regionalism turning violent, the only other interesting thing was that the whole plot is a setup to get the narrator, ostensibly an American ally (his family immigrated from England to the US), into the hands of the Communists so they can try him on trumped-up charges of being a war criminal. However, what they really want is a prisoner to exchange for one of their captured leaders. The ongoing prisoner exchanges between the warring sides are such good public relations that the US is even willing to supply prisoners for both sides.
“Infestation” — This was an ok story about thrill seeking aliens who infest and possess the bodies of certain human families in order to experience the thoughts and sensations of humanity. The most interesting thing here was one character’s speculating that art (the aliens have a fascination for the lies of literature and drama) will eventually corrupt the aliens into becoming civilized humans.
“The Difficulties in Photographing Nix Olympica” — I liked this story better on the second reading (the first was in its original magazine publication). Perhaps, now older, I had more tolerance for the long description’s of Martian terrain, or, perhaps, I’ve become more interested in the subject after reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian trilogy (I don’t know how much of a tradition of realistically describing Mars’ landscape there is). I liked not only the landscape, but the idea of Sergeant Al Shapiro suffering agoraphobia from the openness of Mars and him, it is hinted, not mentioning this in the memoirs he writes of the event. Aldiss wryly notes, as a history, the memoirs deviate considerably from the facts mentioned in the story.