Non-Stop, or Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

While I’m off …. let’s pretend I’m off reading, researching, and writing up new content, here’s another retro review.

This one has been mentioned more than once here, so you might as well see the original.

From January 6, 2001 …

Review: Non-Stop, Brian Aldiss, 1958.Non-Stop

Written as response to Robert A. Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky, a novel he felt lacking in emotion, Aldiss’ novel is a classic generation starship tale.

The idea that their universe is the inside of a giant spaceship is known but derided in the Greene tribe. They’re a barbarous lot. They destroy books whenever they find them. The Teaching, a Freudian inspired religion with its talk of id and ego, values full and immediate expression of fear and anger lest the repression of those emotions curdle into neurosis. A nomadic lot, they seal off the hallway they live in, moving the barricades when they exhaust the “ponics”, plants that abound in the ship’s corridors. Their power stems from a cache of weapons found two generations ago. Continue reading

The Ghost of a Review of White Mars


Oh, the humanity!

I know I promised a review of Brian Aldiss’ White Mars. I know I promised to compare it to Finches of Mars.

I just can’t. I just can’t make myself argue and list its politics. I just can’t talk about its literary values.

Two Martian utopias. Two bad Martian utopias. I just … I just can’t.

I can’t make myself go back. I can’t relive it.

Glimpses really. Just glimpses.

A consortium of Europeans, Asians, and the U.S. send a bunch of scientists and their aides to Mars to science and look for the Omega Smudge. Things collapse on Earth. A moving mountain shows up. A new consciousness arises in the Crusoe Martians. Time travelers show up.

I can steal.

I can steal others’ work.

This article says its a response to Kim Stanley Robinson and tells you its place in the history of 1990s works on Mars.

John Joseph Adams puts in the time line of Martian novels.

John Clute and David Pringle say it’s “narratively congested“.

I can let Paul Wesson, theoretical physicist, discuss its shortcomings.

I can’t do a review though.

I can rant.

About the cheap, teleological mysticism of stating the universe “needs consciousness  to fully exist”.

That environments are not “sacrosanct”. There’s no Big Man, Big Woman, Big Alien in the sky who sad so. Impersonal forces may punish your trashing of the environment, but no Cosmic Priest made that rule.

That particle physics is the only boring science there is.

That Aldiss indicts the “folklore of interplanetary” science fiction and names Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, and Kim Stanley Robinson as co-conspirators.

That you can’t complain about nations being bad and yet think that local values should not be subsumed by global culture. Nations are what keep and preserves local values.

That the Martian society of no money still looks like it has something that does the same thing as money.

That the ending is as utterly implausible as H. G. Wells’ magic utopia-by-comet-gas In the Days of the Comet.

A MOVING SENTIENT MT. OLYMPUS!, Oh, excuse me, Chimborazo.

But I can not review this book.

I can be kind.

Aldiss and Penrose at least spare us the curse of most utopias — some smug person condescendingly saying “As you know, that’s always been a problem. But here …” (“Or you f’ing retard, of course it’s a problem!!)

A few characters are more than names.

I like the idea of ending universal suffrage.

I agree antibiotic resistance is a problem.

Women maybe would like to be alone for birthin’ those babies.

But I can not review this novel.

I can be a bureaucrat.

I can give you little bullet points for these two books:

  • Aliens: White Mars ludicrous, Fin … (oh, just F and M. My fingers don’t want to even make extra strokes for this book.) Anyway, plausible aliens for F.
  • Corrupt Institutions: W — all those countries, F — Universities and Colleges (Oh, sure Aldiss doesn’t seem to realize, at least in America, that both are perfect monopolies, jack up their costs above inflation, price fix, get the Feds to keep the student loans a’coming, and the bankruptcy laws to keep those payments from stoppin’)
  • Problems: yeah, climate change for both and the usual gripe about capitalism and not spending enough on education and welfare. (You might want to check out what the UK did with all those oil funds from the North Sea yet its underclass persists. Americans can check out the Kansas City experiments.)

But I can’t rant any and respond any more. These books will influence no minds anyway.

I can’t review this book.

I can write rotten doggerel about it but not a review.

I will not put it in a box.

I will not talk about it a lot.

I cannot join the refrain

When these Martians complain.

The characters are too many,

The crawling mountain too funny.

The talk of particles and sentience

Bored me, left me without patience.

Scientists get to play

While others have to pay

No god for Mars, but Mars a temple

Because red worship is so simple.

For God there is no apologetics,

But worship for Nature’s aesthetics.

 A Modern Utopia was nary so dull

Though its spine was crammed more full.

But I can not review Brian Aldiss’ and Roger Penrose’s White Mars from 1999.


Actual reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Outposts of Beyond

Outposts of Beyond

So, I was walking around the dealer’s room at Minicon 50, and I came across a publisher I had never heard before: Alban Lake Publishing.

They had a variety of things on hand including an unusually large amount of speculative poetry in both collections and magazines which caught my eye though they only thing in that line I bought was Suzette Hadin Elgin’s The Science Fiction Poetry Handbook.

I did recognize the names of several people in their publications: Lee Clark Zumpe, Laura Givens (though more as an artist than writer), and Bryan Thao Worra through his work at Innsmouth Free Press.

Since I appreciate writing decent stuff is hard work and it’s hard to get it noticed after you write it, I’m a tiny bit susceptible to purchases that are motivated a bit by charity as well as self-interest (or instruction with the Elgin).

So, after chatting with the magazine’s editor Tyree Campbell,  I picked up a copy of Outposts of Beyond, October 2014.

Now I not going to extend the reviewing madness into magazines. However, given that this magazine isn’t well publicized — I don’t recall seeing mentions of it in Locus or Locus Online, I decided to give my impressions.

I am not going to review every story. There are six of them as well as three poems and two reviews. Part of that is because most of them, after reading them a bit longer than a month ago, have left my brain entirely. In fact, any significant memory of them left my brain after only a week.

These are mediocre stories. I mean mediocre in the classic sense — nothing special, nothing memorable, middling. They all have the necessary parts of stories: characters, conflict, resolution. It’s just they just made almost no impression on me.

The sole exception was Pedro Iniguez’s “Road to the Sun”.  Continue reading

Finches of Mars

I don’t hate Brian Aldiss. In fact, he was one of the people who brought me to science fiction.

When I was a teenager, the high school library had a conveniently walled off collection of science fiction. In it were some of the volumes of the Best SF: series Aldiss co-edited with Harry Harrison. They led me to a lot of new writers — even if I didn’t like or even understand all the stories.

And I liked his Billion Year Spree and all those anthologies he edited, especially Galactic Empires volumes one and two.

I’ve even liked about half the novels of his I’ve read — though the key there is read.

Well, I did … until White Mars and this one. Now that ratio is certainly skewed.

Because I had to write it quick for Amazon, you get my first swing at Finches of Mars.

The methodical beatdown of it and White Mars comes later.

Review: Finches of Mars, Brian W. Aldiss, 2015.

The only good thing you can say about this novel is that it’s better than White Mars. Essentially, this is a rewriting of that 1999 utopian novel co-written with Sir Roger Penrose.Finches of Mars

This may be advertised as an environmental dystopian novel with Earth a mess from war, global warming, bee colony collapse, overpopulation, environmental disaster, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and ignorance. Humanity’s colony on Mars, improbably run and sponsored by a consortium of universities, the United Universities, may be threatened by women being unable to give birth.

This, though, is ultimately a utopian novel. The Martian colony is about Mankind Achieving a Renewed Society. Continue reading

The Probability Broach

Another retro review, this time from October 15, 1977. It’s rather utopian which is timely since I hope to post a review of another utopian work shortly, Brian Aldiss and Roger Penrose’s White Mars, or, The Mind Set Free: A 21st Century Utopia.

Unsurprisingly, a minor political disagreement ensued from my review.

And I’ve talked about 1970s science fiction and dolphins before. Now that I think about it, Niven’s Known Space has them too.

Review: The Probability Broach, L. Neil Smith, 1980.Probability Broach

The Probability Broach is as close to a libertarian utopia as any realistic anarchist dares get. It’s also a very detailed alternate history. Most writers of alternate history are content to detail when that history deviates from ours or set their stories in the resulting world with brief references to how things change. Smith gives us a detailed timeline of how things change when one extra word is added to the Declaration of Independence and George Washington is shot in the Whiskey Rebellion.

However, Smith unsuccessfully tries for a Heinlein style. His slang is awkward. The hero’s romance reeks of bad Chandler imitations, and there is a little bit too much gun stuff even for me, a lifetime NRA member.

From 1980, this book has jarring elements of the seventies here which don’t quite work like a tyrannical America justified by an energy crisis or the talking chimps and dolphins much loved in seventies’ sf.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Yes, That’s Why Aldiss Wrote Non-Stop

For some reason, one of the most popular reviews I’ve done at Amazon is for Brian Aldiss’ Non-Stop.

If you look at the comment fields, you’ll see people questioned my statement that the novel was “written as response to Robert A. Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky, a novel he felt lacking in emotion”.Non-Stop cover

I couldn’t find my documentation for this — until now.

From an Aldiss interview in the August 2000 issue of Locus:

 After all, that first novel of mine, Non-Stop, is directly attributable to Heinlein. His ‘Common Sense’ seemed to me such a good story, but bereft of any human feelings. I thought long about that story, and then I thought how wonderful it would be to write about a spaceship in which people have been imprisoned for generations and to put in something of the human feeling.

“Common Sense” became part of Orphans of the Sky and was first published in the October 1941 issue of Astounding Science-Fiction. (The first part of what became Heinlein’s novel, Universe, was published in the May 1941 issue of that magazine.)

And, yes, I’m going to maintain that “lacking in emotion” is the equivalent of “bereft of any human feelings”.