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Or, My Life as an Englishman

by Brian W. Aldiss

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-19346-7
Publisher: St. Martin's

A richly rendered memoir by one of England’s finest writers. For more than 40 years, Aldiss has created first-rate work in fields ranging from science fiction (Greybeard, 1964; The Helliconia Trilogy, 1982—85), to experimental fiction (Barefoot in the Head, not reviewed) to mainstream work (The Horatio Stubbs Saga, not reviewed). Now Aldiss turns to autobiography, with equally impressive results. This account is divided into three sections. Part One, “Necessitations,” is perhaps the finest. Here, Aldiss describes his childhood living over his family’s drapery shop, growing up with his often difficult family, and his WWII stint as a soldier in Burma, in vivid novelistic detail. Part Two, “Permissibles,” detailing his adult life as a successful novelist, is, perhaps inevitably, the most scattershot. Still, Aldiss provides lively anecdotes, excellent insights into his writing, and extensive reportage on the many world travels that have formed the underpinnings of such recent fiction as Remembrance Day (1993) and Somewhere East of Life (1994). In addition, he frequently steps back to discuss science fiction as an art form, and the pluses and minuses of working in what is still often thought of as a lesser genre (principally by those who have read little or no quality science fiction). In the book’s conclusion, “Ascent,” Aldiss turns inward as he describes a period of depression leading to analysis and bringing his story full circle back to his childhood, this time with a deeper understanding of how the damaged child became an adult who felt unworthy of love. In the candid, moving final chapters, Aldiss works toward becoming the man we finally see: an artist happy with his life, his work, and himself. Although a writer’s autobiography is perhaps most likely to appeal to that writer’s previous fans, anyone encountering Aldiss for the first time in this excellent book will almost certainly turn back happily to his extensive and varied catalog of work.