book reviews by Althea

Hothouse – Brian Aldiss *

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It’s not just pulp fiction – it’s vegetable-pulp fiction!

Long aeons in Earth’s future, an Age of Plants has risen. Dangerous, carnivorous plants are everywhere – some species are even mobile hunters! The remaining humans are a dwarfed, shrunken species. With greatly reduced intelligence and a simple, tribal lifestyle, they struggle to stay alive long enough to maintain their population.

It’s an interesting premise… sadly, the execution is, quite frankly, terrible. The writing is clunky. The plot, practically non-existent. The characters are (at times, quite literally) interchangeable, with no depth or even an attempt at giving them individual personalities. Basically, there’s a group of these future humans, and they wander around, encountering one monster or other hazard after another, and gradually getting picked off.

The main raison-d’etre of the book is to imaginatively describe these alien organisms, one after another. They’re created from a purely fantastic perspective, not an actual ‘scientific speculation’ attempt. Nothing about the world described makes any logical sense. That’s fine – except nothing about the book is strong enough to carry it as a fantasy, either.

It’s also quite offensively sexist. Not in the way of many golden-age SF books, with nubile alien slave girls and sexy sorceresses – I love those! No, it’s more of an insidious and constant flow of: every time an incident is portrayed, the female characters are less intelligent, less assertive, more timid, unable to come up with their own ideas, shown as interchangeable as lovers. Hey, they’re good at ‘giving comfort’ though. Even though the future society, we are told, is matriarchal, it’s the male characters that have to take charge in every situation and are the main ‘do-ers’ throughout. It is very clear that Aldiss never even considered that a woman might bother to read his book.

The content here was originally published in five installments in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1961. Unbelievably, they were collectively awarded a Hugo for ‘Best Short Fiction.’ An abridged version was previously published as The Long Afternoon of Earth.’


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