Review: Hothouse by Brian Aldiss
Look, I persevered. It is no doubt an interesting
book concept. And I came away from it with a clear and unsettling feeling that I had just spent a week in overgrown and hostile jungles, amongst the sticky, sharp, cloying, impenetrable vegetation of Aldiss’s future Earth. The world was painted in vivid greens and a relentless heat. The danger was constantly present. I’m just not sure if the story was worth telling.
I think I blame Tolkein. Ever since The Lord of the Rings, writers of a particular genre that we’ll call sci-fi/fantasy – although I think that doesn’t really cover it – have equated world building with story telling. In the end, The Lord of the Rings is just about a small dude who goes for a long walk. A bunch of other shit happens that’s not really relevant. Don’t get me wrong. I love LOTR. In fact, that’s my point. I love LOTR because I love the different regions, the different people, their passions, their exploits. Dammit, I just love that little dude. I care so deeply for those characters and their quest. And just about every fantasy writer since then has been trying to do the same thing.
Except for Aldiss. Aldiss is happy just to build this bizarre world that is at times familiar but mostly frightening and bizarre. In a future Earth, the planet has fallen into a captured rotation with the sun, meaning the sun always shines on one side of the planet. This has led to a terrain covered in a dense and formidable jungle of poisonous, treacherous, carnivorous plants. In this world, we find a tribe of ‘humans’ eking out a fairly awful existence. We follow these characters fairly arbitrarily – through jungles, to the seaside, on spider webs to the moon, clutching on to ice floes – not because Aldiss has any desire for us to understand these people and their lives, but simply to take us on a grand tour of the world that he has imagined.
And for this reason, there are inconsistencies that I couldn’t reconcile. At the beginning, we are introduced to Lily-yo, the matriarch of the tribe. The women are the warriors of the group. Gren, an adolescent man-child, seems to be gearing up to contradict this binary and yes, soon enough, he has set off on his own adventures away from the tribe. And yet at some point the entire matriarchal system is forgotten, and the young women hide behind Gren and look to him for strength. Several characters die within several pages in what are supposed to be very normal circumstances. If the death rate is so high, they really ought to be breeding much faster or they will never survive. I could also never quite believe in the vegetation – which is the main point of the whole book. If a plant has this much volition, is it still a plant? Is it not a proto-animal?
There’s also a brief and pointless interlude on the moon.
Anyway, I’m glad I read it. It was bizarre, and compelling in a way. I just don’t know if it was any good.
by Brian Aldiss
House of Stratus, 2001