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Harm by Brian Aldiss
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Harm (original 2007; edition 2008)

by Brian Aldiss

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1157171,773 (3.02)6
"The time is today or tomorrow - or perhaps the day after tomorrow. Paul Fadhil Abbas Ali, a young British citizen of Muslim descent, has written a satirical novel in which two characters joke about the assassination of the prime minister. Arrested by agents of HARM - the Hostile Activities Research Ministry - Paul is thrown into a nameless Abu Ghraib-like prison, possibly located in Syria, where he is held incommunicado and brutally interrogated by jailers to whom his Muslim heritage is itself a crime meriting the harshest punishment. Under this sadistic regime, Paul's personality begins to show signs of radical fragmentation." "On the remote planet of Stygia, a man named Fremant, haunted by memories of torture that seem drawn from Paul's mind, is one of a small group of colonists struggling for survival on a harsh but weirdly beautiful world whose dominant life-forms are insects. The sole humanoid race on the planet has been hunted to extinction by the human settlers, whose long journey to Stygia has left them unable to understand their own history and technology. Thrown back to a more primitive state, they seem destined to repeat all the sins of the world they fled to Stygia to escape." "Is Paul dreaming Fremant as a way of escaping the horrors of his imprisonment? Or is there a stronger - a far stranger - connection between the two men, whose very different circumstances begin to take on uncanny parallels? As aspects of their identities blur and, finally, merge, astonishing answers take shape - and profound new questions arise."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
Member:paulmorriss
Title:Harm
Authors:Brian Aldiss
Info:Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd (2008), Paperback, 232 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:None

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HARM by Brian W. Aldiss (Author) (2007)

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» See also 6 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
A dual world dystopia which I prefer to consider more cautionary than depressing. Paul Ali, a young British writer of Muslim descent, is imprisoned and questioned by HARM (Hostile Activities Research Ministry). Fremant, a guard inhabiting the remote world of Stygia, is embroiled in a coup and discovers a hidden secret behind the native fauna. Aldiss interweaves plots which unfold independently on the two worlds.

The novel probably shouldn't work. Present-day, archaic and futuristic elements are haphazardly intertwined. Where Aldiss shines is his focus on the relationship between environment and politics: those who have journeyed light-years to Stygia have done so to escape a war-riddled Earth. Racism, bigotry and animal cruelty are juxtaposed with industrialisation, scientific development and social progress. ( )
  jigarpatel | Sep 14, 2019 |
British SF author Brian W. Aldiss, who died recently at the age of 92, was one prolific writer. He started his SF writing career in 1954 and by the end of it, had over a hundred books and innumerable short stories, poems, articles, and essays to his credit. His last book, Comfort Zone, was published in 2013, which means he remained writing well into his eighties. Now THAT’s the kind of career I wish to emulate!

My first exposure to this author came in the form of a book of short stories, The Book of Brain W. Aldiss. I found them literate, mystifying at times, gently satirical, grandiose, and tongue-in-cheek funny. I’m sorry to say I lost that book over the years, but I still remember some stories vividly, such as “In the Arena,” the tale of a human gladiator slave on an alien-captured world, who is partnered with a young woman to kill a creature in the aliens’ arena. His Helliconia series I never got into, because it seemed too much like the 1980s commercial, crowd-pleasing SF that was then being written by old names in the field, like Harry Harrison’s West of Eden and Phillip Jose Farmer’s Dayworld series, to name two. Likewise, I had never been interested in Aldiss’s Hothouse World, either (though I am now.)

Harm, as the author explains, was written 2007 in response to the heightened terrorism threats after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York. It is the story of a young half-Muslim, half-English writer who is imprisoned and tortured in a near-future London because of a throwaway line in his debut novel… a line about killing the prime minister of England. For that he is kidnapped, interrogated, and tortured. The torture is not explicitly shown, but the effects on the main character are, and the dialogue of the torturers is horrifyingly real. To escape, the writer he creates another world in his mind, the story of a man on a recently colonized planet where society is slowly collapsing and fascist politics are coming to the fore. I had originally chosen the book because of its ties to Islam, but it not so much about religion as about politics. Christianity actually figured in the story more, used as a plot element but neither derided nor espoused.

It was a fascinating, engaging read. I blazed through it on my lunch hours which was not the case with Cinder, my previous read, which had been a damn chore. I wonder why I could read something difficult and thought-provoking so readily, and something simple and spoon-fed, so slowly?

One of the things I liked about the book, and a thing I have never before seen done properly before, was how the protagonist creates the dream world he goes to. It was written in a way similar to the progression of real (sleeping) dreams, where there’s a bare skeleton of a place and situation at first that is later sketched out as the sleeping mind chugs along, incorporated pieces of real-world recent events and past memories. Aldiss explains this away as the hero’s multiple personality disorder, which leads him to disassociate. Which is too bad, because the creation aspect, to me, was clearly about the creative process of being a writer, coming up with a character and a situation, then musing on it, replaying it, and gradually adding more elements. This was the only displeasing note in the whole book, though.

Harm worked as allegory, cautionary tale, and magic realism, but there are just enough quirky details that make it more like a real-life memoir, or extended dream, some of which are thrown in but not followed up on. Again, very much like real life, which can be random in what it gives us. ( )
  Cobalt-Jade | Sep 25, 2017 |
I just don’t get this book. HARM, by the science-fiction writer Brian W. Aldiss, is about a man who is being tortured and in his delirium imagines that he is living on a planet over a thousand light-years away from Earth. Or is it the other way around: he is living on the planet Stygia and when he sleeps he dreams of living another life on a faraway planet?
This is a short (240 pages) book. I tend to want to think that Aldiss was sketching out a story and decided to stop before it was fully fleshed out.
Paul Fadhill (on Earth) is being tortured because he wrote a book that mentioned in a comedic line something about killing the Prime Minister. Fremant (on Stygia) seems to wander around without a personality or drive.
The story just doesn’t work for me. One thing really bothered me: Near the beginning there is a rape. Why? It doesn’t fit into the story. There isn’t any motivation on the part of the rapist. Its just there. Reading about a rape is bad enough, but to not make sense in the story is doubly hurtful. Secondly, the ending is abrupt and I felt like maybe I was missing something. Am I supposed to have learned something or been given something to ponder by all of this? The only thing I’m pondering now is why I read the book. Oh yeah, because I got a free copy.
Not recommended for anyone. If you want to read a science-fiction book there are plenty of other choices.
( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
I just don’t get this book. HARM, by the science-fiction writer Brian W. Aldiss, is about a man who is being tortured and in his delirium imagines that he is living on a planet over a thousand light-years away from Earth. Or is it the other way around: he is living on the planet Stygia and when he sleeps he dreams of living another life on a faraway planet?
This is a short (240 pages) book. I tend to want to think that Aldiss was sketching out a story and decided to stop before it was fully fleshed out.
Paul Fadhill (on Earth) is being tortured because he wrote a book that mentioned in a comedic line something about killing the Prime Minister. Fremant (on Stygia) seems to wander around without a personality or drive.
The story just doesn’t work for me. One thing really bothered me: Near the beginning there is a rape. Why? It doesn’t fit into the story. There isn’t any motivation on the part of the rapist. Its just there. Reading about a rape is bad enough, but to not make sense in the story is doubly hurtful. Secondly, the ending is abrupt and I felt like maybe I was missing something. Am I supposed to have learned something or been given something to ponder by all of this? The only thing I’m pondering now is why I read the book. Oh yeah, because I got a free copy.
Not recommended for anyone. If you want to read a science-fiction book there are plenty of other choices.
( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
So, a Muslim fella moves to England and writes a book where he casually mentions the death of the prime minister. He's actually a citizen, and a perfectly good one, but he's Muslim, so the local authorities apprehend him and send him to some unknown prison-like facility, where they proceed to beat the crap out of him until he confesses his terrorist plots to assassinate the prime minister.

Mr. Muslim Guy, whose name is Paul, is also known as Fremant in Stygia, a city on a distant where he is tasked to assassinate some tyrannical overlord or another. The planet was populated by a group of people who traveled there in the form of DNA, and were later reconstituted into physical bodies upon reaching their destination. This has had negative effects on their minds and memories, which has led Fremant to forget that he was once a Muslim on Earth, and was wrongfully accused of a nonexistent crime and punished horrendously for it. Then again, Paul has a personality disorder, so it's possible that Fremant and Stygia are all a product of his shattered mind. It's your choice, really.

It is obvious that the "modern" plot has religious implications, and the "science fiction" plot uses the reconstitution issues to play with various religious sects in a cardboard cutout sort of way. Stygia is obviously Muslim in a cultural sense with all the strict conservative nonsense, but from an infrastructure standpoint it feels very Western. Likewise, a city introduced later in the book is very Middle Eastern in setting with a Christian sense of morality.

If you are still reading this, then I'm afraid to say that the book isn't all that great. After consulting a thesaurus I would say that the best word to describe this book is meh. Yep, just meh. It's okay, it's an cool idea and the author has some interesting things to say, but meh. I didn't like the way the English interrogators were portrayed, for starters. They reminded me of the way a pubescent boy would write them, with lots of swearing and vulgarity. It's hard to feel bad for the main character when you are too busy rolling your eyes at the dialogue. The author obviously wanted them to be intimidating, but I mostly found them obnoxious and annoying. Other characters were disappointing as well. It's a big stinker that Stygia has a potentially strong female character who kind of falls of the map at some point. That was a missed opportunity, mister!

Harm isn't bad, it really isn't it's just so...underwhelming. I feel like it should be so much more, and it just 200 pages it certainly could have been! But it isn't, so it gets 3 stars. Oh well. ( )
1 vote Ape | Aug 24, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Aldiss, Brian W.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Natale, VinceIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Plogmann, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saville, GlenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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