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Earthworks by Brian Aldiss

Earthworks (original 1965; edition 1988)

by Brian Aldiss

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340251,422 (2.84)1
In a future where the Earth has been savaged by overpopulation and over-farming, robots are considered more valuable than humans and sand must be altered to create artificially fertile soil. Ex-convict Knowle Noland, the hallucinating sea captain of the Trieste Star, finds himself wrapped up in a plot to incite a global war that will wipe out millions. War, it seems, is the only way to drastically reduce the population and create a better world for those who survive.… (more)
Authors:Brian Aldiss
Info:Mandarin (1988), Edition: New Ed, Paperback
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Earthworks by Brian W. Aldiss (1965)



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Knowle Noland is a cargo ship captain with a problem. His problem is schizophrenic hallucinations. On one of his more vivid benders, he takes his cargo ship and runs it aground on the coast of Africa. There, he meets the woman of his dreams and the man of of his nightmares. That nightmare man, also has a problem - the earth is overpopulated and underresourced. Africa and its states are dominant - Europe, Asia and North America are husks of their former selves. Cities are build on elevated platforms away from the poisoned ground. Forced labor camps provide the food - such as it is. All but the exceptionally rich are starving and malnourished. But what can a man haunted by the demons of his subconscious do to right this ship?

I was not terribly thrilled with the book, as evidenced by my two star rating. The hallucinations were especially difficult to work through. Our Knowle is not a particularly compelling hero, and, in fact, he never becomes in any way heroic. He thinks himself educated, but he's not. He desires the woman but can't have her. Perhaps that's why he makes the decision he does at the end - he realizes that he has no chance with her.

Certainly Aldiss' style is starkly different from the last book I read - a short novel by Arthur C. Clarke. Aldiss world is one where the advanced technology takes a back seat to the catastrophes that technology has wrought upon the world. None of the futuristic technologies of Aldiss' future are presented with wonder and awe the way Clarke does. It's a very depressing and repressing world that he creates for us. A world I'm more than happy to leave behind. ( )
  helver | Sep 13, 2017 |
Look at yourselves, Earth's peoples, Earthworks!
Look, look hard, and take a knife,
Carve yourself a conscience!

A short book, but one that packs quiet a punch and leaves the reader chewing over its ideas and implications long after its done. Brian Aldiss loves to dig and probe around the edges of one's most basic assumptions. The setting of this slim volume is a future where overpopulation, pollution and soil and resource exhaustion have devastated most of the planet, so that Europe, Asia and the Americas are sunk in poverty, illness and hunger, living out their lives in teeming cities. In this world, it is the African nations which still retain vitality and resources and which are the superpowers of the globe. Much like Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the African powers are hostile and jockey for power, but with the formation of an African Union, under the aegis of a great leader, whose leadership is ushering in an era of peace.

But, the question which is posed to the book's protagonist, Knowle Noland, is whether peace is such a great thing after all? Wouldn't a war, which would cull the world's population in nuclear fires, free millions of their misery and allow humanity to start again, leaving the survivors better off? Knowle gets caught up in an assassination plot put together by a group of cultists. Aldiss is in good form with this one, his writing is top notch, with some truly memorable and haunting sequences. The story is presented in the form of a narrative written years after the events chronicled by Knowle. Not only do we have an unreliable narrator, but one who is conscious of, and often discusses the limits and purposes of what he is writing in a world where few people know how to read. On top of this, Knowle is schizophrenic, and his accounts of some of his hallucinatory episodes are fascinating and tantalizing in that either they provide special insights into the world around him, or maybe that wisdom too is an illusion. Its fun trying to unpack the layers Aldiss throws in here.

Some of the ideas and extrapolations now may seem a little outdated, or not as startling as they were at the time this was written, but this is still a work well worth reading. ( )
  iftyzaidi | Apr 9, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brian W. Aldissprimary authorall editionscalculated
Elson, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Linke, EvelynTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pennington, BruceCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thole, KarelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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While life reached evilly through empty faces
While life flowed slowly o'er idle bodies
And stars flowed evilly upon vast men
No passion smiled . . .

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The dead man drifted along in the breeze.
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