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Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss

Helliconia Spring (original 1982; edition 1988)

by Brian Aldiss

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1,080147,731 (3.39)36
Title:Helliconia Spring
Authors:Brian Aldiss
Info:Triad Granada (1988), Edition: paperback / softback, Paperback
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:#2013, Fiction, RtW OK

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Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss (1982)



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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
As a scientific and sociological experiment about what life on a planet with a binary star system might be like, this book largely succeeds. As a gripping tale with relatable characters and fascinating plot points, it fails.
Helliconia's twin suns, Batalix and Freyr are locked in an inter-relational orbit. The planet's revolution around the nearer and weaker Batalix is similar in length to an Earth year. Freyr is much stronger, but the elliptic path Batalix and Helliconia follow around this sun is much longer and creates a great year in which many centuries are spent experiencing an arctic winter before melting into a near tropical summer. This book begins as spring is beginning to awaken the long-dormant planet. The sentient species have thrived or hibernated according to their respective adaptability to the season. In winter, the shaggy and brutal Phagors reign, with the more human "sons of Freyr" having regressed to a subsistence-level society. As the planet heats, the people rediscover arts such as carpentry, fashion, astronomy and agriculture.
The first section of the book focuses on Yuli and initial upbringing as part of a nomadic hunting tribe followed by his discovery and exploration of an underground society that is more civilized but less connected to the surface. Eventually he leaves this place to return to the surface and is a founding member of a civilization above. Yuli learns and grows in the cruelty of the underground civilization, discovering his unwillingness to join a priesthood of bullies and nurturing his longing for the openness of the sky.
In the second, longer section, the descendants of Yuli deal with issues related to the coming spring as well as the leadership of the settlement. The women want to embrace learning and distance themselves from the slavery of their winter lifestyle. The men are excited to tame and slaughter the local fauna as well as begin conquering other nearby settlements.
There are also many digressions into the scientific study of the planet being done by a space station manned by Earthlings orbiting Helliconia. This seems to have been the only device the author could think of to introduce information about things the planet's natives would have no knowledge of. It can be rather distracting at times, but is also valuable information. And, it's not like the story was in any way so interesting that a scientific diversion is much of an annoyance.
The whole books seems rather plodding and drawn-out, with day-to-day minutiae given as much attention as events which would move the story along. There is no major conflict or resolution or story arc. These people lived, they got a bit warmer, and they died. There is a bit of romance and a bit of infighting, which should serve to characterize or humanize the inhabitants some, but it's difficult to care about any of these characters.
Attention is given to the different religions of the humans and the Phagors and how they have developed in relation to the climate, as well as a concept regarding land octaves and air octaves, which I never really understood. Also, the humans are able to visit deceased ancestors by going into a sort of trance in which their soul sinks underground and can communicate with the dead, who are extremely unpleasant and not very forthcoming with useful information. I wasn't sure of the point of this, either.
There are two more books in this series, but I'm not interested in diving into them any time soon. ( )
  EmScape | Apr 15, 2014 |
The first book of Aldiss' well-regarded trilogy about a planet where each season last for hundreds of years. This first instalment, as the title suggests, documents the planet's emergence from its harsh winter and into the first stirrings of spring. This coincides with great leaps forwards in the development of the humans who live there, from an almost stone age society that has borne the very harsh winter conditions stoically but with little room for invention or playfulness that might lead to advances in their way of life. We follow several generations of one community as it and they change rapidly with the coming of warmer weather that allows them to put their energies into more than simple survival. However, unlike Earth, the humans are not the only dominant species here - there is another group, called the Phagors (like Yetis with fearsome facial horns), who are mankind's deadly enemy, and who want to have their say in the affairs of man before the cold winter weather they favour disappears for many generations. All of this is being watched over by a space ship from Earth, which beams the pictures across the vast distances of space, where a thousand years later people watch it in a similar way to how the people watch the films of the savage in Brave New World.
Well, this is a strange book, and I'm really not sure what I think of it. There are certainly some fascinating ideas here, and Aldiss has clearly given the idea of how a planet and its flora and fauna could develop with such an extreme seasonal cycle lots of thought (he apparently spent some time consulting with leading scientists to make this aspect of the book super plausible). There's also lots of interesting ideas thrown in for good measure, like how the economy alters and grows in the community from being a basic hunter gatherer society to one with money and a network of traders, craftsmen and sellers. Alongside that, there is a sort of fledgling women's rights movement where the women want to be free from the yoke of purely manual labour and want the right to educate themselves, which the men are very contemptuous of, although not above taking the advice of when they come up with some ingenious solutions to some of the community's problems. Add to that a host of other minor themes, including the downright bizarre religious beliefs of both the humans and the Phagors, which both rely to some extent on consulting ones ancestors, either by talking to their mummified remains or entering the netherworld where they exist as mightily dissatisfied spirits that seem to begrudge their own living relatives their lives. These dissatisfied spirits are a part of what I didn't like about the book, which is how sort of...grubby and sordid everything feels in this world. There's barely a single likeable character and nobody in it seems to do anything out of anything other than self interest, and it gets a bit wearing after a while, so that what should be a really entertaining alternative world narrative just becomes a bit of an depressing slog. But all done very matter-of-factly, so you don't feel that that is the point the author is trying to make about the human condition - or maybe it is, but he just takes it as a given that that's what humans are like and works from there. There's enough interesting ideas here to keep me reading the rest of the series, but whether I enjoy them may be another matter. ( )
1 vote HanGerg | Apr 14, 2013 |
Brian Aldiss's Helliconia Spring took me a little while to get into, not that I minded; Helliconia is a complicated planet with two suns and a 'Great Year' cycle that lasts well over a thousand years, causing a centuries long warm cycle followed by a centuries long cold cycle. The eco-system that has developed is (ha-ha) bi-polar, so during the warm spells the 'humans' fare well, and during the cold spells the principal (there are others) intelligent species, the multi-jointed, yellow-blooded, intelligent 'phagors,' referred to as 'the ancipitals,' dominate. The important point is that neither species can exist without the other, they are interdependent, that is how they have evolved. However and most cruelly, during the periods of change disequilibrium prevails and thousands of both humans and phagors die, the humans mostly from a tick-borne disease that the phagors host and the humans provide the breeding grounds (iew) for and also from out and out fighting, as they perceive each other as mortal enemies. During the 'winter' periods the humans generally slide far backwards culturally, caught up in the struggle of simply staying alive, everything, or almost everything gained and learned in the warm periods is lost, including the whys and wherefors of the astronomical reasons for the shifts. What matters is Helliconia is a deeply thought out world, the story is well told as a story, and the characters whose lives we follow while not hugely rounded are sufficiently unpredictible and interesting to be enjoyable.
My only complaint, if it is even a complaint, is that the 'Earth Station Avernus' posted above the planet which is a thousand light-years away from Earth, sending 'Eductainment' footage about the planet back to earth (viewed, yes, a thousand years later) feels like an afterthought or maybe a remnant from an earlier version of the story, a device that, so far, feels clunky and irrelevant. Maybe however in one of the two subsequent volumes the Avernus will play a more active role..... wait and see, I guess. **** ( )
3 vote sibyx | Mar 24, 2011 |
In the 40+ years that I've been reading science fiction, Brian Aldiss has been amongst my favourite authors. This, the first of the Helliconia trilogy, is one of those renowned classics that I've been meaning to read for a very long time. Unfortunately, it proved to be a great disappointment. But it's clear that opinions differ on this and the other novels in the trilogy (my own copy is an omnibus volume in a 'science fiction classics' series) so I'll describe the book and my impressions of it for you to make your own mind up.

The series is intentionally grand in scope, set on a world with a complex orbit around binary stars which means that it has two types of year and seasons - one which lasts a little longer than a terrestrial year, and one which lasts many thousands of years and has far more dramatic seasonal extremes. The first volume encompasses four or five generations of the human inhabitants of this world (there are other races of varying levels of advancement and longevity.) Aldiss has clearly given a great deal of thought to the setting and done a fair amount of research to ensure that the physics and biology are consistent (the introduction to this edition makes much of this clear.) But the end result demonstrates that scientific plausibility alone is no guarantee of a good story.

One aspect I struggled with was the abundance of almost unpronounceable names, which seemed to occur in unnecessary profusion. This may be to some people's tastes - it's a common characteristic of sword-and-sorcery novels and they seem to sell well enough. If you enjoy reading about characters such as Hrr-Brahl Yprt and Zzhrrk who visit places such as Rukk-Ggrl and Hhryggt then this book may be for you. After a while, I just find it tiresome.

But the real problem for me was that I wasn't engaged with the story. Although many of the characters suffer tragedy and joy, it's difficult to care for any of them and difficult to see a point to the story's telling. As a study - the creation of an imaginary world and the depiction of what life might exist there - the book works, in a slightly dull fashion. But it doesn't work on any other level, as a moral tale, as a plot-driven tale or as an atmospheric piece. (The atmosphere, though, is unremittingly bleak.)

It also felt as if there was just too much book; it would have benefited from some vigorous editing. Whether the rest of the trilogy redeems any of these shortcomings I have yet to find out. At the moment, I'm not to keen to begin that journey, which is not at all what I expected when I acquired this book. ( )
  kevinashley | Dec 31, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brian W. Aldissprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Altdorfer, AlbrechtCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gill, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McPheeters, NealCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My dear Clive, In my previous novel LIFE IN THE WEST, I sought to depict something of the malaise sweeping the world, painting as wide a canvas as I felt I could confidently tackle.

My partial success left me ambitious and dissatisfied. I resolved to start again. All art is a metaphor, but some art forms are more metaphorical than others; perhaps, I thought, I would do better with a more oblique approach. So I developed Helliconia: a place much like our world, with only one factor changed - the length of the year. It was to be a stage of the kind of drama in which we are embroiled in our century.

In order to achieve some verisimilitude, I consulted experts, who convinced me that my little Helliconia was mere fantasy; I needed something more solid.

Invention took over from allegory. A good thing, too. With the prompting of scientific fact, whole related series of new images crowded into my conscious mind. I have deployed them as best I could. When I was farthest away from my original conception - at the apastron of my earliest intentions - I discovered that I was expressing dualities that were as relevant to our century as to Helliconia's.

It could hardly be otherwise. For the people of Helliconia, and the non-people, the beasts, and other personages, interest us only if they mirror our concerns. No one wants a passport to a nation of talking slugs.

So I offer you this volume for your enjoyment, hoping you will find more to agree with than you did in LIFE IN THE WEST - and maybe even more to amuse you. Your affectionate Father Begbroke Oxford.
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This is how Yuli, son of Alehaw, came to a place called Oldorando, where his descendants flourished in the better days that were to come.
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1st edition paperback, vg++

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:56 -0400)

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