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Finches of Mars Paperback – September 1, 2012
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'It's a terrific yarn, but more than that; as Aldiss casually throws out ideas and speculations, it's a reminder of why he's one of the giants of the field.' SFX Magazine 'A must-read for science fiction fans with the potential to be a modern classic.' We Love This Book 'Brian Aldiss is one of those writers who can stand back and look out across the vast fictional landscape of sciences fiction, and consider himself both a creator and a destroyer of worlds; a mortal God if you will.' Starburst Magazine 'Once again he demonstrates the power of his imagination.' Daily Mail 'This grandmaster of the genre, who has laid down many a milestone in his 60-year career, including classics such as Hothouse, Greybeard and the Helliconia trilogy, is retiring on a high note.' Financial Times
About the Author
Brian Aldiss, OBE, is a fiction and science fiction writer, poet, playwright, critic, memoirist and artist. He was born in Norfolk in 1925. After leaving the army, Aldiss worked as a bookseller, which provided the setting for his first book, The Brightfount Diaries (1955). His first published science fiction work was the story 'Criminal Record', which appeared in Science Fantasy in 1954. Since then he has written nearly 100 books and over 300 short stories.
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Aldiss, whose major work was the Helliconia trilogy, says that this will be his last book. It seems to me that he is now not concerned about possibly offending anyone and so he says again what SF has been saying for generations - Earth is doomed to die from overpopulation.
He presents a staggeringly unlikely habitat on Mars - six towers, each funded by universities, when it is more likely that solar and background radiation would incline colonists to dig into the rock for shielding. The towers are totally dependent on imported foodstuffs from Earth, and no live animals are allowed, when it seems clear that any colony would be establishing gardens, chickens and fish tanks in order to be self-sustaining. Food is an expensive payload.
I don't see a mention of where universities are getting this money, and consider that industrial, business-driven space exploration is far more likely.
Aldiss says that religions are forbidden on Mars, blaming Earth's terrorism, overpopulation and intolerance on illiterate people following primitive writings.
Sadly for the colonists, their babies are all born dead or die swiftly. The conclusion is that people have not evolved to live on Mars, in hypoxia, cold, low sunlight and low gravity. Aldiss is telling us that it may be that the Earth is the only world where we can live as a race, having evolved here. His characters did not suggest sending Andean mountain dwellers or Tibetans to Mars; this would be a good start as these people have each evolved their own means of survival in hypoxia and cold.
This book is a useful discussion starter. Sadly in my view it does not make for a riveting read. As it is a short book, those who start it will probably finish it, but by the end we have barely seen more than one side of the main characters and have not gained much sympathy for them. The constantly jumping viewpoints, through persons, times and locations, can be coped with but serve to create a disconnect between the reader and the characters. There is no real protagonist and all but a couple of the Martian dwellers come across as ineffectual.
Devotees of Aldiss will no doubt want a read of this not at all cheerful book. Some of the themes are also present in the Helliconia world where a planet with an eccentric orbit, which is alternately baked and frozen over the centuries, has evolved people who are adapted as a race to cope with the challenges presented. The first two books are an excellent read; the third is the least good.
Having recently read The Martian by Andy Weir, I would recommend that hard SF adventure aficionados read that enjoyable book instead of Finches of Mars.
The colonization of Mars has not gone well. Babies are not born alive on Mars, except for the one that came out looking like an uncooked turkey. No colonist expects to return to Earth alive (those who have tried have rarely survived the trip), so finding a way to perpetuate life on Mars has acquired some urgency. The unwillingness of UU to commit additional funding or to provide adequate food supplies is a cause of concern for the new Martians. Debates rage about whether sending the best and the brightest to Mars is a bad idea when Earth needs them more desperately. Some believe that only outcasts are being sent to Mars.
All of this provides an interesting background for a novel that doesn’t have much of a plot. Dull characters experience random conflicts that fail to cohere into anything meaningful. I got the sense that in the novel’s second half, Brian Aldiss literally lost the plot.
Despite the novel’s promising setting, I found it difficult to sustain interest as I worked my way toward the ending. Even when characters are talking about sex (which they do frequently), their discussions are dull. Making sex dull is no easy task, but if this is (as I assume it must be) a novel of ideas, Aldiss managed to take the edge off of a number of ideas that he would have presented in a livelier fashion earlier in his career. The story comes across as a self-indulgent string of thoughts that are written for the author’s own amusement, not to entertain an audience.
The last twenty pages or so manage to recapture the plot in a surprising way. The ending doesn’t quite redeem the novel but it did make me glad that I did not abandon the novel before it concluded. Out of respect for Aldiss’ shining career, I’m rounding my 2 1/2 star rating up to 3, but I would recommend that readers who are new to Aldiss start with something he wrote in his younger days.
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