Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Twinkling of an Eye: My Life as an Englishman Hardcover – April 14, 1999
All Books, All the Time
Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Autobiography is about the sorting out of those moments that gave one identity. For Brian Aldiss, distinguished science fiction writer and all-around literary gent, these are a disparate lot--the lost paradise of his grandfather's Norfolk haberdashery store, the excitement and terror of the Army's triumphant thrust through Burma, the intermittent bliss of his second marriage, the midlife crisis of depressive illness through which he came to new joy. Books are important too--the books that educated him, his early manhood as a bookseller, the books the writing of which was a principal delight and a source of personal freedom.
This is partly the story of the making of a writer and of a writer's life; it is also about a life lived in contact with both ideas and the senses. Sequential time is no major part of his approach. Some sections of the book are brief summaries and others rehashes of things he has said before, but which are crucial to him. Aldiss tells us how things felt to a middle-class Englishman in the 20th century--love, bereavement, travel, war, psychoanalysis, and the discovery of Pluto; if not a great book, it will remain a perennially attractive one. --Roz Kaveney, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
Transfixed by the sight of a spider entrapping a cabbage white butterfly in his grandmother's garden as a young boy, SF author Aldiss stumbled upon an idea that would define his life as a writer. "The sundry shortcomings of nature," he writes in this absorbing, elegantly written memoir, "were givens with which one had to live. In the circumstances, observation made more sense than interference." The quirky blend of classical learning, poetic language and exotic landscapes that animate Aldiss's fiction (Greybeard; Frankenstein Unbound) also suffuse this book, which eschews a linear chronology in favor of a more Proustian narrative told in emotionally charged flashbacks. Fully a quarter of the book deals with Aldiss's childhood, from his early years in the small market town of East Dereham, where his father ran a drapery business, to a long period of maternal rejection and boarding school, before being conscripted into the British army to serve in India and Burma. Aldiss captures the complex mental processes of adolescence with remarkable clarity, as he traces his evolution from an author of scribbles passed among schoolmates to a seminal figure of post WWII SF. Fans will relish the accounts of his friendships with Philip K. Dick, Alfred Bester and Doris Lessing, his role in furthering the institution of SF conventions, his dealings with filmmakers Roger Corman and Stanley Kubrick and his ruminations on his craft: "The first word in an SF writer's vocabulary is if." The book concludes with Aldiss, in his 60s, having fought off a form of chronic fatigue syndrome and undergone psychotherapy, finding himself wise, optimistic and reconciled to his lifeAand, despite the challenges of advancing age, as creative as ever.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
'After ten years at boarding schools, Burma was no real hardship' - and how agreeable to turn to this sort of stuff after the contrivances of fiction
Brian W. Aldiss is a giant in the Science Fiction field. His major contributions are of course as a writer of the stuff (he's a winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula, and among his SF books are Hothouse, The Malacia Tapestry, and the Helliconia series). He's also made significant contributions as a critic/historian of the field (his controversial Billion Year Spree (later updated as Trillion Year Spree with David Wingrove) is his most famous work in this area.) But Aldiss has always been part of the main stream, if you will, of post-War British writing. His first book, The Brightfount Diaries, a comic account of working in a bookstore, was certainly not SF, but it was very successful. He worked for many years as Literary Editor of the Oxford Mail. And he had some non science fiction bestsellers in the late '60s and early '70s.
A life is not a story, really. Thus Aldiss does not tell this book in a linear fashion, nor hew to a narrative structure. He opens with an account of heading off to Burma, to join the XIV Army, the "Forgotten Army", is driving the Japanese out of that country toward the end of World War II. Follows a series of chapters, ordered somewhat impressionistically, which tell of his young life, his less than idyllic experience in public schools, and of his somewhat difficult relationship with his parents. He offers a moving account of his early years, and how the birth of both of his sisters affected him deeply. Aldiss continues with a description of his years in the Army, mopping up the Japanese in Burma, then spending a couple of years in India just prior to independence, and in Sumatra. After leaving the Army, Aldiss moved to Oxford, and worked in a couple of bookshops. At this time he got married, sold his first stories, started writing the sketches which became The Brightfount Diaries, and had his first son.
The rest of the book is a bit more episodic. The sections concerning his first marriage, and especially its breakup, are very moving, even as Aldiss is still understandably reticent on the details. The pain and sense of failure he felt, and the agony of losing his children, especially his new born daughter, are keenly portrayed. This dovetails into a period of depression and poverty, coupled with increasing artistic success in his fiction. It seems that Aldiss' marriage to Margaret Manson largely brought him out of his funk. Just as he keenly portrayed his depression over the failure of his first marriage, he is able to convey quite wonderfully his love for Margaret, and the happiness she brought him. The later chapters are mini-essays, covering various aspects of his later life: travels to places like Jugoslavia and Denmark; the United States and China; his feelings about Science Fiction, its history, and worth, and its treatment by mainstream critics; a look back at a critical year spent in Sumatra, and his later return; the writing of a select few of his books, most notably the Helliconia trilogy; his experiences with acting and movie-making, including time spent working on a (never completed) project with Stanley Kubrick (apparently this movie, AI, may soon be made by Steven Spielberg); his relationships with his wife and children and sister; some brief comments on political matters; and finally a fascinating account of his visit to Turkmenistan, which occurred only after he had written a book set there.
I was quite absorbed by this book, and quite moved. I found it fascinating reading throughout. This is a very worthwhile account of the life of a man in this century. Definitely recommended.