Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: Hothouse

Book Review: 'Hothouse' by Brian Aldiss

3 / 5 Stars

‘Hot House’ was first published as a series of five novelettes in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1961, with the fix-up novel released in the UK in 1962. This Sphere paperback (206 pp) was released in 1971. The cover artwork is by Eddie Jones.

(Abridged versions of ‘Hothouse’, retitled ‘The Long Afternoon of Earth’, were released in the US).

The story is set millions of years into Earth’s future, when the Sun has enlarged en route to going nova. The planet has stopped rotating, which means that one side is perpetually exposed to the Sun, and has acquired the characteristics of the novel’s title. The other half of the Earth is in perpetual darkness and cold and supports little, if any, life.

On the hothouse side of the Earth, plant life has assumed ecological supremacy; indeed, a single enormous banyan tree occupies most of the terrestrial acreage of the hemisphere. Most animal life has long since been extinguished by the increased solar radiation, but mankind lingers on – in the form of 2-feet tall tarsier-like creatures who survive in the upper branches of the banyan. Life is a continuous struggle for survival between the humans, a few giant, surviving insects, and a vicious array of carnivorous plants.

As the novel opens the reader is introduced to a band of humans, led by the elderly Lily-yo, and featuring the main character, a man child named Gren. A vividly described series of battles against the relentless plant life results in Gren leaving the tribe, cast into the unknown regions of the forest, filled with creatures even stranger than those occupying the teeming boughs .

As the novel unfolds, Gren finds unlikely allies in his journey across the landscape of this ‘hothouse’. But Gren doesn’t realize that the planet upon which he wanders is itself destined for extinction, for the Sun is beginning to swell even larger…..and soon the plants and animals on the surface of the Earth will have to confront the end of all life..........

For a novel first written in 1962 (and of course well before author Aldiss became increasingly infatuated with the New Wave movement and its literary contrivances) ‘Hothouse’ has a surprisingly modern prose style: clean, direct, and for the most part devoid of figurative mannerisms. 

The ecology of this far-future Earth is well-conceived and features some of more interesting monsters depicted in sf. The middle stretches of the narrative do suffer from some loss of momentum, a plain consequence of ‘Hothouse’ s genesis as a fix-up.

But overall, Hothouse stands as one of the better novels the genre produced in the early 60s, and one of its more imaginative treatments of ecology.

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