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The Moment of Eclipse
Brian Aldiss
House of Stratus, 210 pages

The Moment of Eclipse
Brian W. Aldiss
Brian W. Aldiss was born in 1925 in the UK. He grew up in rural Norfolk and Devon, the son of a department store owner. He served 3 years in Burma and Asia with the Forgotten Army. This part of the world was later to become quite influential on his work. Having played a seminal role in SF's New Wave in the 60s, he is now considered by many to be the elder statesman of UK SF.

Brian W. Aldiss Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Hothouse
SF Site Review: Non-Stop
SF Site Review: The Twinkling of an Eye, or, My Life as an Englishman

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Gabriel Chouinard

I read my first Brian Aldiss story at the age of ten or eleven, which surely warped my psyche beyond any hope of recovery. Because that is what Brian Aldiss does best.

It was in an issue of New Worlds that I dug from a pile of my Dad's old hippy magazines (and let me tell you, it seems oddly poetic to think of New Worlds crammed in with old copies of Organic Gardening and The Mother Earth News and those huge old Whole Earth Catalogs...). I don't recall now what the story was, though I'm relatively sure it was an Acid-Head War tale. Those would have disturbed me more than a Cornelius tale... and this first Aldiss story DID disturb me. I know, because I began seeking out others...

Brian Aldiss is one of the authors I think of as my Shapers. Like Moorcock, Phil Dick, Lieber, M. John Harrison; these were the authors that shaped my tastes in fiction and writing. So when I learned that House of Stratus was reissuing many of Aldiss' works, I was thrilled. My own copies of most of his books and stories are so tattered they're nearly unreadable. So I promptly spent a lot of money. Hothouse, Barefoot in the Head, Dracula Unbound, Frankenstein Unbound, Moreau's Other Island. And, as promised, many many more, coming soon!

The Moment of Eclipse came last, overlooked in my own haste, supplied to me by SF Site for review.

Thank God. If I had forgotten this collection of stories, my life would have been incomplete.

The Moment of Eclipse presents fourteen of Aldiss' stories. Like all the House of Stratus editions, this is a simple, attractive digest-sized paperback edition, cleanly designed and barren of frills, so the format doesn't detract from the content. Admirable. Even the blurb on the front cover ("Short stories including Super-Toys Last All Summer Long -- a new Steven Spielberg production -- A.I.") is unobtrusive along the edge of the spine.

Sadly, "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long" is one of the weakest of the tales included here, especially without the propping of its two sequels. The story of the artificial boy David who doesn't know that he isn't real, and his relationship with un-loving "mummy" Monica Swinton, is actually quite simplistic and disappointingly clichéd with it's tear-jerker material and the easily-spotted ending. I would have preferred to replace this story, especially with the collection of the three Super-Toys stories that was recently released. It doesn't quite fit with the tone of the other stories here.

On the other hand, there is "The Day We Embarked For Cythera..." which showcases Aldiss at his evocative best:

"A group of them were converging on a certain crossroads in an area of heath. One of their number had made a kill. It was a big gray beast. Its radiator grill was bared in a snarl. It sprawled at its leisure on the roadside, devouring the body of a young female. Two others of her kind, freshly killed, lay nearby, to be dealt with at will.

This was long before internal parasites had labyrinthed their way into the mechanisms of eternity."

Here is a fine display of Aldiss' poetic stylings, his use of grimy doomed imagery to set the hairs at the back of your neck tingling. Here, too, is Aldiss displaying his far-future best, melding dreams with reality and back again, until we don't know which way is up and which way is time.
"...Your sequence contradicts utterly your meaning. Your time-sense is so awry that you negate what you did in one breath!"
Aldiss works best with far-flung futures, especially those that are somewhat dystopian in countenance. However, in The Moment of Eclipse, we are treated to more of his humanistic stylings, as in the title tale. In The Moment of Eclipse, Aldiss introduces a nameless narrator, a filmmaker with a compulsion for "beautiful women with corrupt natures" and for Africa. A sufferer of an obsessive desire for the nearly beautiful and thoroughly decadent Christiania, the tale follows his descent into political upheaval in an African country, desire, incestuous lustings, and parasitic worm infestation. All told with horrific clean prose. As for the actual 'moment of eclipse'... urg! I shall most likely never recover from that one!

Not all is horror and despair in The Moment of Eclipse. In particular, the tale "Swastika!" is at once a melding of political satire, absurd humour, and even a touching of sentimentality. Brian goes to visit Hitler (who lives under the assumed name Geoffrey Bunglevester), to discuss a proposed musical of Hitler's life. Of course Geoff agrees. For two percent of the profit.

Even at his worst, though, Brian Aldiss is always a "Grand Master of Science Fiction." And when he is at his best, as in "Orgy of the Living and the Dying," or "The Circulation of the Blood" and "The Worm That Flies," all included here, it is clear that Aldiss has taken the genre and melded it to his own whims and desires. Capable of so-called "hard SF," Aldiss is still one of the genius humanists of the genre. He is much better when examining the twisted psyches of his characters, who (like Philip K. Dick's characters) are so unremarkably ordinary that they stand out as extraordinary. He writes about people more often than constructs, and for that he has elevated himself far above the vast majority of crap that populates the shelves. He is a weaver of intelligentsia and art, of culture and politics, a satirist and an examiner of human nature and the human condition. His range is extraordinary. And at times, his concepts are so far out there, so wildly original, that I find myself pausing in my reading to take deep breaths and wonder... how can he manage this? How can such an imaginative writer function in society?

And in The Moment of Eclipse we receive samples of it all.

You owe it to yourself to buy this collection, and you owe it to yourself to buy all of Brian Aldiss' works. Without them, your life will be poorer.

With them, you'll be able to populate your mind with infinite possibilities and dream imagery for years to come.

And if you find your psyche becomes warped in the process... well, that's what Brian Aldiss does best.

Copyright © 2001 Gabriel Chouinard

Gabe Chouinard is a reader, writer and editor who is very vocal in his support of cutting-edge speculative fiction. He detests skiffy, deplores Fat Fantasy... but is a good guy to have a drink with. Expecting his second child, Mr. Chouinard is now writing with much more frantic vigor, in the hopes of getting published before he has NO time...

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