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March 1999
 
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The Shape of Further Things: Speculations on Change by Brian W. Aldiss (1971)

No surprise to find a curiosity among Aldiss's work: try to find instead a contemporary writer with a wider variety of books. (To get a sense of that variety check out http://www.brianwaldiss.com/)

Written rapidly in January, 1969, and perhaps the most personal of his books, Shape combines diary, history and criticism, and speculative essay into a sort of literary kaleidoscope that is charming and provocative throughout.

The book arrived as a middle of the night demi-vision following dinner with friends. Might one discover in a single evening's conversation all the strands of one's life? At his typewriter, Aldiss undertakes to find out.

Sf suffuses the text, written even as Barefoot in the Head displayed Aldiss's reinvention of sf. But much more is arrayed here: books, science, art, politics,language, family, fatherhood, childhood, nascent computers, the nature of dreams, the limitations of print, the potential and damnation of our species---the unraveling conversation does indeed touch upon most of Aldiss's concerns.

Time dominates the book. By dating the entries over the three weeks of composition, Aldiss invites us into his quotidian time, serving as gracious, garrulous host. Through daily work and distractions. We feel the changing weather hello, Helliconia! Day passes into day, "The time-terminator moving with elaborate ease."

Time's passage creates poignancy: Margaret Aldiss, "heavy with child" on the first page, has now died. Yet her presence here informs Aldiss's writing and more importantly his daily life. Encapsulated in Shape is a love story as well as a glimpse of a major writer at the work he loves.

Throughout flows love of humanity, .of our world, "charged with a beauty we are destroying because we ourselves are charged with a beauty rarely released." This short book flows with large ideas, a time capsule now from the grandest of writers.

—Keith Ferrell

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