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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Harm by Brian W. Aldiss

Harm by Brian W. Aldiss. New York: Del Rey, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-345-49671-3

Brian Aldiss is another of those classic science fiction writers that I've been reading for almost my entire life. But kind of like Ben Bova, whose novel, Mercury, I panned back in 2006, none of his books every stuck that firmly with me. He certainly never became one of my favorite authors, whose every novel became a must read, to be waited for with anticipation and delight.

Still, his is a name to be reckoned with, and when I saw a new novel by him at the library, I took the time and energy to give it a read. A mistake? Not entirely, I suppose. What's the book about? It's very timely, I suppose. Our unfortunate protagonist is (like Aldiss), a British citizen, but unlike Aldiss, he's Muslim, son of an immigrant.

And now, apparently because he wrote a novel that, in a joking way, has one of its characters suggest that they should kill the prime minister, he's been incarcerated, held without any recourse, interrogated day and night, subjected to physical and psychological abuse, very much in what is probably only a slight extension of what's actually going on in the real world these days.

When he's knocked unconscious, or when he manages to fall asleep, he dreams the SciFi part of the story. He's an immigrant of another kind, a settler on an alien world which humanity has reached after a long interstellar journey. A seemingly, possibly intelligent alien species there has been almost, if not completely wiped out to guarantee the dominance of the newly arrived humans.

Human society there seems to be a parody of life on earth. A monster of a man is the fuhrer-like leader of society, and people, including our protagonist, seem to be mere shadows of regular people. The storyline, plot if you can call it that, of this alternate reality, is simple and fairly crude.

These episodes alternate with the cruel reality of life in a prison, with seemingly completely random and unjustified torture and interrogation continuing. It's a depressing book, not a pleasant or even particularly entertaining read. It does, I suppose, make a statement against our current irrational “war” against terrorism, and the ways in which it has undermined our traditional values and commitment to basic human rights.

The other story, on the alien world, could be seen as making a somewhat similar statement against our exploitation of the natural world, and again, of our cruel treatment of anything not exactly like ourselves. Unfortunately, neither statement nor story was entirely convincing. The book just isn't that compelling a read. Marginally recommended, especially for people interested in a book that is trying to make a political statement.

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