(Orbit, £6.99, 232 pages, paperback; published January 2001.)
The genesis of Steven Spielberg's 2001 release, ascience-fiction film entitled AI (an acronym for artificial intelligence), lies in a 1969 Brian Aldiss short story, "Supertoys Last All Summer Long." Spielberg inherited the project from the late Stanley Kubrick, who had initially purchased the film rights in the mid-1970s.
The tortuous journey of this short story from Aldiss's typewriter to the big screen is the subject of Aldiss's "Attempting to Please," the delightfully sardonic autobiographical foreword to his new collection of short fiction, Supertoys Last All Summer Long and Other Stories of Future Time. Unfortunately, this 13-page gem is the highlight of the book.
Aldiss is a veteran of science fiction: a professional writer for nearly 50 years now who has gathered a well-deserved plethora of awards and citations. Sadly, most of the fiction collected in this new book fails to showcase his fabled talents.
"Supertoys Last All Summer Long" and its two brand-new sequels, episodes in the life of an android who believes he's a flesh-and-blood little boy, are charming and nostalgic. They are good but not top-notch Aldiss.
In the new and recent stories that fill up the rest of the book, Aldiss tackles worthwhile issues such as Western culture's current subservience to economics and the horrors of the meat industry--but he does so in such a preachy way as to be off-putting to even those readers who, like me, share his views. These message-driven stories are clumsy fiction at best.
The book's closing piece, "A Whiter Mars," at least, is more upfront: it's written in the form of a Platonic dialogue. Perhaps Aldiss should simply give up the pretense of fiction altogether and write more directly about the issues that preoccupy him.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 4 August 2001; 12 April 2003