Finches of Mars

I don’t hate Brian Aldiss. In fact, he was one of the people who brought me to science fiction.

When I was a teenager, the high school library had a conveniently walled off collection of science fiction. In it were some of the volumes of the Best SF: series Aldiss co-edited with Harry Harrison. They led me to a lot of new writers — even if I didn’t like or even understand all the stories.

And I liked his Billion Year Spree and all those anthologies he edited, especially Galactic Empires volumes one and two.

I’ve even liked about half the novels of his I’ve read — though the key there is read.

Well, I did … until White Mars and this one. Now that ratio is certainly skewed.

Because I had to write it quick for Amazon, you get my first swing at Finches of Mars.

The methodical beatdown of it and White Mars comes later.

Review: Finches of Mars, Brian W. Aldiss, 2015.

The only good thing you can say about this novel is that it’s better than White Mars. Essentially, this is a rewriting of that 1999 utopian novel co-written with Sir Roger Penrose.Finches of Mars

This may be advertised as an environmental dystopian novel with Earth a mess from war, global warming, bee colony collapse, overpopulation, environmental disaster, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and ignorance. Humanity’s colony on Mars, improbably run and sponsored by a consortium of universities, the United Universities, may be threatened by women being unable to give birth.

This, though, is ultimately a utopian novel. The Martian colony is about Mankind Achieving a Renewed Society.

Like all utopian works, we get a list of what’s wrong with our world and the solutions. Aldiss is a good enough writer where he abbreviates these sections and has characters give counterarguments. But the arguments are too brief to be convincing, the characters who give them so numerous and thinly described that only two hydrologists, the first men on Mars, are in any way memorable or even distinguishable from the rest of the Martian crowd.

We get Martian life of a decidedly plausible nature instead of the ludicrous moving mountain of Mons Olympus in White Mars. Aldiss, who has long returned to evolutionary themes in his career, talks about evolution here, but he seems to falter. Are we to see the Martian society as a sort of organism speciating from general humanity, Hamiltonian fitness at work via a carefully (though, it turns out, not so much) group of people? Or are we to see the evolution happening on the individual level in which case, by analogy, he’s given us Lamarckism and not Darwinian evolution?  He also seems to be a bit shy about saying races are subspecies of man that have, by definition, significantly different traits manifested, partly, in their history.

At least we are spared the boring, cheap mysticism of White Mars and its talk of particle physics.

 

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