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    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    May 2012 SF BotM: Helliconia Spring by Brian Aldiss

    This month's SF Book in the Book Club is Helliconia Spring, the first novel in the Helliconia trilogy, first published in 1982:



    Here's what i said when I reviewed the Trilogy in 2011:

    I did read them back in the 1980’s when they were released as three separate books: Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer and Helliconia Winter, in 1982, 1983 and 1985 respectively. Hereafter I’m going to see them as one book, which is for all intents and purposes is how they read, as a uniform body of work (albeit in three parts.)

    At the time of original writing they were a surprise, if I remember right. Here was a writer known for his SF writing (Hothouse, Greybeard, Report on Probability A, etc) writing what seemed (at first) to be a fantasy.

    And if I remember right, a glacially slow series. Which made them a little disappointing.

    However, there is an SF element to the books. For those who don’t know, Helliconia is a planet. The tales are told from the perspective of the inhabitants as they go through the world’s seasons. The twist in the tale here is that the seasons are very long: centuries long, long enough for species to live and die within one season, and especially in the long, cruel, bitter winters.

    As the tale unfolds the perspective is drawn further back to the point where we realise that all that is being told is actually part of a planetary research report from the Earth ship Avernus. It is here that the reader discovers that, as part of a binary star system, all / most life on Helliconia will be extinguished. Much of the books are spent in the debate over whether Humans should interfere with the rise and fall of civilisations on the planet, which is an interesting counterpoint to what goes on in the research ship and on Earth.



    We meet a variety of people/creatures on this journey: In Helliconia Spring, Yuli is a humanoid hunter-gatherer, one of the Freyr, who, as the world reawakens, we find experiences the development of an urban civilisation. Helliconia Spring tells of Yuli and his descendants as Helliconia Winter turns to Spring and the Freyr develop from hunters to urban dwellers. By the second book we have the dominance of the human-like species in a fantasy setting. We also encounter more about the Phagors, a Morlock-like furred white humanoid species, who begin in Helliconia Spring as seemingly simple hunters and carry off Yuri’s father. As the story deepens, however, in Summer and Winter we find that they have a richer background and culture and seem to have been on Helliconia long before the emergence of the human-like dominant species. The fantasy feel is quite strong as we discover about their lifestyles. To confirm this further, there’s even a dragon-like creature, the Wutra’s Worm, with an enormous lifespan.

    The book is a case study in worldbuilding: evidently Aldiss spent time with physicists, astronomers, ecologists, climatologists, sociologists and microbiologists in creating a credible environment. Most importantly (according to Aldiss’s introduction) is Lovelock’s idea of Gaia, once fairly new in the 1980’s, and now seems to be increasingly plausible Perhaps, as a result, this book doesn’t seem as way out as it did when I first read it, though just as epic and majestic. Part of the joy of this book is to see how the world changes through the seasons and how the landscape and landforms adapt accordingly.

    In the style of Olaf Stapledon’s First and Last Men, or some of HG Wells’ work, this book is perhaps the ultimate planetary romance, and deliberately so. In such a framework the writer writes as an observer rather than as part of the narrative. Consequently, the book seems written in a rather detached style. Though this can give a feeling of weight and gravity to the long tale, it can also create a coolness that distances the reader from the world and creatures within. They are being studied rather than interacted with.

    In the 25 years or so since originally reading this, I now see where Aldiss is going. It is his view on civilisations, their ability to grow and decline and the causes and effects of such development. It also raises the question of whether in the grand scheme of things Mankind in the future may be worth preserving.

    Though it is still slow to develop, it is surprisingly engaging. Do not expect it to be a fast-paced romp. Instead, it is a book where you expect to be immersed and be slowly awakened to the opportunities within.

    It may be my greater age and experience, it may be that in these days of global warming and biomes the world’s just caught up with the concepts herein. However this was a much more satisfying read second time around. And good to see the background details given as Appendices here too.

    Consequently, very much recommended.
    Discuss!

    Mark
    Mark

  2. #2
    Hi all, I am new here. Are there guidelines for the discussion? Let me know if I overstep any bounds.

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    I got the book today at the local Half Price Books store...$1.79!!! I couldn't believe it. Its a 1984 paperback edition, and looks nearly new

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    I just finished the first part of the Prologue.

    I liked the way the book started, very atmospheric (sorry, couldn't resist). It really got me into the setting and gave me a good idea of character-types.

    So far, I've had two problems, which might be related. 1) The boy is given two different ages. 2) He seems more clever that one might expect on his way to the settlement, given how he starts out.

    For those who have read the book/series, are these mistakes, or do they point toward something relevant to the plot/setting?

  3. #3
    Registered User miahskeeper's Avatar
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    Read this many years ago. Found it enjoyable but when I treied to move to the next book in the series I got bogged down and never finished. Might have to pick it up again.

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    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    It's one of my all time favorite epics, especially the first volume. I would say if you read it for the characters, you will probably be dissapointed. Helliconia Spring covers three or four generations, and the focus is not so much on individuals, but on the world waking up after a centuries long Ice Age. I was hooked right from the prologue with the massive migration of beasts crazened by a tiny parasite.

    I've first read this in 1990, and at the time I was more interested in SF than in fantasy, so one thing that bothered me was the whole ancestor angle, obsidian ghosts communicating with the living. It felt out of place beside all the scientific details about binary suns, and biodiversity and climatic adaptations.

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    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Well done for joining in, reddir.

    So far, I've had two problems, which might be related. 1) The boy is given two different ages. 2) He seems more clever that one might expect on his way to the settlement, given how he starts out.
    Good point, but nothing here is a mistake.

    Have to remember that the year is much longer than Earth's. According to Wikipedia, Helliconia has a very long year (called The Great Year), equivalent to some 2500 Earth years. A Helliconia day is 480 Earth days.

    Consequently a twelve 'year' old on Helliconia is the equivalent of 30 000 on Earth! (It doesn't happen....)

    So yes, it is why they might seem mature for their ages. They also have a skill set that would suggest a formal education is less important than the skills attained through experience.

    Mark
    Mark

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    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Phew - Helliconia..

    I read this a year or two ago and really struggled to finish it. I only continued with it (after putting it down one third of the way in due to boredom with the awful characters and the whole, overblown situation) out of respect for a writer I usually love. I couldn't imagine reading the other two volumes.

    Perhaps I should expand a little on why I disliked it. I was intrigued by the idea of the story of a planet waking up after an ice age and the scale of the situation should have carried the story along. But instead Aldiss chose to get bogged down in a fantasy tale about a medieval village and its very Earthlike inhabitants. I can remember that when the plot shifted focus from this rather predictable group of wizards and no-hopers, things would get more interesting but not for long enough.

    Great covers though!
    Last edited by Ropie; May 3rd, 2012 at 07:43 AM.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit View Post
    Well done for joining in, reddir.

    Good point, but nothing here is a mistake.

    Have to remember that the year is much longer than Earth's. According to Wikipedia, Helliconia has a very long year (called The Great Year), equivalent to some 2500 Earth years. A Helliconia day is 480 Earth days.

    Consequently a twelve 'year' old on Helliconia is the equivalent of 30 000 on Earth! (It doesn't happen....)

    So yes, it is why they might seem mature for their ages. They also have a skill set that would suggest a formal education is less important than the skills attained through experience.

    Mark
    Ok, that explains it. The first age given is 7 yrs, then a few pages later 9 yrs. From what you wrote, 7 Helliconian days is equiv to 9.3 Earth years. And I can imagine a 9yr old being clever.

    -------------------------------------------

    I've read another ~25 pages, to where Yuli is "becoming professional" at his job.

    I'm really liking the contrast between outside and inside. I'm sure others have written about this before, but its my first time seeing it in the context of a character's experience.

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