Post a Comment. What if the planets orbited not only the sun, but the whole solar system orbited another, even larger sun? A planet of the fantastic, Helliconia is home to a diverse variety of imaginative flora and fauna a la Jack Vance. The sentient life, however, bears comparison to our own. Struggling Darwinian style, humans and a species called Phagors inhabit the planet, the latter forming a group which thrives in the ice ages that cover Helliconia in the millennia its meta-orbit moves through aphelion. Humans likewise having their moment in the sun forgive the pun in perihelion, this ongoing cycle highlights the species battles for survival.
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This I tell you all. Some disaster happened in the past, in the long past. So complete was it that no one can explain to you what it was or how it came about.
We know only that it brought darkness and cold. You try to live the best you can. Good, good, live well, love one another, be kind. It may have happened long ago, yet it infects every day of our lives.
Brian Aldiss is a British science fiction author and anthologist who produced his first novel, Non-Stop , in , and who has been writing pretty much continuously ever since. Ballard in the magazine New Worlds. I had little patience for the New Wave and its non-stories full of image and metaphor, and so pretty much ignored Aldiss after a few disappointing encounters.
Then, in , he produced Helliconia Spring , the first instalment of what looked very much like a good old-fashioned hard science fiction trilogy—what was promised was a long, detailed exploration of an exotic planet, spanning several centuries. Helliconia Summer followed in , and Helliconia Winter in The newer omnibus editions of the trilogy put the map where it should be, right at the start of the work. The novels are set on the planet Helliconia, which orbits the star Batalix, a thousand light-years from Earth.
Batalix is a little dimmer than our sun, and Helliconia orbits a little farther from it than Earth orbits the sun. It would therefore be a constantly chilly place, if Batalix did not in turn follow a wide, slow, elliptical orbit around a fiercely hot supergiant star, Freyr. Every years, Batalix dips close to Freyr, and Helliconia undergoes a baking millennial summer; half an orbit later, Batalix is three times farther from Freyr, and Helliconia is locked in a planet-wide winter.
Humans, too, have their own seasonal cycle, triggered by a virus. In spring, a pandemic called Bone Fever converts the chubby endomorphs who survived the winter into slim ectomorphs, ready for the rigours of summer; in autumn, the same virus induces the Fat Death, and those humans who survive the plague emerge fat and metabolically adapted to cold conditions.
The planet also hosts another intelligent race, the minotaur-like phagors, who are cold-adapted to a degree humans cannot match. Phagors dominate Helliconia in winter, enslaving those humans who do not flee to the narrow band of relative warmth at the equator; humans dominate in the summer, enslaving those phagors who do not escape to the high, cold mountains.
And he built himself a detailed map of the planet and its star system, which you can inspect on his website, here. Some reviewers have remarked often in a negative way that this means the planet itself is the central character in the novels; the Wikipedia page about the trilogy blithely repeats the same statement.
But this is not to put too fine a point on it complete bollocks. Aldiss is simply too good a writer to let that happen—in each novel he provides us with a rich and varied cast of well-developed, believable characters. In his own words , he created. And these people would be shown in contrast to the gigantic background of their planet at periods when both the climate and history were undergoing change. In Spring , he tells the story of the founding of a village by humans still adapting to the thaw, tormented by Bone Fever and conflict with the phagors, and undergoing a dawning realization that much knowledge of the world has been lost during the long winter.
In Summer , a king puts aside his beloved queen so that he can marry a child bride, a princess from another kingdom, in order to cement an expedient political alliance—little good comes of it. And in Winter , a victorious army returns home, bringing with it the Fat Death plague, with complex consequences for both the soldiers and their homeland, as the phagors again rise towards dominance in the cooling world. To the Kaci, peace was relative; they were long accustomed to internecine struggles.
They simply hung their crossbows on the back of the hut door and resumed their traditional occupations. These included hunting, blood feuds, potting—they made excellent pottery which they traded with the Madi for rugs—stealing, mining precious stones, and goading their scrawny womenfolk into working harder. Certainly the most important word he introduces is enantiodromia —the process by which things turn into their opposites. Phagors and humans alternate as rulers of the planet; the same virus causes anorexia in the spring and bulimia in the autumn; characters rise to dominance and are laid low; friends become enemies, and enemies friends; new knowledge is a joy, and then a danger; religion is a comfort, and then a betrayal.
Instead, they sit as passive observers in their technological cocoon, which Aldiss teasingly names Avernus —a reference to one of the gateways to Hell in Roman mythology. The fate of the Avernus inhabitants, trapped in their unnatural world, is another of the many narrative strands woven through the books.
Separated from that entity, humans, being more complex than elephants and daisies, have little chance of flourishing. Gaia is presented as a spiritual Mother Earth, rather than just a planetary homeostatic mechanism mediated by biology.
And the Original Beholder is the explanation for another strange aspect of the trilogy, which is the ability of Helliconians to enter a trance in which they communicate with the dead—the spirits of departed Helliconians are gradually merging with the spirit of the Original Beholder, and therefore remain accessible for often rather opaque conversations with their living relatives. I was so engrossed reading I forgot to be frightened. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam.
Learn how your comment data is processed. In his own words , he created … characters to which an ordinary reader might lend sympathy: people not given over to heroics, though sometimes to heroism; not faultless people, set apart by virtue; but people, men and women, caught in the toils of life, often unclear about where they were going, and involved in their feelings for one another; in short, courageous people without a great deal of insight.
So for me, a flawed classic—but an undoubted, inventive and truly epic classic, nevertheless. Like this: Like Loading Leave a Reply Cancel reply. A discursive blog on various topics of minor interest.
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By Werthead , May 25, in Off-Topic. Fifty years later, Yuli's descendants have conquered a larger town, renaming it Oldorando as well, and are prospering. Game is becoming more plentiful, the river is thawing and warmer winds are rising, even as the smaller sun, Freyr, grows larger in the sky. But with peace and plenty comes indolence and corruption, and the people of Oldorando find themselves bickering and feuding for power, even as a great crusade of phagors leaves their icy homes in the eastern mountains on a quest to slaughter as many humans as possible. The great drama of life on Helliconia is observed from an orbiting Earth space station, the Avernus, the crew of which watch as Helliconia and its sun, Batalix, draw closer to the great white supergiant about which they revolve and the centuries-long winter comes to a violent end.
To celebrate here are some collated web clips and comments, starting with a word from The Grandmaster himself, on his quest for writing the definitive book, Helliconia — a definitive statement on humanity. The Helliconia map created by Brian during his research into creating the solar system. It features in the leather-bound, gold-tooled edition from the US Easton Press edition :. Even the phagirs have their own individual character: a recurrent theme of pathos is the fate of the old slave Myk, ridden like a horse by his human child-masters, in the end discarded and killed by now adult children. Helliconia Spring is a triumph pf the imagination, a work of enduring depth and richness which demands reading and re-reading to take in its epic scale, its ironic intelligence, its commitment to dynamic change.
Helliconia is a planet that, due to the massively eccentric orbit of its own sun around another star, experiences seasons that lasts eons. Whole civilisations grow in the Spring, flourish in the Summer and then die in the brutal winters. The human-like inhabitants have been profoundly changed by their experience of this harsh cycle. In orbit above the planet a terran mission struggles to observe and understand the effects on society of such a massive climatic impact. Massive, thoroughly researched, minutely organised, full of action, pulp references and deep drama this is a classic trilogy.