Brian Aldiss’s Hothouse

Brian Aldiss, Hothouse (1962, Baen Books 1984)

What a luxury to read a book where a child dies  horribly in the first couple of pages, where the earth’s temperature has risen to the point where almost all mammals are extinct and small groups of humans cling to a precarious existence, where women lead those human groups and the men are protected and pampered because reproduction depends on their survival, and where none of these things is weighed down by real-life concerns about child protection, anthropogenic global warming or hegemonic patriarchy. Hothouse was first published in 1962 (and a year earlier as a five-part serial in a science fiction magazine), when gender politics and ecological anxieties were dots on the horizon for most people, and it was possible to approach in a spirit of joyful play subjects that are now matters for earnest, urgent and often acrimonious discussion.

You can’t argue with a book that rewrites the laws of physics to allow vast spider-like plants to tether the moon to the earth with silken cables. You can’t get too gloomy over a dying Earth scenario that involves incredibly [sic] vicious vegetable species with names like killwillow, trappersnapper, wiltmilt or oystermaw.  You can only sit back and enjoy the ride when human intelligence is explained as the product of symbiosis between ape-like mammals and a ratiocinative fungus.

This book won a Hugo when it was first published. It’s listed as one of David Pringle’s Best 100 Science Fiction Novels since the Second World War. It’s a wildly inventive odyssey in which the hero Gren meets more evolutionary monsters than any one story has a right to. There’s plenty of terror, romance and comedy, much physical and moral heroism, enough philosophy to keep the mind engaged, and a pinch of charming bawdry.

I was at boarding school in 1962,  thirsting for genre fiction and making do with what slim pickings the school library had to offer. Hothouse and the 14-year-old me were meant for each other. We’ve met up nearly 50 years too late, but that’s much much better than never. I’ve just read on the Official Brian Aldiss Web Site that Penguin republished it in 2008 – may it bring joy to myriad  readers, of whatever age.

11 responses to “Brian Aldiss’s Hothouse

  1. Jonathan,
    What a great review. The opening paragraph is sensational.
    Makes me want to read the book –even though horrible murders don’t usually do the trick for me, I think *my own* 14 yr old self is after a bit of Brian Aldiss!

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  2. Oh, apologies, perhaps it wasn’t murder in the first paragraph. Certainly love the idea of silken cables tethering us to the moon. (Abigail Dunleavy)

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  3. Hi Abigail – I knew setting up an automatic Facebook notification would attract a high quality readership. You’re right, it’s not a murder, but it is horrible.

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  4. I remember reading this books years ago and adoring it – thanks for reminding me!

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  5. Katherine: Thanks for saying so. After I’d put the post up, I read two or three reviews from SS/F fans that made me feel I lacked all critical judgment.

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  6. I can’t wait to read this work! I just finished Aldiss’ 1958 novel Non-Stop (Starship in the US) and loved it…. But yes, he doesn’t shudder from killing characters and shocking us….

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  7. I look forward to your review, Joachim. (I fixed the typo.)

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  8. The link for the Merchanter’s Luck review. Well, I suspect the review for Hothouse will take a while — I don’t own the book yet and I have a I must read pile the size of a small mountain looming over my desk 😉

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  9. I apologize — I was discussing C. J. Cherryh with someone else earlier today. Sorry. But yes, thanks for peeking at my Non-Stop review — I didn’t actually mean to push my blog on you at all — hehe

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