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.