Tag Archives: Brian Aldiss

Vaughan & Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man Book 2

Brian K Vaughan & Pia Guerra, Y: The Last Man, Book 2 (2003, 2004, this Deluxe Edition 2009)

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In Book 1, all mammals with a Y chromosome except two died in a mysterious plague. We were introduced to the two survivors, Yorick Brown and his companion monkey Ampersand; their nemesis, Yorick’s younger sister Hero; their protector, a secret organisation operative named 355; and Dr  Mann (get it?) who seems to be the world’s best chance of understanding the plague and securing a future for humanity.

At the end of Book 1, our main characters had set off from New York to San Francisco, to Dr Mann’s backed up research, her main lab having been torched by Israeli soldiers. And on its last page we had glimpsed a trio of astronauts, two male and one female, who are about to return to earth.

Book 2 is the equivalent of a road movie. As in all good road movies, we learn a lot more about our three main characters: 355’s organisation comes slightly more clearly into view; Dr Mann may not be the great scientist she’s cracked up to be; and young Yorick reveals depths and vulnerabilities, that is to say he becomes more interesting. The astronauts land, with predictable and unpredictable results. The Israeli soldiers become a serious problem. There’s a paranoid states-rights militia, a group of travelling players, a shadowy ninja-like character who seems to be working for the government, pistol-toting cowgirls, a kick-ass Russian agent, a tragic dominatrix (or is she?), and a host of interesting single-page characters.  There’s plenty of violence and PG sex, though (possible spoiler) Yorick manages to remain faithful to his girlfriend who is still in Australia.

The story zings along. Yorick’s major in English Literature allows literary references to be pulled off: a bizarre form of therapy, we are told, was developed in a secret meeting between Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Sade (Brian K Vaughan’s invention, I think); Mary Shelley wrote a novel called The Last Man set in the 21st century (true); there’s explicit homage to Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. Pia Guerra does most of the pencilling but is joined in this issue by Goran Parlov for three  of the original 13 issues and Paul Chadwick for two – for a non-expert reader like me the transitions are seamless.

I read this on an evening when I had intended to go to the movies. Nothing I wanted to see was on at a convenient time, so I hopped on a bus, got to Kinokuniya just as it was closing, and read this pretty much in the time a movie would have taken and with at least as much enjoyment.

Just as I was about to hit Publish I read on the jacket-flap what purports to be a summary of Y‘s set-up but is in fact a statement of just how male-dominated the world is at the start of the 21st century. As a result of the mysterious plague, ‘495 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are now dead, as are 99% of the world’s landowners … Worldwide, 85% of all government representatives are now dead … as are 100% of Catholic priests, Muslim imams, and Orthodox Jewish rabbis’. The book is fun, but it’s having its fun in a seriously fraught place.

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.