Transfixed by the sight of a spider entrapping a cabbage white butterfly in his grandmother's garden as a young boy, SF author Aldiss stumbled upon an idea that would define his life as a writer. ""The sundry shortcomings of nature,"" he writes in this absorbing, elegantly written memoir, ""were givens with which one had to live. In the circumstances, observation made more sense than interference."" The quirky blend of classical learning, poetic language and exotic landscapes that animate Aldiss's fiction (Greybeard; Frankenstein Unbound) also suffuse this book, which eschews a linear chronology in favor of a more Proustian narrative told in emotionally charged flashbacks. Fully a quarter of the book deals with Aldiss's childhood, from his early years in the small market town of East Dereham, where his father ran a drapery business, to a long period of maternal rejection and boarding school, before being conscripted into the British army to serve in India and Burma. Aldiss captures the complex mental processes of adolescence with remarkable clarity, as he traces his evolution from an author of scribbles passed among schoolmates to a seminal figure of post WWII SF. Fans will relish the accounts of his friendships with Philip K. Dick, Alfred Bester and Doris Lessing, his role in furthering the institution of SF conventions, his dealings with filmmakers Roger Corman and Stanley Kubrick and his ruminations on his craft: ""The first word in an SF writer's vocabulary is if."" The book concludes with Aldiss, in his 60s, having fought off a form of chronic fatigue syndrome and undergone psychotherapy, finding himself wise, optimistic and reconciled to his life--and, despite the challenges of advancing age, as creative as ever. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999 Release date: 04/01/1999 Genre: Nonfiction
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