Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm really impressed with this 1962 classic. I was fully prepared to assume it would be outdated and skimpy on the characters, but what I actually got was a thought-provoking tale that was so heavy on the worldbuilding that the worldbuilding was more like three or four characters in its own right.
I mean, you know its some serious science fiction if we're transported a billion years in the future, where men and women are a fifth our current size, where the earth and the moon are locked to constantly face the sun and the world had devolved and mixed and blurred lines between animals and vegetables. The prose was more than strong enough to prevent such a monstrosity of a novel from collapsing, filled with tantalizing images of truly odd creatures and situations I can barely guess at.
I only had a few issues with some of the characters. Some of the species of man were really dumb, and that was kind of the point, but I just couldn't believe that they'd have no sense of self-preservation. That point irked me. But other than that, I understood why the main characters didn't get much of a chance to grow or change. It was an outright adventure novel, exploring new lands, trying to survive while being driven by the mortal enemy of mankind.... his brain.
My god, that aspect of this novel was pretty damn cool. Mankind entered into a contract with a parasite that gave us our intelligence in the deep past. A fungus that, when combined with another living creature, makes it smarter. With time, it moved from being a crown of spongy fungus that looked like a brain to inhabit the slowly enlarged cavity of our modern heads, until all man thought this was the natural order. When the sun aged and became deadly to the fungus, mankind fell into the state of beasts again.
To have a hardy and evolved fungus drop upon you in the middle of the jungle to give you heightened intelligence, you'd think that would be a good thing, right?
Intelligence is overrated. :)
What a mess it caused for Gren.
The world was fantastic, spanning from spiderwebs that spanned between the earth and the moon, twilight zones where wolfmen roam, trees that shoot fire, and fishmen that rise up from the waters to preach about civilization and the coming nova of our sun. Too cool.
There's one more thing. These stories were written in 1961 before they were put together as one novel the next year. As I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself that this novel was the inspiration for Dune. The Morel could access our genetic memories into the deep past. The ecological concerns were breathtaking and very well thought out and developed, whether or not they're inaccurate. There were so many links and ties between the two novels that I had to put it down and do a little research. I kept assuming that this was a homage to Dune, for heaven's sake. Nope. It came out 4 years before Dune, and does an awesome job at outperforming Dune in these ways.
Is that high praise? Yes. Do I see why one of the short stories that made up this novel won the Hugo in '62? Yes. Can I imagine that during the 5 year time that Frank Herbert was writing Dune, he got inspired while reading the magazines these stories were published? Yes.
What a fantastic coincidence. :)
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