Brian Aldiss: Grandmaster of Science Fiction


On Saturday 19th August, 2017, Brian Wilson Aldiss O.B.E., author, artist and poet, died at his home in Oxford, aged 92.

Named the Grandmaster of Science Fiction in 2000 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Aldiss wrote the British Science Fiction classics Non-stop, Hothouse and Greybeard.

During an interview with The Telegraph in 2015, Aldiss said that he began writing chilling stories as a way to deal with bullying at his school in West Buckland, Devon. “My father was very unfeeling when I was growing up, and sent me off to boarding school when I was six,” he said. “I was so upset that I used to wet the bed in the dormitory. To stop other boys teasing me, I told terrifying stories. If any of them cried out in horror for me to stop, I had triumphed; they were never going to mock me.”

In 1943, during the Second World War, Aldiss joined the Royal Signals and saw action in Burma. His horrific experiences there inspired his popular Horatio Stubbs series of books, including A Soldier Erect and A Rude Awakening. After the war, he began to work as a bookseller in Oxford. It was his work amongst books and readers that inspired his popular The Brightfount Diaries (Faber, 1955), a 200-page novel in diary form about the life of a sales assistant in a bookshop.

It was in the late 1950’s that Aldiss began to write science fiction, contributing to various magazines. His first short story, Criminal Record, was published in the July 1954 edition of Science Fantasy Magazine. Aldiss came third in a science fiction short story competition run by The Observer newspaper in 1954, and went on to write a short story collection entitled Space, Time and Nathaniel (Faber, 1957). By this time, his earnings from writing matched his wages in the bookshop, and he made the decision to become a full-time writer.

As well as his own continued success as a science fiction writer, Aldiss became an editor for many anthologies in his genre, and his reputation grew year by year. A friend and drinking companion of Kingsley Amis and friend to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Aldiss was a founding member of the Groucho Club in London and a judge on the 1981 Booker Prize.

In later years his novels began to reflect the realities of the world in which we live, with a science fiction twist. His books Harm and The Finches of Mars both dealt with the contradictions of the war against terror and the logistical difficulties of accommodating different terrestrial belief systems in space. Among his considerable body of short fiction are the Supertoys stories, collectively adapted for film as A.I., on which Aldiss collaborated with Stanley Kubrick for over a decade before its completion by Steven Spielberg.

A huge influence on the world of science fiction, the works of Brian Aldiss will surely continue to be treasured as classics of literature.

More information can be found about Brian Aldiss at his website- http://brianaldiss.co.uk/

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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