Brian W. Aldiss
HARM Cover



Grandmaster Brian W. Aldiss has written a novel exploring the morality of our treatment of suspected Islamic terrorists. That he has chosen to do so in the context of an SF novel is very natural; since he has a name and can readily published in the field where he has a name. What is unfortunate is that the fruits of his novel will be largely confined to the SF world, because of the ghetto that the SF community tends to be in regards to the greater literary world.

We are first presented with Paul Fadhil Abbas Ali, a British man of Muslim descent who has married a girl of Irish descent and written a humorous novel called The Pied Piper of Hament. In it, there is a short passage where two characters joke about killing the Prime Minister. So he is arrested and tortured by the Hostile Activities Research Ministry (HARM), who believe that he is a Muslim terrorist.

Sometimes he believes he is a man named Fremant on a distant planet called Stygia. Although most of the time, Fremant is not in prison in Stygia, his life is as challenging and generally unpleasant. For example, the planet is inhabited by many insect species and the colonist feel obliged to kill some competing species.

Eventually we learn that the colonists on Stygia were sent from Earth, as the West was being economically supplanted by the East and attacked by terrorist from the Middle East. The trip was long, and the colonists were stored enroute in a machine which mixed up their memories and their nationalities. Therefore, one possible interpretation is that Fremant is getting Paul's memories mixed up with his. Another is that Paul is a multiple personality sufferer, and that Fremant is one of his alternate personalities. We can never be sure which is the true explanation, if either is.

It is remarkable that Aldiss continues to write works of such power in his eighties. He is obviously disturbed my our response to terrorism, particularly the British side of things, naturally, but he has no easy answers, as indeed we really don't. This is not a feel-good work, but I do recommend it.