Helliconia Spring

Brian W. Aldiss
Helliconia Spring Cover

Helliconia Spring


This book didn't really work for me. As other reviewers have pointed out the central character of this book is the planet of Hellliconia and when a planet is the focus of the novel then the resulting work is often epic in nature.

This is my first reading of Aldiss and I can't help thinking that if I had read other works of his I may appreciate this more. In Helliconia Spring Aldiss attempts a lot. The planet of Helliconia is in a binary system where it orbits one sun Batalix every four hundred days or so and another larger, older sun Freyr every 2,500 years or so. The upshot of this is that the seasons on Helliconia last hundreds of years and inhabitants of the planet have no comprehension of the changing of the seasons.

In this novel the inhabitants of a hunter-gatherer society are part of the transition between a seemingly endless Winter and a new Spring. The novel focuses primarily on the inhabitants of a village called Oldorando and its changes as it grows and it's society learns and develops. The characters however are mostly uninteresting and have few redeeming qualities. What we seem to have here for large sections of the novel are power struggles within the village and it's grasp of new society.

Other reviewers have commented on the implausibility of a society discovering money, astrology and great engineering projects in the space of a generation or two - coming from a basic hunter / gatherer society. This burst of knowledge didn't annoy me that much although I can see how it may to others.

A key theme is the battle between women in the village and their thirst for knowledge and the men who think the best way they can express their care is by taking them for 'their woman'. This is quite an interesting aspect to the novel but suffers from many of the other themes in the book. So much is in there that nothing really takes centre stage.

The same could be said about the war between humans and the phagors - a race that has developed on the planet independently. In Autumn and Winter the phagors are in ascendancy and in Spring and Summer the humans are. We've war, phagors treated as gods and slavery of both phagors and humans and strange 'human-like' species. Add to that pandemic virus's and there is absolutely lots going on.

The issue with the book is that it takes so long for Aldiss to get anywhere. The characters are uninteresting (and their lives are often ceased in a sentence). There is so much backstory and 'telling' of what is going on quite often the book is just boring. Aldiss takes forever to get anywhere. There is a 100 page prologue at the start of the book and if the book had ended there I would have been relieved! The saving grace for me is that I got slightly more interested in the characters towards the end.

A great idea and some great world building but missing something in execution.