Science Fiction Though the Decades

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

1958: Non-stop (Aldiss, Brian)

Arboreal-overrun corridors with deformed green humans (5/5)
From August 19, 2009

Among my favorite science fiction books are two books published this decade- The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks and The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. Also in my shortlist are paperback novels from years when even my dad was in his youth, such as Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. van Vogt and Tau Zero by Poul Anderson. These have been amongst the most satisfying of novels in my sequence of 250+ sci-fi books in the last three years, when I've started to read the genre. My top seven remains fairly stagnant, but Non-stop found a place for itself in my personal elite selections.

Knowledge that the entire novel takes place in a generation ship isn't made clear until then end, however, it is widely known that Non-stop is in fact one of the few `generation ship' novels. It's obvious from the start that the humans in the Quarters aren't very human at all- they are shrunken, green, time-skewed and deformed. Living in the same world but not in the same region are the mysterious Outsiders, the mythical Giants and the majestic Forwards. Visualize this: cramped corridors run over by exotic arboreal growths paralleled by yet-to-open chambers containing mementos of generations past. That's how the reader is introduced to the world in which these mutated humans live- in squalor, in poverty where they know no difference, in the seemingly wilderness. It's all very fascinating to imagine that feral human mutants running amok in the bowels of an ancient spaceship. If that doesn't interest you, maybe you shouldn't be reading sci-fi?

After the initial introduction to the world they live in, the plot becomes bogged down a bit by internal happenings in the Quarters. Perhaps I was just anxious to delve straight into the rest of the ship to discover what wonders or horrors it held. Much to my satisfaction, the plot proceeded to do just that. Later, I could appreciate the early lull in plot as it helped to characterize the village mutants as individuals and as a whole.

Further along, there is a romantic subplot, which other reviews don't seem to appreciate. However, when taken into the context that the relationship is being carried on by a village mutant and a beauty (as described by the mutant) it's unsettling to the reader as the reader doesn't know the intentions of the beauty. Is she using the mutant for her own purposes or is she honestly in love with him? Aldiss throws that massive wrench into the works as the reader attempts to figure out what is going on- it ain't easy. Through some guesswork, I figured out about half the ending while halfway through the novel. Perhaps it read too predictably or perhaps it was my intuition. Either way, I was still on seats edge awaiting every page, paying strict attention to every nuance and reading into every word in every conversation. Just fantastic!

For more novels regarding generation ships, look for Alastair Reynolds' Chasm City, Frank M. Robinson's Dark Beyond the Stars, and Gene Wolfe's Nightside of the Long Sun. I think I'm forgetting others I've read... shucks.


  1. I agree completely, what a fantastic novel! It jumped all the way to the top ten in my favorite novels list upon reading it. And it made me pick up the last Helliconia book I needed and seriously consider reading the series.

    I recently read and reviewed it back in January, though the review was on the short side now that I look at it.

    Interesting that you point out the romance as something other reviews overlook since mine went that route. Partly because I try and limit recaps to the first half of the book to limit spoilers, and partly because I feel that subplot happened so late in the novel that it didn't have as much room to develop.

    1. I, too, have been considering Helliconia. But if it's loquaciously epic like Dune, then count me out... but at the same time I tell myself it's ALDISS and I HAVE to read it! With time... with time.

    2. I'll let you know when I get around to reading it. (At the least, Aldiss and Herbert are very different writers.)

  2. I haven't read the superb sounding Non-Stop, but I have read the following Aldiss books in preparation for a 3-hour Aldiss radio interview I did recently (and which is being broadcast in a few days time. More info in a moment *) :

    The Interpreter (1/5)

    Cryptozoic (3/5)

    Earthworks (3/5)

    The Twinkling of an Eye (autobiography, 3/5)

    Bury My Heart at WH Smith's : A Writer's Life (autobiography/essays on SF etc, 4/5)

    Hothouse (4/5)

    Report on Probability A (one of my favourite novels ever - an avant-garde SF masterpiece. I would HIGHLY recommend this bizarre, original, thought-provoking, poignant, beautiful and philosophical novel : 5/5)

    *(in case any of you may like to hear it, the first part of my 3-hour audio interview with Aldiss will be broadcast on the London-based radio station Resonance FM and available to hear live online, everywhere else, at It should be going out next Wednesday 13th March, from 9-10pm (GMT). Keep an eye out on my blog for more info. Cheers)

  3. PS : yours is a fabulous blog, 2theD, which I am thoroughly enjoying reading(thanks to Joachim's recent recommendation on his own blog). I agree with a lot of your very astute and insightful opinions, amongst the odd disagreement. Cheers!

  4. Thanks for stopping by even though I'm currently on a review furlough (12 days away from completing my graduate thesis).'m looking forward to Aldiss's Finches of Mars this year... do you much about this release? Sadly, your 9-10pm radio slot is 4-5am in my timezone. Post a recording of the show for me?

  5. Hi 2theD - no worries, I will get you a link to the podcast in a few weeks ok (we talk about The Finches of Mars a little bit too). Here is some more info : Cheers!

    New ATOMIC BARK! Radio Show TONIGHT 13/3/13 at 9pm (GMT) Interview with Brian Aldiss

    Wednesday 13th March, 9-10pm (GMT) on Resonance 104.4 FM in London and streamed live, online, at

    James DC interviews the legendary Science Fiction author Brian Aldiss, in the first part of a 3-hour interview, over the next few weeks. Brian talks about his troubled childhood in Norfolk in the 1930′s, his ribald experiences in the Army in World War Two, ghostly apparitions and moments of revelation, religion, creativity, the various concepts and themes of science fiction, plus much more, in this first part of an extensive interview focusing on all aspects of Brian’s life and writing career.

    9-10pm (GMT) Wednesday 13th March on 104.4 FM in London and live, to hear online simultaneously, at:

    Repeated Friday 15th March, 11am-12pm (GMT), with podcasts to follow soon after – look out for news soon on : and