On a planet with a complex orbit and centuries-long seasons, humans dominate the warmer times, only in some places living quietly with phagors and other sentient species. Their lives are observed remotely by Earth, via the Avernus, an orbital observation station. On the station, whose occupants have their own fascination with Helliconia’s royal scandals, one resident has just won a lottery, offering him a ticket to the surface, and to certain death.
After the sweeping, Michenerian scope of the Spring volume, Aldiss tries hard to bring the story to a human scale in Helliconia Summer. He frames the story with an abandoned queen, pining for her cruel husband, and he comes back to her occasionally and toward the midpoint of the volume. But it’s an artifice that is only partially successful. There’s not enough foundation for the queen’s situation to support the groaning, top-heavy mass of social and historical commentary that burdens the first half of the book.
More successful is the introduction of an outside observer. Billy Xiao-Pin, from the Avernus orbital station. His presence seemingly forces Aldiss to stick more close to a limited range of time and space, making the story both easier and more interesting to follow. Even when Billy is out of the picture, the story stays close to its other lead characters, and in particular King JangolAnganol, a tragic figure all of whose options are bad.
The result is a slow, but still much more intimate and entertaining book than its prequel. While first half is slow, the second begins to fulfill the promise that Aldiss must have hoped for with his reams of setup and background in the Spring volume. By the end, one feels somewhat satisfied – much the feeling of finally reaching “Of Beren and Luthien” after plowing through the duller bits of Tolkien’s Quenta Silmarillion.
01 October 2017 Science fiction | Brian W. Aldiss | Helliconia Trilogy |