Completed 8/29/2014, Reviewed 9/1/2014
Brian Aldiss is another Grand Master of Science Fiction. He has a huge body of work, and deciding which one to read was quite a challenge. I picked “Greybeard” because it has been republished in the MasterWorks of Science Fiction series. It sounded like it was the inspiration for P.D. James’ “Children of Men”, and I do love a good post-apocalyptic yarn. But after reading it, I was pretty sure I picked the wrong Aldiss book to read first.
After an atomic “accident”, the world becomes sterile, eventually leaving a world with an aging population. Greybeard and his wife are two of the youngest people left, being in their fifties. After living in a village run by a lunatic mayor, they decide to leave, along with a few others, to find a better community in which to live their and the human race’s last days.
The story is basically a travelogue. It’s about a few people in search of place to settle down in peace and safety. The explanation of the atomic accident, and the story of how Greybeard got to the point of leaving, is told in flashbacks. The travelogue wasn’t that interesting to me. I thought it dragged, even though it was trying to convey the different types of societies and communities that evolved since the accident. The real meat of the story was in the flashbacks.
Greybeard is a very interesting character, and it’s revealed in the flashbacks. You get to see what type of young man he was, and what his response to the accident was. That’s where he, and his wife as characters are realized. The storytelling in these sections is tight, and there’s constant suspense. When the book reverts back to the present, it doesn’t get very interesting until the end. And even there, it’s little unsatisfying.
I think if I’m going to read anymore Aldiss, I’ll have to try the Hellconia series, which is considered his best work, and/or “Frankenstein Unbound.” As for “Greybeard”, I give it three stars out of five.