July 9, 2015
Finches of Mars, by Brian W. Aldiss
Doomed by overpopulation, irreversible environmental degradation, and never-ending war, Earth has become a fetid swamp. For many, Mars represents humankind’s last hope. In six tightly clustered towers on the red planet’s surface, the colonists who have escaped their dying home world are attempting to make a new life unencumbered by the corrupting influences of politics, art, and religion. Unable ever to return, these pioneers have chosen an unalterable path that winds through a landscape as terrible as it is beautiful, often forcing them to compromise their beliefs—and sometimes their humanity—in order to survive. But the gravest threat to the future is not the settlement’s total dependence on foodstuffs sent from a distant and increasingly uncaring Earth, or the events that occur in the aftermath of the miraculous discovery of native life on Mars—it is the fact that in the ten years since colonization began, every new human baby has been born dead, or so tragically deformed that death comes within hours. Brian W. Aldiss has delivered a dark and provocative yet ultimately hopeful magnum opus rich in imagination and bold ideas. A novel of philosophy as much as science fiction, Finches of Mars is an exploration of intellectual history, evolution, technology, and the future by one of speculative fiction’s undisputed masters.
I was skeptical of “Finches of Mars.” The premise looked interesting on NetGalley, but there were many low-star reviews. I’m afraid I have to concur with these low star reviews.
The cover touts this a “A new novel from a grand master of science fiction.” I think not. The writing in the first eighty percent was just okay. The last twenty percent was an affront to sci-fi. The author took a cheap out and created a paradox as the solution to the obstacle the cast had to overcome: stillborn babies.
The description tells of “miraculous discovery of native life on Mars.” Well the discovery was boring, and the life they discovered was inconsequential to the story as a whole. The description goes on to refer to this book as “ultimately hopeful magnum opus.” The ending is neither hopeful nor worthy to be referred to as a magnum opus. The story is filled with stiff storytelling, uninteresting story, and a horrific ending.
If I allowed fractional star ratings, I’d give this 2.5 stars. I read somewhere that the author decreed that this would be his last science fiction story. I can only reply with “who cares.”
I wouldn’t be opposed to reading more from Brian W. Aldiss, because I suspect he is indeed a great writer, but stay away from this over-hyped story.
Brian Wilson Aldiss is one of the most important voices in science fiction writing today. He wrote his first novel while working as a bookseller in Oxford. Shortly afterwards he wrote his first work of science fiction and soon gained international recognition. Adored for his innovative literary techniques, evocative plots and irresistible characters, he became a Grand Master of Science Fiction in 1999. Brian Aldiss recently celebrated his eighty-sixth birthday and is still writing to ardent applause.