Bow Down to Nul, slightly unconvincingly: A review of The Interpreter by Brian W. Aldiss.
The Interpreter by Brian W. Aldiss, NEL, 1973, 126 pages.
Brian Aldiss is one of the most significant figures in post-war science fiction. In particular his breadth makes him SF’s true ‘man of letters’. As an author he stands at the highest level, a Grand Master of the genre who has written traditional SF (in his early work like the book I’m talking about here) and some of the most experimental work, like Barefoot in the Head and Report on Probability A. His much more recent Walcot was written in second person. Yet while being a highly productive and intensely thoughtful author, he is one of relatively few really major, central figure who has spent a great deal of time thinking and writing about the field and about the work of others. Delany also comes to mind. His is importance to SF history and criticism. Couple that with significant achievements in ‘mainstream’ fiction, like the Squire Quartet and the Horatio Stubbs saga, and add in stage shows, poetry and editing work, and we see that his career has a both a breadth and depth of achievement rarely seen.
This book is a relatively minor early work. It is Aldiss still learning his trade. First published in New Worlds way back in 1960, it lies closer to the SF of the US and the 1940s, the so-called ‘golden age’ of the genre, that most of his work. It also lies closer to the American tradition than much of his work, ending as it does in… well, suffice to say that the plot is perhaps more pulpy and more ‘traditionally’ resolved than in many of his later works. Though it shows the inward focus that is so typical of him compared to other space operas of the time. It contains some nicely inhuman aliens, the nuls, but feels rather schematic, and the plot turns on some characters making decisions that the author feels the reader might not believe without considerable convincing. There is lots of treachery and trickery and many double-crosses. The dialogue often rings untrue, especially when characters are trying to explain each others’ motivations to each other (really to the reader) –“…Something in your subconscious wanted me as a witness of what you took for Rivars’s mistake.” — or implicitly telling the reader that the author knows these words would never be spoken by a real person (“Ah, now you’re rationalizing.”)
So, not a great book, but by a great author who intermittently produces great books.