Who Can Replace a Man? – by Brian W. Aldiss – An OCF Science Fiction Book Review

Aldiss was a British science fiction author and “Who Can Replace A Man” is the name of a short story collection published in 1965.  From my exposure to the English films and theater from that time period they seemed like a thoroughly unhappy bunch.  A lot of that shows up in Aldiss’s stories.  There’s a dreariness and an almost claustrophobic atmosphere to some of his work which I can’t enjoy.  But mixed in with these will be a gem.  Out of the fourteen stories in this collection two of them are excellent and highly recommended.

“Old Hundredth” is the story of a megatherium (giant sloth) riding on a baluchitherium (sort of like a prehistoric giant rhinoceros) in search of transubstantiation into a musicolumn.  This piece of insane storytelling is remarkably enjoyable and feels like some kind of impressionistic water color of a beautiful landscape rather than a science fiction story.  I’ve always greatly enjoyed rereading it.

The story “Who Can Replace a Man?” is more prosaic and recognizably science fiction in its content but it provides a self-consistent and believable vision of what a world of robots would be like after humans disappear.  It’s fun even when it’s bleak.

After these two stories recommendations become qualified.

“Poor Little Warrior!” is the story of a time travelling brontosaurus big game hunt.  It follows in the footsteps of Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” but outdoes it in grimness.  It has that British mid-century dreariness but has some cheerful horror at the end.  To each his own on this one.

“The Impossible Star” is equally grim but does include and interesting imagining of how proximity to a black hole might affect the human animal.  I’ll give it a passing grade.

Finally, “The New Father Christmas” is dreary enough but so odd that it gets points for holding my interest.  I’ll give it a D+.

The rest of the stories, although they have interesting facets are just too downbeat for me to enjoy or recommend.  If you do decide to read the New Father Christmas and enjoy it then maybe you can find value in the rest of the collection.  Once again, to each his own.

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