Friday 25 January 2013


Brian Aldiss, 1961
(January 2013)

              Obeying an inalienable law, things grew, growing riotous and strange in their impulse for growth.

So ‘growing’ very much the theme, then.

If you’ll forgive me my now trademark geo-rotational pedantry, chapter two gives us this gem-

              Throughout the eons, the pull of the moon had gradually reduced the axial revolution of its parent planet to a standstill, until day and night slowed, becoming fixed forever: one on one side of the planet, one on the other.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but if the earth stopped spinning about its axis completely, wouldn’t that just lead to a day-night cycle spanning a year instead of 24 (and a bit) hours? In order to get one side fixed always in day and the other always in night then the earth would still have to spin around its axis, just much more slowly than at present, and at a rate exactly matching the rate of orbit around the sun. Try it with a couple of coins; to keep the same point of the satellite pointed towards the focus, you have to turn it through a full 360º for every complete orbit.

The premise for this book is that, at some unspecified but hugely distant point in the future, plants have taken over the earth and killed off all but a handful of animal species. They’re motile and bordering on the sentient. Giant veg-spiders have colonized the moon, and the stunted remnants of humankind eke out a meagre existence in the canopy of a single, continent-spanning banyan tree. Truffles are self-aware.

This, then, is clearly science fiction where ‘science’ is very much the subordinate partner. So basically just ‘fiction’.

Not an overly long book either, at a little under 300 pages, but it was still fairly slow going. The final third in particular was a slog and something I'd have probably put down if I hadn't come all that way already. I’m all for comprehensive worldbuilding in my SF (though I do think vast swathes of the fan community over-value it to the point of fetishization), but I need a little bit more than just that to pull me through. The characters are all idiot-children with internal and external monologues barely higher than, ‘Me Ugg. Ugg make fire. Fire hot,’ and the plot is basically a series of unfortunate events. There’s a journey, things happen. That’s pretty much it.

So science fiction without science, and fiction without character or plot. Doesn’t sound all that promising really, does it?

What marks Hothouse out, though, is its almost lovingly unsentimental take on the daily brutalities of the natural world. Tennyson gets the requisite nod as the world is described as ‘green in tooth and claw’ and that’s the book in a (mutated, evolved, unrecognizably terrifying) nutshell. Humans, and thus the lead characters, are just another link in the food chain, and a pretty weak one at that. No point investing them with too much in the way of personality if they’re just going to end up as fertilizer.

And of course, that’s how we’re all going to end up. It’s all very well looking to the stars to gain that feeling of cosmic insignificance, but the roots (sorry) of that feeling lie far, far closer to home. This is a truly Darwinian vision that accurately and devastatingly puts humankind’s pretentions as a species in their proper, insignificant place. Hard to think of a more immediate memento mori than the one sprouting at the bottom of your garden.


  1. Plants take over the world, and truffles are Um. I don't think I'll pick this up, but I am kind of fascinated by that idea--in an amused-and-yet-baffled way!

    1. Yeah, I'd be hard pushed to recommend this. It's certainly not without value, but it is an almost archetypal example of the standard criticisms of SF; that it's all about concepts with no regard for plot or character. It would definitely not be something I gave to someone new to the genre.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, btw.

  2. 1/2 of Canada would be underwater

    Your not Canadian right?

    I was just gonna buy this so I'm so glad I saw this post...phew!!..../sarcasm ;)

    1. No great loss. It's mostly ice anyway, eh?

      Glad to have been of service, prevention is better than cure and all that ;)