|In a recent interview, Brian Aldiss said that the only author
he reads these days is Tolstoy. Perhaps this accounts for the odd nature of his new novel Finches
of Mars. Aldiss claims that this will be his last science fiction novel. What a
shame that he has ended his career with a whimper, rather than with a bang.
six towers for the Martian colonists, each funded by a university. The inhabitants of the
towers depend on imported foodstuffs from Earth for their existence. No live animals are
allowed on Mars. Religion is forbidden. In one of many idiosyncratic and badly thought out
asides, Aldiss blames Earth's current terrorism, overpopulation and religious intolerance
on illiterate people who are brainwashed by primitive writings. Mars represents a chance
to start again without this pseudo-intellectual baggage.
Unfortunately, all the babies that are born on Mars are stillborn, or else they die
soon after their birth. Perhaps people really cannot live on Mars with its cold, low
sunlight, low gravity and lack of oxygen.
Despite the interdiction on live animals, a population of finches has been smuggled to
Mars. This is a direct nod to Charles Darwin, whose On the Origin of Species was
inspired by his observations on the finches of Galapagos. The novel itself can be read as
a clumsy allegorical treatise on evolution scientific, social, political and moral.
Aldiss is playing with the idea that evolution is selecting against survival on Mars. This
encourages a lot of somewhat shallow authorial philosophical musings which are
Characters come and characters go in a bewildering flurry. All are mouthpieces, none of
them come alive. Nothing about this novel holds the readers attention and much of it
is actively irritating. In short, it reads like exactly what it is the desparingly
eccentric musings of a grumpy old man who has lost touch with the way the world works.
Very much like Tolstoy, really.