Friday, May 13, 2005

Science Fiction Book Review: Hothouse

No, it’s not one of those X-Rated erotica books or a guide to growing greenhouse vegetables, but it does share two similarities: sex and vegetables. But then if one looked hard enough just about every book out there has those two elements in it mentioned somewhere.

But this book Hothouse, by Brian Aldiss, is quite different. So different in fact that I haven’t read anything quite like it in all my years of reading (twenty five plus) and I am glad I finally got around to it. My shelves are bursting with read (2000 or so) and unread (another 1000 or so) science fiction and fantasy and horror books, but I can only get through about forty to fifty of them a year. (see what not having TV can do for you?) And I thought, hey, I may as well share with the world my thoughts and impressions on each of them when I finish one. So, on to my short book review of Hothouse.

Setting - setting - setting. This book is mostly about the setting and what an imaginative and interesting setting we are given. The time frame is somewhere in the very distant future (millions and millions of years) when our sun (big shiny hot thing in our sky) has reached a point when it is about to turn into a red giant star and fry our lovely little planet like a blowtorch on a pea. The earth has stopped rotating long ago and has a perpetual light side (where life flourishes still) and a perpetual dark side. (where things are pretty dark) Vegetables rule supreme and have taken on many characteristics of dominant life forms such as movement, flight and eating each other with teeth and stomachs. Mammals and reptiles and insects are no longer very high on the food chain and scrape out an existence at the sufferance of plants.

Gren, the protagonist, is one of a small tribe of humans who lives among the hothouse jungle in the banyan tree. Now this is no ordinary banyan tree. This tree has taken over all of the landmass which still remains in daylight. Humans are now small, green skinned creatures who have taken to the tree to live because the ground is crawling with predatory vegetable life. Anyone falling from the tree branches will quickly be consumed by "the green" life forms waiting below. The life of Gren and his tribe, though he is not the leader, is brutal and exotic. One moment they can be playing, the next they are fighting for their lives against some huge stalking vegetable monster most of which are very well conceived, alien and utterly ruthless. Most of Aldiss’s creations make the "killer tomatoes" look tame.

Circumstances see Gren going on an adventure in this exotic vegetable world and Aldiss does a fantastic job of bringing it alive. Insects (roughly the size of the small humans now), especially "termights", have become friendly with the humans and they will actually aid each other if in need. The dominant vegetable life (and its myriad of forms) really is that nasty, believe me. Gren encounters a couple of "other" sentient life forms and learns through them of the ultimate fate of the world. We are treated to some fantastically strange environments, but they are recognizable enough. There is so much more going on with the little green humans and all the earth’s life, but I won’t spoil it for you. It’s what gets revealed by the end of the book.

One last thing I’ll note from the book, and this one is pretty far fetched, was the giant "traversers"which actually travel between the earth and the moon. The moon is now infested with vegetables too, but is a less hostile environment than earth. Anyway, these traversers are mammoth in size, actually miles long. I pictured them as gargantuan eggplant shaped spiders. And yes, they actually spin webs across the sky and to the moon and back, but can also sail free through space if they want.

So you are wondering if it’s worth the read? My feeling is, yes it is and not just because it won the Hugo award way back in the early sixties, but because the world is so exotic and well conceived it’s worth the just over two hundred pages to explore it. Read it. You won’t be disappointed.

As for me, I know I’m not going to be looking at my salad the same way again. Hey, did that piece of lettuce just move? It moved! I saw it. It enveloped and consumed a crouton. It did! - Yes, my wife and daughter think I’m crazy too - but in a good way - I hope.

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