Helliconia Summer

by Brian W. Aldiss
Series: Helliconia 2
Reviewed date: 2006 Dec 13
Rating: 4
485 pages
cover art

Three years ago in my review of Helliconia Winter I accused Brian Aldiss of attempting to write an epic beyond his capability. But the story of Helliconia was powerful enough to keep me interested, and so I broke down and read Helliconia Summer.

The planet Helliconia is in a binary star system. Helliconia orbits Batalix, a relatively cold star, which in turn orbits Freyr, a hot star. Thus Helliconia has two years: the small year around Batalix, and the great year around Freyr. A small year is 480 Earth days, while a great year lasts 2592 Earth years. The seasons of the great year are extreme: centuries of bitter cold during the winter, scorching sunlight for hundreds of years in the summer. During the great summer, men dominate Helliconia. In the great winter, the other intelligent species native to Helliconia--the phagors--thrive.

Helliconia Summer is set about a century before midsummer of the great year. Temperatures are becoming unbearable, causing droughts and famine in the equatorial continent of Campannlat. Scarcity breeds wars over resources. Times are particularly bad in Borlien, where King JandolAnganol is fighting wars on several fronts. To save his kingdom, he divorces his wife MyrdemInggala, intending to cement an alliance with neighboring Oldorando by marrying the young princess Simoda Tal.

Aldiss follows a number of different characters throughout the book, to give us the best possible insight into the events that shape Helliconian history. In addition to JandolAnganol and MyrdemInggala, he introduces us to the deuteroscopist Bardol CaraBansity, the Ice Captain Muntras, chancellor SartoriIrvrash, General Hanra TolramKetinet, and Odi Jeseratabhar. Most of the characters are developed sufficiently, and their motivations are believable. There is no particular villain; although JandolAnganol craves power and is prone to irrational violence, he does seem genuinely concerned with protecting his nation.

The subtext that underscores all the battles--both military and political--on Helliconia is the distrust between phagors and humans. Humans rule Helliconia, and phagors are kept as slaves. Many Helliconians wish to eradicate phagors, seeing them as an inferior race and the hereditary enemy of humans. Others, JandolAnganol in particular, have no fear of phagors and see no reason to persecute them.

Helliconia Summer is the best science fiction book I've read all year so far.

Archive | Search