Review: Finches of Mars / Author: Brian Aldiss / Publisher: The Friday Project / Release Date: June 6th
There is one television advertisement I remember in particular from my youth. It featured J. Robert Oppenheimer witnessing a nuclear explosion and the words which projected him onto my consciousness as a mortal giant: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Since then I have perceived the writer as having a capacity to be as close to God as any mortal. Brian Aldiss is one of those writers who can stand back and look out across the vast fictional landscape of sciences fiction, and consider himself both a creator and a destroyer of worlds; a mortal God if you will.
Finches of Mars follows the travails of a group of Martian colonists and the inevitable struggles they face in establishing a Martian colony. Overcoming the initial challenge of sustaining life, it proves impossible for new life to flourish, thereby casting a shadow over the future of the colony.
Aldiss’ final novel, published in his eighty-eighth year, is a science fiction story of ideas. Finches of Mars stands as a challenge to conventional wisdom regarding the need for a protagonist to compel the reader's empathy or interest. Instead it favours a cast of characters whose fates are intertwined within the narrative, but who are at the service of the delivery of the novel’s ideas. Finches of Mars is a thinking person’s SF novel which wants to engage with the reader, to compel you to reflect on the nature of existence, what it is to be human and our relationship with our home planet Earth as well as our place within the universe.
Sometimes Finches displays such an overwhelming sense of contempt for humanity that it could be easily taken for a cynical novel. Aldiss, however, understands that in the shadow of cynicism one can find a beacon of optimistic light, and through this conflict between the two he explores the value of hope, of belief within the cycles of human life, but is never afraid to look into the dark hearts of men and women, and question whether we have the propensity to create a better future for ourselves.
A fitting full stop on an illustrious career, Finches of Mars values the ambitious potential for storytelling at the heart of sciencefFiction, of dealing in ideas that can be described as grand, important as well as relevant. It is a thought-provoking conclusion in which Aldiss pays tribute to the intricate ménage à trois relationship within Science Fiction of ideas, narrative and science.