Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Finches Of Mars Finches Of Mars
by Brian W. Aldiss
The Friday Project

Supplied for review by Harper Collins New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson

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.

There are 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 distractingly annoying.

Characters come and characters go in a bewildering flurry. All are mouthpieces, none of them come alive. Nothing about this novel holds the reader’s 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.

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