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Intangibles Inc. And Other Stories (SF) - Brian Aldiss ****

Brian Aldiss was a brilliant science fiction and fantasy writer, though his books could sometimes come across as enigmatic or downright baffling, particularly when they involved some kind of slippage in reality - this 1969 collection of five novellas illustrates both his strengths and weaknesses wonderfully.

There's one out-and-out fantasy story, the rather wistful title story, where a never-aging traveller revisits a family with longer and longer gaps between visits after setting an original challenge. For me, the first two stories in the book Neanderthal Planet and Randy's Syndrome work best because, although they are challenging in their themes, they don't resort to the time/reality slippage scenario that was so central to many Aldiss books. The first features a rather clever double layered approach by sandwiching a science fiction story written by the main character into two parts of a story about his life. The second is fantasy, but less obviously than Intangibles Inc, featuring conscious foetuses which decide not to leave the womb.

To make up the five we have Send Her Victorious, the weirdest of the stories with an almost steampunk feel despite a future setting (Queen Victoria (sort of) plays a major part) for a story involving time or reality slippage, while the final story, Since the Assassination, also a slippage story, involves the assassination of the American president and a bizarre discovery on the Moon.

Overall there are some brilliant ideas here, and though the stories are now 50 years old, they are still very readable, if you are comfortable with Aldiss's habit of distorting reality. The only real criticism is that he really can't write women characters. All the stories feature women (relatively unusual for the period), but in a way that often makes them, cringe-makingly, 'the little woman'. Feminist it ain't.
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Intangibles Inc. is out of print - for entertainment's sake, the cover shown here is from my 1969 Corgi SF Collector's Library copy, a rather nice series Corgi ran of SF and fantasy titles featuring a uniform, crinkly purple cover.
Review by Brian Clegg 

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