Aldiss's father ran a department store that his grandfather had established, and the family lived above it. He started to write stories as a 3 year old which his mother would bind and put on a shelf. At the age of 6, Brian was sent to board at West Buckland School in Devon, which he attended until his late teens. During World War II in 1943, he joined the Royal Signals, and saw action in Burma; his Army experience inspired the Horatio Stubbs second and third books, A Soldier Erect and A Rude Awakening.
After the war, he worked as a bookseller in Oxford. He wrote a number of short pieces for a booksellers' trade journal about life in a fictitious bookshop, which attracted the attention of Charles Monteith, an editor at the British publisher Faber and Faber. Brian Aldiss was for some years the literary editor of the "Oxford Mail" which was a position of some high regard. I know this because I interviewed him for a series of articles which were published in Smith's Trade News, the trade magazine of the newsagent W.H. Smith and Son. Probably about 1956. He was well regarded as a writer. As a result Aldiss's first book was The Brightfount Diaries (Faber, 1955), a 200-page novel in diary form about the life of a sales assistant in a bookshop. About this time he also began to write science fiction for various magazines. According to ISFDB his first speculative fiction in print was the short story "Criminal Record", published by John Carnell in the July 1954 number of Science Fantasy. Several of his stories appeared in 1955 including three in monthly issues of New Worlds, a more important magazine also edited by Carnell.
In 1954, The Observer newspaper ran a competition for a short story set in the year 2500, Aldiss's story "Not For An Age" was ranked third following a reader vote.The Brightfount Diaries had been a minor success, and Faber asked Aldiss if he had any more writing that they could look at with a view to publishing. Aldiss confessed to being a science fiction author, to the delight of the publishers, who had a number of science fiction fans in high places, and so his first science fiction book was published, a collection of short stories entitled Space, Time and Nathaniel (Faber, 1957). By this time, his earnings from writing matched his wages in the bookshop, so he made the decision to become a full-time writer.
Aldiss led the voting for Most Promising New Author of 1958 at the next year's World Science Fiction Convention, but finished behind "no award". He was elected President of the British Science Fiction Association in 1960. He was the literary editor of the Oxford Mail newspaper during the 1960s. Around 1964 he and his long-time collaborator Harry Harrison started the first ever journal of science fiction criticism, Science Fiction Horizons, which during its brief span of two issues published articles and reviews by such authors as James Blish, and featured a discussion among Aldiss, C. S. Lewis, and Kingsley Amis in the first issues, and an interview with William S. Burroughs in the second.
Besides his own writings, he has had great success as an anthologist. For Faber he edited Introducing SF, a collection of stories typifying various themes of science fiction, and Best Fantasy Stories. In 1961 he edited an anthology of reprinted short science fiction for the British paperback publisher Penguin Books under the title Penguin Science Fiction. This was remarkably successful, going into numerous reprints, and was followed up by two further anthologies, More Penguin Science Fiction (1963), and Yet More Penguin Science Fiction (1964). The later anthologies enjoyed the same success as the first, and all three were eventually published together as The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus (1973), which also went into a number of reprints. In the 1970s, he produced several large collections of classic grand-scale science fiction, under the titles Space Opera (1974), Space Odysseys (1975), Galactic Empires (1976), Evil Earths (1976), and Perilous Planets (1978) which were quite successful. Around this time, he edited a large-format volume Science Fiction Art (1975), with selections of artwork from the magazines and pulps.
In response to the results from the planetary probes of the 1960s and 1970s, which showed that Venus was completely unlike the hot, tropical jungle usually depicted in science fiction, he and Harry Harrison edited an anthology Farewell, Fantastic Venus!, reprinting stories based on the pre-probe ideas of Venus. He also edited, with Harrison, a series of anthologies The Year's Best Science Fiction (Nos. 1-9 1968-1976)
Brian Aldiss also invented a form of extremely short story called the Minisaga. The Daily Telegraph hosted a competition for the best Minisaga for several years and Aldiss was the judge. He has edited several anthologies of the best Minisagas.
'Metropolis' limited edition print by Brian Aldiss
He traveled to Yugoslavia, where he met Yugoslav fans in Ljubljana, Slovenia; he published a travel book about Yugoslavia entitled Cities and Stones (1966), his only work in the genre; he published an alternative-history fantasy story, "The Day of the Doomed King" (1968), about Serbian kings in the Middle Ages; and he wrote a novel called The Malacia Tapestry, about an alternative Dalmatia.
In addition to a highly successful career as a writer, Aldiss is also an accomplished artist whose abstract compositions or 'isolées' are influenced by the work of Giorgio de Chirico and Wassily Kandinsky. His first solo exhibition The Other Hemisphere was held in Oxford, August–September 2010, and the exhibition's centrepiece 'Metropolis' (see figure) has since been released as a limited edition fine art print.(The exhibition title denotes the writer/artist's notion, "words streaming from one side of his brain inspiring images in what he calls 'the other hemisphere'.")
Aldiss was the "Permanent Special Guest" at the annual International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) from 1989 through 2008. He was also the Guest of Honor at the conventions in 1986 and 1999.
On 1 July 2008 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Liverpool in recognition of his contribution to literature.
The Rain Will Stop (The Pretentious Press, 2000), written in 1942
The Brightfount Diaries (1955)
Space, Time and Nathaniel (1957), collected short fiction — all of his science fiction published to date, including "T", his first published story, and "Not For an Age" (thirteen stories) plus one story hurriedly written to fill out the volume
Non-Stop (1958), US title Starship — A member of a culturally-primordial tribe investigates the dark, jungle filled corridors that surround him to ultimately uncover the true nature of the universe he inhabits.
Equator (1958), US title Vanguard from Alpha
The Canopy of Time (1959), collected short fiction. (The US title Galaxies like Grains of Sand (1960) was a different version, which Aldiss preferred)
No Time Like Tomorrow (1959), collected short fiction — published for the US market by New American Library imprint Signet Books (contents: T, Not for an Age, Poor Little Warrior!, The Failed Men, Carrion Country, Judas Danced, Psyclops, Outside, Gesture of Farewell, The New Father Christmas, Our Kind of Knowledge)
The Interpreter (1960); US title Bow down to Nul — A short novel about the huge, old galactic empire of Nuls, a giant, three-limbed, civilised alien race. Earth is just a lesser-than-third-class colony ruled by a Nul tyrant whose deceiving devices together with good willing but ineffective attempts of a Nul signatory to clarify the abuses and with the disorganised earthling resistance reflect the complex relationship existing between imperialists and subject races which Aldiss himself had the chance of seeing at first hand when serving in India and Indonesia in the forties.
Hothouse (1962) — Set in a far future Earth, where the earth has stopped rotating, the Sun has increased output, and plants are engaged in a constant frenzy of growth and decay, like a tropical forest enhanced a thousandfold; a few small groups of elvish humans still live on the edge of extinction, beneath the giant banyan tree that covers the day side of the earth. This assemblage of stories, published in abridged form in the American market as The Long Afternoon of Earth, won the Hugo Award for short fiction in 1962.
The Airs of Earth (1963), US title Starswarm, collected short fiction
The Dark Light Years (1964) — The encounter of humans with the utods, gentle aliens whose physical and mental health requires wallowing in mud and filth, who are not even recognised as intelligent by the humans.
Greybeard (1964) — Set decades after the Earth's population has been sterilised as a result of nuclear bomb tests conducted in Earth's orbit, the book shows an emptying world, occupied by an aging, childless population.
Best SF stories of Brian Aldiss (1965); US title But who can replace a Man?'
The Impossible Smile (1965), previously a Science Fantasy magazine serial under the pseudonym "Jael Cracken"
The Saliva Tree and other strange growths (1966), collected short fiction — Title story "The Saliva Tree" was written to mark the centenary of H. G. Wells's birth, and shared the Nebula Award for the best novella of 1964.
An Age (1967), US title Cryptozoic! — a dystopic time-travel novel
Barefoot in the Head (1969) — Perhaps Aldiss's most experimental work, this first appeared in several parts as the 'Acid Head War' series in New Worlds. Set in a Europe some years after a flare-up in the Middle East led to Europe being attacked with bombs releasing huge quantities of long-lived hallucinogenic drugs. Into an England with a population barely maintaining a grip on reality comes a young Serb, who himself starts coming under the influence of the ambient aerosols, and finds himself leading a messianic crusade. The narration and dialogue reflects the shattering of language under the influence of the drugs, in mutating phrases and puns and allusions, in a deliberate echo of Finnegans Wake.
The Book of Brian Aldiss (1972), UK title The Comic Inferno, collected short fiction
Frankenstein Unbound (1973) — A 21st century politician is transported to 19th century Switzerland where he encounters both Frankenstein and Mary Shelley. It was the basis for the 1990 film of the same title, directed by Roger Corman.
The Eighty Minute Hour (1974) — A weird and ambitious "space opera" whose characters actually sing. The world is in chaos after nuclear war causes time slips and even those that believe they rule the world have trouble knowing where and when they are.
The Malacia Tapestry (1976)
Brothers of the Head (1977) — A large-format book, illustrated by Ian Pollock, tells the strange story of the rock stars Tom and Barry Howe, Siamese twins with a third, dormant head that eventually starts to awaken. Adapted into a 2006 film by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe.
Jocasta (2005) A re-telling of Sophocles' Theban tragedies concerning Oedipus and Antigone. In Aldiss' novel, myth and magic are vibrantly real, experienced through an evolving human consciousness. Amidst various competing interpretations of reality, including the appearance of a time-travelling Sophocles, Aldiss provides an engaging alternative explanation of the Sphinx's riddle.
Cities and Stones: A Traveller's Yugoslavia (1966)
The Shape of Further Things: Speculations on Change (1970)
Item Eighty Three (1972), by Brian and Margaret Aldiss — A bibliography of Aldiss's published works, this book being number 83
Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1973) — BSFA special award
Hell's Cartographers (1975), co-edited with Harry Harrison — A collection of short autobiographical pieces by a number of science fiction writers, including Aldiss. The title is a reference to Kingsley Amis's survey of science fiction, New Maps of Hell.
This World and Nearer Ones: Essays Exploring the Familiar (1979).
Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1986), by Aldiss and David Wingrove — A revised and expanded version of Billion Year Spree and winner of the 1987 Hugo Award for the year's best nonfiction. At the 'Conspiracy 87' ceremony, Aldiss began his acceptance speech by holding the Hugo aloft and proclaiming, to general approbation, "It's been a long time since you've given me one of these, you bastards!"
The Pale Shadow Of Science (1985), collected essays
... And the Lurid Glare of the Comet (1986), articles and autobiography
Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's: A Writing Life (1990), autobiography
The Detached Retina: Aspects of SF and Fantasy (1995).
The Twinkling of an Eye, or My Life as an Englishman (1998)
When the Feast is Finished (1999), by Brian and Margaret Aldiss
Art After Apogee: The Relationships Between an Idea, a Story, a Painting (2000), by Aldiss and Rosemary Phipps
Penguin Science Fiction (1961)
More Penguin Science Fiction (1963)
Yet More Penguin Science Fiction (1964)
The Year's Best Science Fiction No. 1 (with Harry Harrison) (1968)
^ abBrian Aldiss at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-22. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents.
^'Short Story, Ballot' The Observer; Jan 16, 1955 page 9;
^"John W. Campbell Memorial Award Finalists". Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction (sfcenter.ku.edu). Retrieved 2013-04-18. The Award recognises second and third-place runners-up. Recent lists of finalists are long, 14 in 2008.