Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review: Helliconia Spring

(This review contains no significant spoilers.)

I've been on a bit of a reading binge lately. The first in the batch of books I've read recently was Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss.  I remember seeing this book in my high-school library and intending to read it.  Somehow, I never got around to it.  Until that is, I found it in a used-book store a month or so ago.  My review follows.

The Setup

This book is the first in a 3-volume story that chronicles one "great year" on the planet Helliconia. The planet orbits its sun ever 1.6 Earth years or so.  That sun, in turn, follows an extremely elliptical orbit about another, brighter star every 1825 of these "small years."  One great year thus takes almost 3000 Earth years and is accompanied by extreme seasonal sapient species oh the planet.  As the seasons progress, dominance passes from the winter-adapted phagors to the heat-loving humans.

What I Liked
  • The setup is very compelling.
  • The world-building is very thorough, including plants, animals, and cultures evolved to survive on this planet.

What I Disliked
  • I found the plot, which follows few individual humans through a couple of generations, simply uninteresting.  I believe my lack of interest is an almost inevitable outcome of the setup.  The book can't simply recount the interesting quirks of Helliconia or the events of one great year;  if it did, it would read like an encyclopedia rather than a novel.  Instead, the plot must follow individual humans.  However, since a human lifespan is so small compared to a great year, and since the humans and phagors have competed for numerous great years, I couldn't help but feel that nothing that the humans---or phagors---do will matter in the long run.

Overall, I give this novel 6.0 out of 10.  It's an impressive example of world-building that is, nonetheless, not especially compelling.

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