Non-Stop, by Brian Aldiss

Non-Stop is what I’d term perfunctory SF. For a start it’s 240 pages and I read it in a single evening. – So it’s gripping, yes? – Or perhaps it requires no particular application of mind. (The next SF book I’ve been reading, in contrast, had been remarkably slow-going. We can maybe examine the reasons more in that future review).

It has a very familiar SF plot: a group of people, who’ve spent their lives living within an enclosed society, decide against the rules of that society to go “outside” and discover the reality of the world, which is no doubt quite different to what they conceived. We can immediately think of other examples: Arthur C Clarke’s The City and The Stars, for one; also, the next but one book I’m reading; – I’m sure there are plenty of others. – It’s a slight variation on that other SF template: a group of people discover a world different from their own and wander about in it. – There’s some inherently pleasing, I find, in both these stories.

This is the kind of book where I’m tentative about giving away anything of the plot; and that makes it kind of difficult to say anything about it in concrete terms, since it is almost entirely plot-driven; so I shall be very abstract. The events of this novel seem very contrived; a lot of things happen at the same time so that they can be included in the novel and so that the novel can reach a satisfactory conclusion. It also seemed highly unlikely to me that nobody for so many years ever learnt the things that were learned during the short duration of this novel; the entire world they lived in cannot have been very large, since they do not take that long to cross it, so it seems unlikely that nobody for generations has bothered travelling round it. Once again, psychic powers were developed in the novel, though on this occasion rats were channeling them through other animals – rabbits, for instance – and there were some psychic moths. Also, I’d personally have expected they’d have imposed a much more strict quarantine. If you want to understand much of this, you’d probably have to read it.

I guess why I’m calling it perfunctory SF is that it just uses an SF template, and then moves its characters around in it, but it never particular seeks anything deeper than this. It’s just an adventure story.

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