Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review of Report on Probability A by Brian Aldiss

I suppose that after more than a thousand reviews, it's fairly obvious this blog has a soft spot for literary novels which utilize the devices of fantastika. A full course meal with spice, most do not appear so profound on the surface, yet the more one unpacks the details, the deeper they become—a depth made more engaging for the touches of the impossible or not-yet-possible. Thus, while Brian Aldiss' 1968 Report on Probability A would seem a dull voyeurism, the more one seeks out the connections between its pieces, the broader is potential meaning spreads, and becomes a highly engaging thought piece.

Plot subtle and fragmented, Report on Probability A is not rip-roaring, space-faring, alien-shootin' science fiction. But I would say it writes the book (har-har) on parallel universe stories. Ostensibly about a group of people on one planet watching the lives of a handful of people living on one British street, it digs into another layer: the handful of residents likewise peer into the lives of those around them—reality through a fractured lens.

A lone man making tea, a handyman taking a break in his loft, a housewife going about her daily tasks—mundane but fascinating, fascinating in the same way that Tom McCarthy’s Remainder would later be fascinating. As with that novel, these quotidian observations exist only the surface. Beneath are the observers in a parallel world, which Brian Aldiss wrote the book on parallel universes; all else pale in comparison. Art as observation; science as empirical observation. And finally, life as art - the relative tedium of the novel scouring any possible melodrama from that conclusion.

While certainly opinion will vastly vary, particularly given the ever widening number of selections to put in this novel's stead, but for me, Report on Probability A is the parallel universe novel. Aldiss focusing entirely on the human dimension, what comes across as largely life under a microscope has a voyeuristic component that adds a layer of commentary—or at least opportunity for further abstraction, that no other text on parallel universes (at least that I've read) looks into. Where most play with the idea of parallel worlds like a nerd, Aldiss goes deeper, utilizing it not as a toy, but as a engaging, intellectual tool, unearthing parts of us in comfortable and uncomfortable ways. One of his best books—and he has many good ones.

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