Supertoys Last All Summer Long and Other Stories of Future Time
by Brian Aldiss
Published by Orbit
232 pages, 2001
Buy it online
(Not So) Supertoys
Reviewed by Claude Lalumière
Brian Aldiss has been a professional science-fiction writer since the mid 1950s. He has written more than 50 novels. His short fiction, novels, criticism and memoirs have been steadily earning him awards and citations worldwide since 1955. He was twice hailed Britain's Most Popular Science Fiction Author -- in 1964 and 1969 -- by the British Science Fiction Association. In other words, Brian Aldiss is a pillar of SF, renowned for the excellence of his prolific and diverse contributions. And yet, as Stanley Kubrick once told him, "You seem to have two modes of writing -- brilliant and not so damned good."
This quote comes to us by way of Aldiss' "Attempting to Please," a short memoir used as the foreword to his new collection, Supertoys Last All Summer Long and Other Stories of Future Time. This 13-page piece is a product of Aldiss' brilliant mode. It tells, mostly, of the author's experiences with Stanley Kubrick, who, in the mid-1970s, bought the film rights to Aldiss' short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long." It offers fascinating glimpses of the notoriously eccentric Kubrick's work habits. Aldiss recounts his side of the story's long, frustrating journey from print to screen (it was recently filmed by Steven Spielberg as AI, the name Kubrick had long ago given the adaptation) and also shares his own attempts at turning his short fable into a feature-length screen story. "Attempting to Please" is written in a casual, warm voice spiced with confident slyness and dry wit. It's an absolute delight.
In this new book, Aldiss reprints his classic story and also adds two never-before-published sequels, "Supertoys When Winter Comes" and "Supertoys in Other Seasons." The three tales together comprise the story Aldiss wanted to see on the screen. Aldiss disagreed with Kubrick on how the original story should be expanded. "Supertoys" is the story of an android "boy" who thinks he's a real little boy -- perfect fodder for a Steven Spielberg movie; it's no wonder he's the one who finally filmed it. Although Spielberg bought the screen rights to the two sequels, Aldiss reports that the film follows Kubrick's version rather than Aldiss'.
In this era of rapid technological change, it doesn't take long for SF stories set in the future to seem quaint or outdated. And so it is with the future depicted in "Supertoys." Nevertheless, it's a good story and it's impressive how, decades later, in the sequels, Aldiss was able to seamlessly recapture the tone and atmosphere of its dépassé future. Together, the three stories have something of the nostalgic air of early Bradbury, a sentimentality that escapes, oh so closely, the pitfalls of mawkishness.
The rest of the book -- comprising tales from 1994 onward, including several published here for the first time -- is a much sadder affair. Despite some great lines ("There's no God -- yet I hate him.") and much well-placed outrage directed at such institutions as laissez-faire capitalism and the meat industry, these latter Aldiss tales trespass far beyond didactism into dreary preachiness. The old pro Aldiss seems oddly uncomfortable with fiction in these stories.
As "Attempting to Please" shows, Aldiss can still be a terrific writer, though perhaps his talents are now better turned towards memoirs and essays (his last few awards and nominations, not surprisingly, were for his landmark SF history Trillion Year Spree and for his autobiography Bury My Heart at W.H. Smith's). He has a keen mind and a sophisticated sense of humor. Sadly, his fiction doesn't showcase these as much as it used to. Too much of Supertoys Last All Summer Long and Other Stories of Future Time is, as the late Kubrick would have said, "not so damned good." | April 2001
Claude Lalumière is a January Magazine contributing editor and the comics columnist for Black Gate. He founded popular 1990s Montreal bookshops danger! and Nebula. His published criticism can be found on his Web site.