15 thoughts on “The Moment of Eclipse (1970) – Brian Aldiss

  1. The blind idiot god Azathoth – Trump famously looking at the sun without protection on the day of the recent eclipse.
    RIP Brian Aldiss who passed away around that time.
    The two events suddenly caused me — just like the Danish film-maker going to Africa after all in the first story — to want to real-time this collection….
    Also encouragement from Rhys Hughes who told us on Facebook that it one of the greatest short story collections.



    I sense I have already become this book’s “loiasis vector”…. Its inner shadow, disguised as something flickering outside, not inside, to bloodsuck it, not to subsume it from within. Or perhaps I do both?
    This first story is truly amazing. In a style that temptacles you into a slipstream of beautiful prose and constructive mischance. A film-making man obsessed by a Danish woman in fields beyond the fields they know, he being Danish, too, bending fate to follow her to West Africa, making his film after all, a film that he wouldn’t otherwise have made, entranced by her legends of love, love even with her underage son whom the film-maker also later meets, in fact still sporadically meeting her son by bored chance beyond the end of the story itself. It is a frightening story. She is a Munch madonna. Also a Thomas Hardy sonnet. She is not the SF they wanted him to film. This story is something far more rarefied, paradoxically far more real, too.

    “, brains that teem,…” Thomas Hardy.

  2. IMG_3644


    “Permanent happiness lies only in the transitory.”

    A train story too, as attacked by carnivores.
    If I said this was a philosophical discussion by aliens in the shape of Socratic humans, interspersed with italicised visionary codicils or codas or, even, corrections to their own alien history, and where the cynosure of Cythera is sought by each participant, you might start yawning…
    Take it from me, this a perfect gem precise because of its imprecision. Something that lodges in the mind like the previous story’s inner eclipse. That previous story’s entangled polarities, too.
    Also the ‘cage of words’ that Aldiss described here in 1970 prefiguring endless, increasingly bitter and logic-chopped threads on Internet discussion forums!

    “Perhaps truth is an accident.”


    “Postponement is an Indian virtue. In Europe, it’s an admission of failure.”

    A long story, ostensibly well-written, well-characterised Graham Greene like with slants on cultural and political geography, but with the added tantalising texture of it being written in 1970 about 2001, being read by me in 2017. A dislocation echoed by the opening phone call, ending with an ancient landline, from England to India, a phone call through various junction points from Tancred to his wife against whom he is (secretly?) committing adultery with an Indian woman, whose character and body we all grow to relish alongside him. But also a dislocation echoed by the text itself: straight-line bordered mini-texts between the main thrust of text, mini-texts including postponed or premature ‘quotes’ from the main thrust of the text itself (also one line I spotted from ‘Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch’ by Alice Hegan Rice)….
    But like Tancred, I see myself as no “spoiler”. So please absorb this remarkable anachronistic work for yourself. It is revelatory. But what does it reveal? Infrasound warfare, notwithstanding. And the standard of living on Mars. Floods or droughts and bandits.

    “It creates a sort of pendulum action,”


    “Why not do it again in crayon?”

    From 1970, a pre-fabricated-in-hindsight story effectively about the Internet, but an internet to solve the loneliness of an overcrowded world. But the Internet in reality, today, I sense, has exacerbated both problems. And reality itself, what and who is real? And a story about the control of the birthing rate – as they do in China today? Why not do the world again, this time in crayon?


    “There was a heart-shaped swimming pool at the back, although it was empty of water and the sides were cracked.”

    An aging white man, working for a union of European countries to fund the poor parts of India,, and his daughter, are halted by his sudden heart attack near a village, his daughter later going to a part of the village that “lost heart”, and meets a poor, arguably story-eponymous, Indian man with smallpoxed family who tries to swap a vase for a heart, a story transplanted for another. A world away.
    His daughter 40 and the Indian Doctor’s daughter 20 hit it off. Provocative, with a sun’s wound annealed. The story’s open ending, too.


    “That burial business was all a joke — a swindle.”

    The swindle transcribed from the previous story’s ‘death swap’, here what I imagine a SF writer or publisher dying, his revealing subconscious still in place, but not his conscious, mixing and mingling current concerns about the escalation of the Viet Nam war (a (pre-)echo of an earlier and future Korean War in the area?), and many of his relations who thought themselves proper writers (including his Aunt Laura) – we all think we are this today! – and wanting his help to further their writing!
    His name Festival.
    Death is a sort of festival, I reckon. An eclipse. Estivation is the summer sun’s version of hibernation.
    Just noticed that this book has each story under a heading as a numbered chapter, as if encouraging from the past my gestalt real-time review approach in the present?
    The subconscious as an alternate world?

    “When a concentration camp was set up, it was rapidly filled; people have a talent for suffering.”


    “Since there is no danger that any of my present readers have heard of Report on Probability A…”

    Holman Hunt again, I say. I’ve lived with probability’s report some time now but without the knowledge of Nigel Calder’s book TECHNOPOLIS until the author left it on the cafeteria table during a V&A Hunt exhibition in this story. A story that says, with Hunt, you never see the threads. Except the pair of threads in this one entwining the author and the package-life of a strange woman (with her orangeade in the cafeteria) talking at him. Her important memory-life, but not as important as Proust’s? No painter has painted a hysterectomy? Except Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World – nearly.

    “My review.”


    “GE NU: The sorrow that overtakes a mother knowing her child will be born dead.”

    …that being just one example in a shown series here of SF alien words and their equivalent English meaning – but without the many stances that should accompany the words to fulfil their meaning.
    A conflux made tentative. The ultimate real-time gestalt review now being needed by all of us. And notes compared on what stance we instinctively took with each word. Hawling, I call it. Dreamcatching, too. The Moment of Uneclipse.


    “No sooner had the American congregations united with ours than they broke away on a point of doctrine at the Council of Dead Tench”

    Thing or God? This is an outrageously believable scenario of a Huge God settling on our world like a caterpillar on an apple, where its seconds are our years, leaving once, then making a Second Coming, shifting twice, and the resultant changes in geography and climate, and in our religions, schisms, heresies, wars. It is absolutely mind-altering, and ironically the Americans tend to be on the Thing rather than God side of the argument, making my feeling even more ironic that this is a very clever prophecy of the Coming of the Trump or of the Tench (see my views on the latter here: Is it a Tench?)


    “Child! You’re the child, Father!”

    Intimations of Wordsworthian Immortality as a viral disease via the lens of Mad Scientist SF when blended with the more subtle literary force of this novelette. An island in the Indian Ocean, a man back from the South Pole, has reunion with his second wife and his young grown-up son by an earlier marriage, jewfish, carrier-plankton, pseudo-incest, carcasses of blue whales almost still alive, cross-channels of ocean currents via impossible straits of natural or smuggled route, this is an important work that will travel right round your mind using more channels of thought than otherwise would not have been possible. With nefarious machinations of guns and prior relationships that form this map of patterns to dreamcatch vastly a gaia of human motives within which we are just plankton ourselves?

    “The Kraken often rode on a pink sea.”


    “Not a fortress, not a temple: the meaningless functionalism, now functionless, of some kind of factory.”

    A disjointed sequel to the previous story, not only by dint of their conjoined meaning of titles, but also some of their characters and the intimations of immortality or longevity feeding into a disjointed narrative, with words competing with each other at times, instead of working with some harmony of meaning. The dystopic future diaspora of Calcutta, a hover-ambulance, an Indian character (as in the orgy of the living and the dying, part of this disjointment of words out-Joycing Joyce) having ‘satanic’ as a pet word, and sacrificial goats.

    “The refugees become refugees again.”

    I am placing this story in my DYSFUNCTIONAL ROOM here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/dfls-list-of-constructive-literary-dysfunction/

    Has anyone dared review this story before now?


    “…he still contained the skill to place new stones he had brought within the general pattern with reference to that natural harmony – completing the parapatterner.”

    My review site where you are reading this is one such parapatterner I have now discovered! This is a major work, a Blakean (not Wordsworthian) theme and variations on ‘change’ and the ‘child’ who ‘chilled’… immortality again, a gestalt for this book, as a force for mutation and James Tiptree scenarios, the treemen of Or, an anagram of the earth as a collected pile of stones, as Argustal and his wife Pamitar meet all manner of gradually accreted memories they had lost to the mooncalves, now to remind them what they once were. That child, subject to change.
    Together with, as eponymous counterpoint, a sun not at a moment of eclipse, but sporadically blotched with bits and pieces of darkness called Forces.
    An imaginative tour de force.

    (My own immortality story called ‘Dear Mum’, very humble by comparison, that was published in the early 1990s: http://www.dowse.com/fiction/Lewis.html )


    “(we have the new Negro androids working in the spaceship yards now)”

    And women. These and others (even limping androids) being employed in the FTL transport yards.
    A puckish tarramadiddle by Aldiss on AI, the intergender, the interracial, endemic role playing, the human condition as a necessary toothache, extra moonlight provision, suicide notes, and childhood antics, all apt in view of the previous story’s putative mutative Null Immortalis (and today’s views of Mel Brooks on political correctness: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-41337151 ).

    “I often feel women do not have quite such a large share of the Human Condition as we do.”


      As part of this dual coda to the book (from which I dare not quote in view of today’s hard-bitten polarities), this story – hopefully a satire – deals with what Mel Brooks said today he would never consider dealing with. Adolf Hitler and the Final Solution.


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