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Vintage Treasures: Starship/Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss

Saturday, July 8th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Brian Aldiss Starship Signet-small Brian Aldiss Starship Avon-small Brian-Aldiss-Non-Stop-Pan-small
Brian Aldiss Non-Stop Grafton-small Brian Aldiss Non-Stop Carroll and Graf-small Brian Aldiss Non-Stop Masterworks-small

Joe Wehrle’s terrific review of Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse short story cycle in the latest issue of The Digest Enthusiast piqued my interest in other Aldiss classics. There’s certainly a lot to consider — Aldiss has written some thirty novels, including The Dark Light Years (1964), Report on Probability A (1968), Barefoot in the Head (1969), The Eighty-Minute Hour (1974), The Malacia Tapestry (1976), and The Helliconia Trilogy, just to mention a few. His most recent novel Finches of Mars was published in 2012, and his short story “Abundances Above” appeared in Postscripts 36/37 last year, shortly before the author’s 91st birthday (!!).

But any serious study of Brian Aldiss should probably start with his first novel Non-Stop, published in 1958. The tale of a generation ship whose inhabitants have degenerated into near barbarism, it was an instant classic, and remained in print for over five decades. The novel was re-titled Starship for its 1959 appearance in the US; that title stuck through multiple editions. I’ve collected a sample of a half-dozen of my favorite covers above, starting with the 1963 Signet paperback (top left, cover by Paul Lehr) and progressing through the decades to the 1989 Carroll & Graf edition (bottom middle, art by Tony Roberts) and the SF Masterworks edition (2000, cover by Fred Gambino).

[Click the images for bigger versions.]

The Times called Non-Stop a “classic novel of deep space, mystery and adventure,” and it is still considered considered one of the canonical texts of far-future SF. David Pringle included it in his 100 Best Science Fiction Novels and , as I mentioned above, in 2000 it was reprinted as part of the Millennium SF Masterworks series. In 2007 the British Science Fiction Association selected Non-Stop for the BSFA Fiftieth Anniversary Award as the Best Novel of 1958 (their version of a Retro-Hugo).

Although the book is told from the point of view of the culturally-primitive Roy Complain, and the true nature of the generation ship is one of several big reveals during the course of the story, none of the editions I’ve found have made any attempt to hide that secret from readers. Most, in fact, make it pretty clear right on the cover. Here’s a closer look at the wraparound cover of the 1975 Avon reprint, for example.

Brian Aldiss Starship Avon-back-mid Brian Aldiss Starship Avon-mid

Sadly, the cover art for the Avon paperback is uncredited.

Our previous coverage of Brian Aldiss has chiefly focused on his Ace Double appearances and his anthologies, which seems like an oversight to me.

Bow Down to Nul
Hell’s Cartographers, edited by Brian W. Aldiss and Harry Harrison

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

5 Comments »

  1. STARSHIP/NON-STOP is an awesome book. My parents had the 1975 Avon edition– I remember looking at it when I could barely read. It may have been one of the first SF books I ever read (or attempted to read) in grade school! I know that I got through it in High School, and picked up the SF Masterwork edition about five years ago and re-read it.

    I’ve heard that STARSHIP was a ‘response’ to Heinlein’s ORPHANS OF THE SKY, which I read sometime after I got the Masterwork edition of STARSHIP/NON-STOP.

    Although it had a lot of good points, OPHANS is the inferior book, IMO.

    Comment by Adrian Simmons - July 8, 2017 6:00 pm

  2. Two more things, One– why has STARSHIP never been made into a movie? It would be cheap, just find a big greenhouse somewhere! Given the success of THE POSIEDON ADVENTURE back in the 70s, you’d think this would be movie gold!

    Second– there IS a great excerpt from ORPHANS OF THE SKY in the radio show X-Minus One https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13VS_klDrio

    Comment by Adrian Simmons - July 8, 2017 6:05 pm

  3. It’s been a long time since I read Orphans of the Sky… it might make a great companion book to read with Non-Stop this week.

    Orphans still has a good rep today (and I certainly enjoyed it a great deal). Of course, it was written two decades before Non-Stop, and it shows its pulp roots.

    Overall, I think Aldiss has aged better than Heinlein.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 8, 2017 7:49 pm

  4. I have the Signet edition you show top left, and I love that cover. I read it in 1960, and honestly don’t remember a lot about it now. As far as Aldis is concerned, the one I have always wanted to read, but have been intimidated by it’s size, are the three Helliconia books.

    Comment by R.K. Robinson - July 8, 2017 8:10 pm

  5. RK,

    I’m with you on the Helliconia series! It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to steal enough time to read an entire fantasy trilogy — especially one that size. But boy, that one’s on my list.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 8, 2017 9:25 pm


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