Birthday Reviews: Brian W. Aldiss’s “Tarzan of the Alps”

Birthday Reviews: Brian W. Aldiss’s “Tarzan of the Alps”

Cover by Edward Miller
Cover by Edward Miller

Brian W. Aldiss was born on August 18, 1925 and died on August 19, 2017, the day after his 92nd birthday.

Aldiss won a Hugo Award in 1962 for his short story “Hothouse” and a non-fiction Hugo in 1987 for his history of the science fiction field, Trillion Year Spree, written with David Wingrove, in which they continued to popularize Aldiss’s contention that science fiction began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In 1966 his novella “The Saliva Tree” received the Nebula Award. He has won the British SF Association Award five times and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award once. His novel Helliconia Spring won both of those awards as well as the Kurd Lasswitz Preis. Trillion Year Spree also won the Eaton Award. Aldiss has won a Ditmar Award for Contemporary Author and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Prix Utopia, Pilgrim Award, IAFA Award, and World Fantasy Award. He was inducted into both the First Fandom Hall of Fame and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2004. Aldiss was named a Grand Master by SFWA in 2000. In 2005, Aldiss was awarded the title Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth as part of the Birthday Honors list for his service to literature.

Aldiss first published “Tarzan of the Alps” in the first issue of the magazine Postscripts, edited by Peter Crowther in 2004. The following year, the story was used by Aldiss to lead off his collection Cultural Breaks. The story has not appeared anywhere else.

Aldiss sets “Tarzan of the Alps” in Patagonia, about as far from Africa or Switzerland as one could get. It tells the story of José Pareda, whose truck breaks down in the middle of nowhere and Alejo and Maria Galdos, who just happen to live in the middle of nowhere and come to his aid, along with their son who works in the nearest town as a mechanic. In the days that Pareda stays with the Galdoses while his truck is being repaired, they bond over their shared life experiences, being of a similar age, and Pareda thanks his hosts with his stock in trade, a traveling movie that he projects from his van.

The Galdoses live so far from anything that this is the first film they have ever seen, a version of Tarzan of the Apes, which they misunderstand as Tarzan of the Alps. Being the first film they saw, the movie made a huge impression on the Galdoses and they decide that they wanted to visit the jungles of the Alps before they die. Unfortunately, Alejo dies before they have enough money for the trip and the story ends with Maria preparing their son for his journey to see the Alps as they imagine they existed in Tarzan.

On the one hand, there is nothing particularly science fictional about “Tarzan of the Alps.” Everything that happens can happen in real life. However, there is a definition of “science fiction” that states it is fiction about the manner in which science and technology impact people’s lives. By this definition, the technology of the film, old technology in most places, but new to the Galdoses, changes their view of the world, not accurately, but enough. Pareda has given them a magical evening that will stay with them their entire lives and lead to an unrelated misadventure for their son.

From a cinematic history point of view, Pareda must have shown them the 1932 Johnny Weismuller film Tarzan the Ape Man rather than the 1918 Elmo Lincoln Tarzan of the Apes, since the film is described in a manner that indicates it has sound. Unfortunately, the title of the later film doesn’t work as well within the confines of the story (or the story’s title), but that small discrepancy can be forgiven.

Reprint reviewed in the collection Cultural Breaks, by Brian W. Aldiss, Tachyon Publications, 2005.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Rich Horton

The “Hothouse” Hugo was actually for the whole series of Hothouse stories in F&SF, which became the novel HOTHOUSE aka THE LONG AFTERNOON OF EARTH. The stories were “Hothouse”, “Nomansland”, “Undergrowth”, “Timberline”, and “Canopy”. I believe the Hugo rules were clarified after this to indicate that only single stories were eligible.

Thomas Parker

A great, great SF writer. He was the closest thing we had to H.G. Wells.

John ONeill

I read “Hothouse” when I was 12, but until today I wasn’t sure how. For years I thought it was in THE HUGO WINNERS, but no. Then I thought it was in THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME, but also no.

I just checked IMDB and discovered it appeared in Robert Silverberg’s 1974 anthology MUTANTS, which I bought from the SFBC the year I joined (1976), when I was…. 12 years old. Whew! Mystery solved.

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