The Inventory: Brian Aldiss

‘I’m naturally inventive, or so it seems to me. I write a short story every day’

Novelist Brian Aldiss, 87, is best known for his science fiction. He was appointed OBE for services to literature in 2005.


What was your earliest ambition?

I could almost always write and enjoy doing it. I wrote my first tiny stories – at least, I assume they were tiny – when I was three.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

I went to public school when we lived in Norfolk. At the start of the war, when we moved to Devon, I escaped from that hellhole (which I won’t name) and went to West Buckland School, which was very different – a marvellous place. Then I went into the Royal Signals and, without any delay, I was dispatched to the Far East.

Who was your mentor?

In my early life, Harold Boyer, who taught us literature and history at West Buckland. He believed in my literary ability.

How physically fit are you?

I’m in very good nick.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

I would say persistence.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

Yes, more than one.

How politically committed are you?

I am suspicious of both ends of the economic spectrum: both the particularly rich and the particularly poor.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Gosh, yes. I have a rather large garden which I tend with great love and care. I grow trees and bushes rather than flowers.

Most wanted: a private plane

Just one.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

I used to go every year to the US, where I made many friends, so I need a private plane to fly me there.

What’s your biggest extravagance?

I hope to walk within the shade of Angkor Wat. All my life I’ve dreamt of going there but I’ve never made it. I’m hoping to persuade my lady love to come with me to Cambodia at the end of the year. It must be one of the most superb places on earth.

In what place are you happiest?

Now that I can’t travel as much as I did, I love my house.

What ambitions do you still have?

I wish I understood more science and more philosophy. In both those I have a mere toehold – though a strong enough toehold to realise how little I know.

What drives you on?

I’m naturally inventive, or so it seems to me, so I keep on writing. I write a short story every day.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

My darling family.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

I can immediately think of an answer but I don’t want to give it.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?

“Brian, you old bugger, you’re still alive, and you’re not in the poor house.” I think he’d look at me with a certain affection, as I look on him.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I’d paint.

Biggest extravagance: to walk within the shade of Angkor Wat

I believe in suicide – I can see how people can get so desperate. But assisted suicide involves someone else. The answer is probably a dubious no.

Do you believe in an afterlife?

Certainly not.

If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

If one was dissatisfied that would be a very poor thing but going for 10 would be a very prideful thing. Caution demands that one should stick somewhere in between. Let’s shoot for eight.


Brian Aldiss’s final sci-fi novel, ‘Finches of Mars’, (The Friday Project, £14.99) is out now. The Friday Project is also reissuing almost 100 of Aldiss’s novels and short stories as part of ‘The Brian Aldiss Collection’

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