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Books from my childhood
Brian Aldiss Writer
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The books I read as a child, I think there weren't very many. My father had on his shelves, only a Daily Telegraph History of World War I, that I did consult quite a lot. But, apart from that, I didn't like Alice in Wonderland; I don't know why. Everyone else was nuts about it. But, his other book I liked – Through the Looking Glass. That seemed to me to have a kind of metaphysical meaning, and that... that attracted me. And I think, even at that time, something that could vaguely be called metaphysical, attracted me.

For instance, HG Wells... my memory here is possibly mistaken. I have thought that there was a time when everyone in England read Mr HG Wells. He was kind of friendly and he wrote marvellous stories, not all of science fiction, but, yes, sort of ordinary, mysterious stories. That I very much liked.

I also found, down in Barnstaple, there was a WH Smith's and outside it had a bench covered with bargain books. And so there I bought quite a few books, although I can't remember what they were. But, Mr HG Wells must have taken a lot of my reading space, I think. As well as... what else? Well, certainly Marie Bashkirtseff... no, I hadn't got into Tolstoy... that was later, much later.

I think I would read all kinds of things. This Journal of a Disappointed Man, and I was reading science fiction magazines quite early, and they were talking about Nietzsche, and I didn't know who Nietzsche was, so I joined the Barnstaple Athenaeum, to their deep astonishment. They had never had a boy of 12 before, and I can't remember them as being very friendly. I do remember sitting in an armchair by the fire, reading about Nietzsche, and people sort of staring at me in disbelief. Later on, my dear literary agent knew far more than I did about Nietzsche. But, certainly that was one of the things that science fiction magazines encouraged one to do: to read elsewhere.

Brian Aldiss (1925-2017) was an English writer and anthologies editor, best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, and West Buckland School, Devon, and served in the Royal Signals between 1943-1947. After leaving the army, Aldiss worked as a bookseller in Oxford, an experience which provided the setting for his first book, 'The Brightfount Diaries' (1955). His first science fiction novel, 'Non-Stop', was published in 1958 while he was working as literary editor of the 'Oxford Mail'. His many prize-winning science fiction titles include 'Hothouse' (1962), which won the Hugo Award, 'The Saliva Tree' (1966), which was awarded the Nebula, and 'Helliconia Spring' (1982), which won both the British Science Fiction Association Award and the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Several of his books have been adapted for the cinema. His story, 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long', was adapted and released as the film 'AI' in 2001. His book 'Jocasta' (2005), is a reworking of Sophocles' classic Theban plays, 'Oedipus Rex' and 'Antigone'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Barnstaple Athenaeum, HG Wells, Friedrich Nietzsche

Duration: 3 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014

Date story went live: 17 August 2015