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More on Billion Year Spree

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Without science fiction there’d be no Bovril
Brian Aldiss Writer
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You might think, with all this struggle of writing that I became a kind of...

[Q] Ian Fleming?

Ian Fleming, yes.

[Q] Bond.

Bond, that's right.  Ian Fleming with Bond had an enormous success and so eventually, he said to his publishers, 'I can't do this anymore. Do you mind if I don't write another Bond book?' And they said, 'Oh, you've got to write another Bond book – they're so popular'. And so he became a slave to it.

Now, I've never become a slave to it. I've always… I've never asked permission from a publisher to write a book. I've written the book, and one of those books that I wrote was called – a facetious title – Billion Year Spree. And this was to settle the hash of an American contestant who thought that science fiction had been invented by X... I've forgotten his name, happily... as though there had been nothing beforehand. Now I knew that there had been a lot beforehand, and back in the 1870s there had been two enormous successes. One was about a world underground... I can't remember its title exactly... but there, the people underground were determined to come up. They had no electricity, but they had another power called Vyrl, V-y-r-l, Vyrl [sic] and this so took off. It was by a man who also wrote The Last Days of Pompeii – can you remember what his name was? No. Well, one could easily look it up.

Anyhow, Vyrl was so popular that I can think of two products... as England was expanding, there was room for Bovril. They used Vyrl as the title of this particular sweetmeat – Bovril – clever V-y-r-l, just B-o-v-r-i-l. And also, as a small boy, I had some very delicious kind of toffee medicine called Viril that also came from that same science fiction novel. Viril.

So that the snobs may be very superior about science fiction, but the fact is, it's had long-lasting effects. It is a way of thinking about one's incapacities. Most of my science fiction is about people's incapacities.

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: Billion Year Spree, Bovril, Ian Fleming

Duration: 3 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014

Date story went live: 17 August 2015