Hothouse by Brian Aldiss: John C Adams Reviews

Book name: Hothouse

Author: Brian Aldiss

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Format: ebook, print, audiobook

Genre: Science fiction

Publication Date: 1962

Star Rating: 5/5


Hothouse by Brian Aldiss won the Hugo Award. It is truly a novel of ideas.


In a future world that bears no resemblance to our own, plants have taken over. The reader’s initial reaction may be that this is a good thing. We’re the problem on this planet, right?


Some humans remain (including many children) and most of the plants growing in the Hothouse universe are aggressively carnivorous.


Hothouse is a world in which the tables have been turned. Instead of shaping flora to our whim, it is now the other way around. Humans are now preyed upon relentlessly.


The opening chapters of Hothouse focus on a group of eighteen people. The headwoman is ageing, and so are many of her fellow women. They share one man, Haris, and there are eleven surviving children.


Mortality rates are high, especially among children. Almost immediately Clat, who is five, is killed by a trappersnapper.


The group’s response is one of grief mingled with acceptance. Many of them have already been killed and the group is profoundly stoic.


Clat’s ‘soul’, a carved shape left in her hut, is used as the focus of the funeral rite. This involves climbing up to the Tips, the forest canopy, to say goodbye.


‘Souls’ are crafted because death is seldom peaceful and there is rarely a body to grieve over.


Much is changing for the group. Their leader Lily-yo knows she is ageing. It is time for her, and her fellow adults, to climb to the Tips and let go their hold on life.


The children will split up, joining other groups and carrying on their daily struggle with the aggressive environment they cannot really call home.


Hothouse is an entirely original story. The swift movement from character to character reflects a world in which no one is safe from killer plants. Can we ever deeply learn to care about each other when our lives could be snatched away at any time?


The approach to life illustrated in Hothouse reflects, I think, how many wild animals must feel about their existence. There is pleasure in life and loyalty to each other, but both are mixing constantly with the threat of attack and death.


Everything takes place in the moment, and loss is routinely processed through resilience and a determination to survive.


The fictional universe of Hothouse is incredibly vivid. Plants have strange, and often silly, names. However, the range and variety of them are amazing.


This is a bizarre world, but these many strange details help the reader to process just how different this world is from our own. We are accustomed to being the top predator and to reading books which challenge that assumption but ultimately see us emerge triumphant.


Hothouse denies us that security. Gren and the others may (or may not) survive to see another day, but as humans they no longer control their world. They respond to it as hunted rather than hunter. We are no longer in charge in any meaningful way but face daily destruction.


I enjoyed Hothouse enormously as a science-fiction novel of ideas. This was its core strength. It was so well written and so visionary that its Hugo Award was well deserved.


By definition, a novel that shows us a world where we are no longer dominant must feel very different indeed to our usual fiction. While it was harder to focus on a specific character and identify with them than is the case with other stories, this merely reflected their vulnerability in a world that bears no resemblance at all to our own.


Thank you for reading my review of Hothouse by Brian Aldiss.


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