Paul is a British Muslim writer who, following the publication
of a satirical novel, finds himself incarcerated in an unknown
location and tortured to discover the intention behind the
book. As the torture continues Paul finds that his reality
is being juxtaposed with that of a man living in the far flung
future on the colony planet of Stygia. What does it mean,
is it a hallucination or do the two worlds have something
else in common?...
Harm is the new novel by Brian Aldiss and is an uncompromising
look at the modern world. Although the book alternates between
Stygia and the here and now, the Stygian society's development
is used to hold a mirror to Paul's contemporary world.
This is not an easy book to read with both worlds portrayed
as dystopian. Initially we are thrown straight into the narrative
when we join Paul, who is only known as prisoner B. Hooded
and shackled he is beaten and tortured for no apparent reason
other the fact that he was born Muslim. He protests that he
does not follow the faith of his father, and had always thought
of himself as English. This revelation is not immediately
revealed to the reader and sets up the first of the main threads
of the book.
his interrogators he is Fadhil Abbas Ali whose every movement,
action and belief is constrained by his ethnic origins. He
is beaten for marrying a white Irish girl, his British birth
is ignored and he has no rights. At the beginning of the book,
he tries to justify his treatment, even to himself, hating
the terrorist and justifying the loss of liberty as a necessary
action in the face of an attack on his, British, culture.
As this side of the story progresses, Paul finds it far more
difficult to isolate his politics from his ethnic origins.
As his predicament worsens he finds himself also existing
as Fremant, a thoughtful guard to the ruler of Stygia, Astaroth.
Here humanity, fleeing from the fall of the western world
has been deconstructed and flung across the void to start
a new world. Unfortunately the process which reconstituted
them was somewhat flawed. The colonists destroy all the indigenous
population and then set upon each other.
It's difficult to know if Aldisss view of the world
is that bleak as he seems to be suggesting that it is part
of the human condition to break into groups for the purpose
of conflict and even the genocide of the opposing forces only
leads to more divisions - which form the basis of the never
ending cycle of violence which forms the backbone of human
Aldiss deliberately leaves the connection between Paul and
Fremant vague. We discover early on that the young Paul had
been treated harshly as a child, including being locked in
dark cupboards for long periods of time. A trauma which led
him, as an adult, to develop a split personality.
This is a book where science fiction and literature collide.
At times it is a difficult book to read as Aldiss holds up
a magnifying glass to what is happening in, and to, our own
society, but it is also a book that will make you think. In
the end this is the aim of all great literature.