Authors: Brian Aldiss
THE SQUIRE QUARTET
Brian Aldiss, OBE, is a fiction and science fiction writer, poet, playwright, critic, memoirist and artist. He was born in Norfolk in 1925. After leaving the army, Aldiss worked as a bookseller, which provided the setting for his first book,
The Brightfount Diaries
(1955). His first published science fiction work was the story âCriminal Record', which appeared in
in 1954. Since then he has written nearly 100 books and over 300 short stories, many of which are being reissued as part of The Brian Aldiss Collection.
Several of Aldiss' books have been adapted for the cinema; his story âSupertoys Last All Summer Long' was adapted and released as the film
in 2001. Besides his own writing, Brian has edited numerous anthologies of science fiction and fantasy stories, as well as the magazine
Aldiss is a vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society and in 2000 was given the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Aldiss was awarded the OBE for services to literature in 2005. He now lives in Oxford, the city in which his bookselling career began in 1947.
It was almost roses, roses, all the way. The fansâ¦
Clement Winter left home shortly after nine the next morning,â¦
Clement folded Ellen's letters carefully back into their envelopes andâ¦
Clement sat over his brother's old exercise book for aâ¦
The past immediately becomes history. Even yesterday has undergone aâ¦
About a mile from my billet, in a modest sideâ¦
There was at that time a song very popular inâ¦
The crate of film was dumped in the foyer ofâ¦
Clement shaved in mild good humour. He had no objectionâ¦
And so I found myself, helpless, with a little kaleidoscopeâ¦
âYou have been a bit absent-minded since we got home,â¦
Sheila was sympathetic.
When Clement awoke next morning, Sheila had already left theâ¦
Sheila, her husband, and his brother dined together in theâ¦
An old moon was waning above the roof-tops of Northâ¦
Clement entered the hallway of his house to find aâ¦
Clement's night was a restless one. Often he imagined Sheila,â¦
Inset in the front door of the house in Rawlinsonâ¦
He walked; all round the slumb'ring Glade
Through elm and birch
Old cottages led to the Church
While winding Stour a sail display'd
By many a sunlit mound and bend.
But on goes he with inward muse,
And still the
He murmurs, âStay, I have no Friend,
No Love, no
And all that IS is ever maimed.'
âThe Calm' from
A Summer Stroll Through Parts of Suffolk
William Westlake, 1801
Of all persons, those in distress stand most in need of our good offices. And, for that reason, the Author of nature hath planted in the breast of every human creature a powerful advocate to plead their cause.
In man, and in some other animals, there are signs of distress, which nature hath both taught them to use, and taught all men to understand without any interpreter. These natural signs are more eloquent than language; they move our hearts, and produce a sympathy, and a desire to give relief.
There are few hearts so hard, but great distress will conquer their anger, their indignation, and every malevolent affection.
Essays on the Power of the Mind
Thomas Reid, Edinburgh, 1820
Lo, how it guards the son from War's alarm,
The loving Shelter of a Mother's arms;
Snatch him too young away and count the Cost,
A tortured Spirit, rostered with the Lost.
from âMiss Montagu's Portrait'
William Westlake, 1790
style, with American fans of Green Mouth's âKerinth' novels seeing her off at JFK airport as she prepares to fly back to Britain.
On the flight, she slowly becomes Sheila Winter again, wife of Clement Winter. She has travelled around the States for twenty-three days, signed many of the 1.5 million copies of her latest book, given a two-hour-long speech, gone without sleep, lived on pills, and more than once had had sexual intercourse with her Hispanic New York editor.
When the Winters are home and secure in their large Victorian house in North Oxford, Sheila falls asleep in a chair. Clement goes upstairs to his study, and it is then we come to the heart of the book.
This volume shows the division between the well-established Oxford don, Clement Winter, living in Rawlinson Road, Oxford, and his footloose elder brother, Joseph Winter, who has just died.Â Clement is finishing his work on
Adaptability: Private Lives in Public Wars
. He works from his home and from Carisbrooke, his college. He is a qualified analytical psychologist.
Now he must do something about his dead brother's relics.
One thing I hoped to emphasise was the inevitable divide that existed between those who went through World War II and those who did not - even if the two were brothers.
Joseph, the older brother, had fought the Japanese in Burma in 1944. He wrote letters, not to Clem but to their sister, Ellen. Some of those letters, worn by time, have found their way into Clement's hands.
In them, Joseph speaks of the fighting. He speaks too of a deserters' camp in Calcutta, where men lived in squalor, existing by thieving from other army units, rather than facing the terrors raised by the Japanese Imperial Army.
A substantial part of
is taken up by Joe's efforts to record the fighting in Burma, where he formed part of the âForgotten Army' â a label claimed at the time, which remains even now â as well as his search for the house where he and a Chinese woman had become lovers. Baffled, Joe cannot decide if he had ever found that house. Time, as Joe has to come to admit, brings change. The quiet little town in Sumatra he knew in the old days becomes a roaring and confused city. It proves futile to search for the past.
One might call the plot-line simple; the characters are more complex. There is a time in life when the two brothers are together again, and Joe his sardonic self. But the few years' difference between them proves too much: Joe fought in a war, on the other side of the globe; Clem did not. Many families made this discovery. Perhaps it is what made the novel popular.
It was almost roses, roses, all the way. The fans kept on laughing and joking, even into the asperities of JFK Airport.
SPEAK TO US GREEN MOUTH
, cried their noble banners, in priceless fan embroidery, too overwhelmed to give punctuation a single hemstiched thought.
RAZZMATAZZ FOR TAZZ
âDon't leave us! We'll make ya President!'
What measure was the unit of laughter? The
? A million units of
were expended as the admiring throng gladly, proudly, lugged Green Mouth's luggage to the First Class Check-In. Every one of the faithful needed to lay a plump hand on the sacred suitcases.
More units, as baggage moved on the metal loop away into concealed realms, piece by precious piece. More units, as the throng shuffled slowly towards Duty Freeze Zone and final farewells. More units, pained now, before they could possibly say goodbye to her. A little chorus of units trickled among the streams of
humanity filling the lounges.
Green Mouth was always at the centre of the chorus, triumphal, regal. Almost silent herself, the catalyst against whom the
-units she generated beat in vain. It was a fine performance, Dr Clement Winter told himself. He should not worry. There was no real cause for worry.
The noise, the banners, the nervous mirth, provoked Green Mouth continually to smile her grim smile, and to chuckle her grim chuckle, which even the most admiring could not effectively imitate. Laughter was not for her but for the acolytes. Chuckles were power-based, laughter was weakness. She floated slowly towards
, stately as a cinema butler, be-ringed hand up to shoulder to adjust green cloak.
Some of those jostling near asked her questions, harmless things intended as no more than tribute. To these questions, Green Mouth tossed remarks of some brevity: âWe'll have to see about that.' âThat's one for my agent.' âWhat do you think?' âWe'd all like to know that.'
Each little coded reply provoked more units of
. The throng loved, thrilled to, such effortless arrogance. They ate them like dog biscuits. And of course there was grief in every
, for Green Mouth was about to desert them.
Green Mouth was deserting them. She was now leaving the United States of America behind, leaving it forsaken to make out on its own as best it could. The mere idea was
-inducing. So Clement told himself, squeezing out his amusement as the throng elbowed him.
The fans had a fantasy ready to account for the desertion. Green Mouth had been Called. Tazz of Kerinth had called her on telepathic beam. A New Cause awaited Green Mouth. So she was about to leave Planet Earth for another galaxy, wrapped in her ample green cloak, wearing that neat little tiara â handmade by admirers in Churubusco, Indiana â in among her blonde curls. This was what they told each other, among
, to console themselves for the cruel facts of life.
No wonder the mundane passengers, outside the charmed
-ing circle, turned momentarily to stare. Envy must account for those surly looks.
At the inescapable moment of parting, a group of the laughingest fans, calling themselves the Inner Circle of Kerinth, who had travelled with Green Mouth and Clement all the way from Boston, unfurled their largest banner. It bore the slogan featuring in the publisher's current publicity campaign:
GREEN MOUTH SEZ IT ALL
. A bugle
, sky high.
-ing, weeping. Other passengers pushed out of the way. Special people only in this throng â men and women, or rather, boys and girls, weighty around stomach and hips, protuberant of buttock and breast, most having achieved, if not maturity, avoirdupois, all be-badged if not actually in fancy costume, all addicts of Green Mouth's pre-pubertal planet. Cameras and videocams at the alert, all clustered about their heroine for the last shot, a last kiss, an embrace or, failing those, a mere touch.
How fortunate that she was, in her forty-sixth year, so statuesque that she could withstand their ardour, like a rock in a surging tide, or perhaps BrÃ¼nnhilde standing in for Andromeda on her rock. She could recall all the names of the faithful â all their first names. She had a word for each personally, even if it was only âBye'. Her little Hispanic editor from Swain Books Inc. was thanked last and with greatest warmth. Against his lips, as he stood on tiptoe, were crushed most enthusiastically those pursed green lips. Clement turned away. When he looked again, she and the camp-followers were parted. The desertion was made flesh.
count dies. The fans are swept aside by brisk business passengers equipped with the latest briefcases. They look deflated, tawdry, as they furl up their banners. Alcohol and drugs and hangovers increase their sorrow. Some weep, some begin to skip or dance.
None of this matters. The hall is already peopled with eccentrics, drawn to this parting of the ways like cats on a quayside. Some speak out for various religions, thrusting pamphlets on the unwary. Some tout lost or mislaid causes. Some cry aloud injustices in various distant homelands. Some merely try to sell earrings. Big blacks skate grandly by on wooden wheels, Flying Dutchpersons able to ignore the world, their ears plugged with microsound. Although accustomed to the USA, Clement remains amazed at how busy airports are on Sundays.
The Kerinth fans are lost now. Mother has gone away, her sons and daughters are scattered. They drift off to drink calorific shakes in nearby bars, pink, green, brown, or Your Choice.
A last imperial wave of braceleted wrist and Green Mouth is
through the final barrier. Clement follows humbly, given status by being i/c documents. Green Mouth seats herself on a plastic seat. Two nearby English passengers shrink away.
âBuy a bottle of Smirnoff, Clem â to take home to Michelin,' says Green Mouth. She is not above such mundane details, but she stares ahead as if she had not spoken. He moves towards the Duty Free. He understands she wishes to be alone with her carbonated emotions. She has to come back to Earth before she can leave terra firma.
Clement Winter was a thin man, which suited his self-effacing qualities. There was about him an air of one for whom life has been slightly insufficient, or who has been slightly insufficient for life. He wore a striped light jacket with matching tie, a white shirt, and a pair of blue trousers. His hair was not chestnut enough to notice and now, in his fiftieth year, somewhat frayed about the edges. His hands hung from his sleeves. Only in his face, running a little to fat, was there a lively darting thing; it was as though his head had generally had more luck than the rest of him.
He purchased the vodka his wife wanted and returned to her via the bookstall, where
War Lord of Kerinth
was in the No. 2 Bestsellers slot.
War Lord of Kerinth
had 1.5 million copies in print hardcover, each wrapped in its sizzling jacket by S. S. Bronbell and stamped with the legend cooked up at Swain by the little Hispanic editor, âGreen Mouth Sez It All'. As he passed the stall, Clement saw a middle-aged woman in a smart ice-blue suit take a copy over to the checkout point. She did not even glance at the price. The volume, bulked up as it was, resembled a glutinous box of chocolates.
No one could mistake Green Mouth. She sat upright in her plastic seat, a dowager duchess at least, her ample mouth that brilliantly repellent green, the same shade echoed about her eyes, her eyelashes tinted gold. He sat beside her, tucking the vodka into a carrier. Her distinctive hand-luggage, bearing its open green mouths, came between them.
âSheila,' he said.
The name, he considered, was like a projectile, a component of
some vast SDI programme of the mind, bursting into her personal umwelt, carrying with it unwelcome news of her ordinary humanity. She responded only with a grunt, possibly a grunt of pain, completely
âYou were wonderful,' he said. Using the past tense on her like a can-opener. She had to start getting back sometime. There was jet-lag. There was reality-lag. Best to keep them separate.
âWonderful,' he repeated, choosing more of a dying fall this time. And then their flight was called in an electronic voice as soft as the cooing of doves.
On the Boeing, muzak was playing: âDon't Cry For Me, Argentina'. As Clement hung the green cloak on a rail, he glanced through into Economy, where the hordes were fighting to stash away liquor in overhead lockers, mussing each other's hair and tempers in the process. Every year, as civilization ticked by, thousands of gallons of alcohol were ferried back and forth across the Atlantic, each precious bottle of the stuff requiring a human attendant. It was one of the paradoxes of modern living which kept living modern.
Clement hoped that when the hostesses had seen to his wife's minor problems, which always cropped up, and preferably had recognized her, and more preferably had read all her books, she would remove the viridian lipstick and deflate back into being Sheila Winter again. She always said she liked to travel anonymously; and that was fine, as long as everyone knew who you were.
Sure enough, as he returned to his seat, or armchair as Pan-Am liked to call it, the hostesses were flocking round with the champagne, professing to be fans of Kerinth, every one. 1.5 million copies hardcover certainly wasn't hay. And to think the first Kerinth novel,
Brute of Kerinth
, had been published originally in a paperback edition of no more than sixty thousand copies. Not so much wonderful as a miracle â their personal miracle.
Green Mouth was gracious as always. Sure, she'd love to visit the flight deck after dinner. Sure, she always flew Pan-Am. Champagne was poured again. They drank. Clement drank. Good for Kerinth; it stood between him and Economy.
She still retained her Green Mouth face even when her eyes closed. She must be tired after four days in Boston of constant limelight and the tour before that. Never more than six hours' sleep a night. Much drink, taken without flinching. Saying nice things about Swain. Hearing nice things from Swain. All energy-sapping. But never a word of complaint.
Her face, under its paint, was large, brown, homely, and lightly creased. The teeth had been fixed so that she did not look as once she had like something that had just run in the Grand National. Sheila Winter was rather a handsome woman, though there was a heavy jaw, speaking of determination, perhaps of rather a glum kind. In her ears were little
of emerald, designed for her by a French fan in California. Not so little, either. They threatened to execute a pincer movement along the planes of Green Mouth's cheeks, just as â how often â
had menaced the World of Kerinth before brave Tazz had tamed one of them.
Without opening her eyes, she ran her green nails along his jacket sleeve. âWonderful,' she said.
Once the plane was airborne, the captain spoke over the intercom, telling the passengers at what height they would be travelling and at what time they were due to hit the coast of Ireland â at which announcement all the English passengers looked alarmed. But the champagne came round again, and the feline hostesses, and Green Mouth began to talk without looking at Clement. She was delivering a monologue. Clement felt no need to reply; he understood. The weary brain was off-loading like a computer. Sheila had been travelling round the States for twenty-three days, promoting the latest Kerinth novel from coast to coast in eighteen cities. And for the last four days she had been incarcerated in the Luxor Hotel in Boston (where Clement had joined her), as Guest of Honour at the XIX Fantacon, known in her honour as the Kerincon, the constant target of attention for five thousand fans, many of them attired only in leopard skin and sword.
She had gone without sleep. She had lived on pills. She had rarely ceased drinking or talking. She had given interviews. She had
answered endless questions â often the same questions â with good grace. She had received gifts. She had signed many of the 1.5 million copies of her book. She had made a two-hour-long speech, full of attractive pathos about her happy childhood and not lacking in
-quota either. She had thrown a wildly expensive party in her hotel suite for publishers, friends, and special fans. She had been laid more than once by her diminutive Hispanic editor, all in the spirit of fun. She had posed for photographs for
and anyone else who asked. She had smiled her grim smile most of the time. She had smoked almost incessantly, showered often, and accepted with an amusing speech the High Homeric Fantasy Award for being Top Priestess of Epic Fantasy.
No wonder her brain wanted to talk. The sump had to be drained, the gurge regurgitated.
High above the grey and tedious Atlantic, she paused once to emit a simultaneous yawn and belch.
âBut how are you feeling?' Clement asked.
Her hand sought his, and then she looked at him through cloudy eyes. âFucking awful, darling,' said Green Mouth.
She was returning to reality. He summoned the hostess for some more champagne.
Monday morning. Home again. Shoes off time. Safe. Secure in the Victorian brick wilderness of North Oxford. Their square-windowed house in Rawlinson Road was shielded from the gaze of passers-by by an enormous horse chestnut tree which some absent-minded builder had forgotten to destroy while he had the chance, possibly during the celebrations attendant on Queen Victoria's Jubilee.
The hired chauffeur stacked their luggage in the hall and left.
Sheila went into the front room and reclined with care on the sofa under the lace-curtained window. Her green lipstick and eye shadow had been removed in the toilet of the 747. She now looked merely pale, merely enervated, merely English.
âAre you going to make us a cup of tea?' she called.