Synopsis: Omnipresent war, resource depletion, and overpopulation rule a dystopian 22nd century vision of our Earth. Universities set out to rescue humanity. They found six colonies on Mars, their colonists choosen from the best, severe restrictions like no religion and no pets at all imposed upon them, and they know that it is a one-way trip. All hope seems to be lost when they find that all children are stillborn. But then, they find life-forms on Mars.
Analysis: SF Grandmaster Brian W. Aldiss is one of my favourite authors with his works spreading from the 1950s to now, reaching from experimental Barefoot in the Head to space opera like Helliconia Trilogy, and non-fiction like his invaluable Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. When he announced at the age of 87 that Finches of Mars will be his last novel, it was a very melancholical message for me, and I can’t set this aside when reading the novel.
It is not the first time that Aldiss covers Mars – he reacted to Kim Stanley Robinson’s 1990s Mars trilogy (starting with Red Mars) with White Mars. Finches of Mars stands in this tradition.
It has no coherent storyline, no linear plot at all: like in his New Wave times, Aldiss heavily interleaves vignettes of dialogues spreading different timelines. This reflects one central topic of this novel, namely timelessness. The title reflects Darwinian theory of separating species which would biological problems of humanity on Mars. It is a dystopian view on our future, but never falls into complete despair. There is always hope, as the unpredictable ending demonstrates.
I’m sorry to say that this work isn’t written at the height of the author’s skills – he throws in lots of commonplaces, looses focus with a couple of characters, and looses himself in topics like the meaning of life.
I fully understand readers who don’t like this novel at all, who can’t cope with literary SF. For me it was a fond farewell. I was tempted to give the novel only one or two stars because some parts are very hard to digest. In the end I couldn’t, I had to like it, because it remembered me enough of the author’s glorious days, and it is short enough to be worth the time.