Super-State: a Novel of a Future Europe by Brian Aldiss

This book imagines a near-future scenario, where there is a united European state.

The story starts with a wedding and introduces a host of characters in the first few pages. The narrative evolves in a light hearted manner, jumping from one interesting scenario to another. Human beings worry about the usual things – family relationships, love and lust and power. Global warming is a reality and the climate is changing, along with the sea levels and the landscape. The politicians argue over whether to go to war against a Moslem nation.  The airwaves are hijacked by mysterious messages from the ‘Insanatics’. The mathmatical formula that will drive the economics of the superstate, and end all its problems, is under development. Meanwhile, the first manned flight to the moons of Jupiter is about to discover alien life.

What I liked about this book:
There are some wonderful comic aspects to the book. The opening wedding is conducted with a proxy robot as a stand-in, when the bride is trapped at her restaurant opening on Mount Everest and is unable attend in person. Robots are barely tolerated and spend most of their time locked in cupboards where they discuss the strange thing called the ‘human condition’ among themselves.  A roving reporter interviews people on the street and the narrative is interspersed with their amusing responses. The entrepid space explorers’ ship is damaged and they face near starvation, but their privations are ignored until they discover alien life and, finally, resort to eating it.

What I didn’t like about this book:
For me, there were too many characters and they were introduced too quickly and with minimal exposition of their personalities. Occasionally, the narrative lingers on one character or situation and, just as you were beginning to care about them, it moves on to something else. I found myself disengaging from the book every time this jump took place.

So, great themes, wonderful scenarios and some very funny parts. But reading this book is a bit like channel hopping without any control. You jump from a soap opera with multiple characters, to a scene with an intimate glimpse into someone’s personal life, to a news broadcast, to an advert, to a series of interviews, to a family saga and then back into the middle of another soap opera. Sadly, although I can appreciate its humour and imagination, it failed to engage me. I expected some connecting event at the end, something to draw all the disparate threads, characters and themes together. It didn’t happen.


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