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Yuli is a child of a hunter-gatherer family living under the light of two suns on the northern plains of Campannlat on the frigid, ice-wrapped planet of Helliconia. When his father is enslaved by the vicious phagors, Yuli is left alone. He finds his way to the subterranean city of Pannoval, where he prospers as a member of the priesthood. Tiring of torturing heretics and punishing renegades, he elects to flee the oppressive city with some like-minded allies, eventually founding the settlement of Oldorando some distance away.

Fifty years later, Yuli's descendants have conquered a larger town, renaming it Oldorando as well, and are prospering. Game is becoming more plentiful, the river is thawing and warmer winds are rising, even as the smaller sun, Freyr, grows larger in the sky. But with peace and plenty comes indolence and corruption, and the people of Oldorando find themselves bickering and feuding for power, even as a great crusade of phagors leaves their icy homes in the eastern mountains on a quest to slaughter as many humans as possible.

The great drama of life on Helliconia is observed from an orbiting Earth space station, the Avernus, the crew of which watch as Helliconia and its sun, Batalix, draw closer to the great white supergiant about which they revolve and the centuries-long winter comes to a violent end.

Helliconia Spring (originally published in 1982) is the first volume in Brian Aldiss' masterpiece, The Helliconia Trilogy. In this work, Aldiss has constructed the supreme achievement of science fiction worldbuilding: Helliconia, a planet located in a binary star system a thousand light-years distant from Earth. Batalix and Helliconia take 2,592 years to orbit Freyr in a highly elliptical orbit (Helliconia is three times further from Freyr at its most distant point than nearest), which results in seasons that last for centuries apiece. Helliconia's plants, animal and sentient lifeforms have all biologically adapted to this unusual arrangement (in a manner that prevents colonisation by Earthlings, who would be killed quickly by the planet's bacteria), but its civilisations have not adapted satisfactorily: humanity rises in the spring and becomes dominant in the summer before being toppled by the phagors in the autumn and enslaved in the winter. However, more evidence has survived of the previous cycle than normal, and this time around those humans who have discovered the truth have vowed to ensure that humanity will survive the next Great Winter triumphant over its ancestral enemy.

Helliconia Spring is a complex novel working on a literal storytelling level - the factional battles for control over Oldorando and Pannoval, the phagor crusade flooding across the continent and the search for truth and understanding of the Helliconian star system by Oldorando's scientists - and also on thematic ones, with Aldiss examining the struggles between religion and science, between those who thrive in peace and those who thrive in war and the duality of winter and summer, humanity and phagor, and though the religious ritual of pauk, between the living and the dead.

Having the orbital Earth platform is a good idea, as it gives us a literal scientific understanding of the Helliconia system which those on the surface are struggling to understand, even if it does feel a little removed from the storyline at this time. Amongst other criticisms are a lack of character closure: whilst the grand history of Helliconia and the thematic elements continue to be explored in Helliconia Summer, the story itself moves on several hundred years, leaving the main characters of this book long dead. But these are outweighed by the strengths: the effective and impressive prose, the fantastic descriptions of a near-frozen planet thawing into life with its millions of species of plant and animal life waking up under the two suns and the impressive melding of cold, impersonal scientific worldbuilding with a satisfying plot and vividly-described characters.

Helliconia Spring (*****) is a masterpiece of science fiction and features the single most impressive work of SF worldbuilding to date. The novel is available now in the USA. A new omnibus edition of the entire trilogy will be published by Gollancz as part of the SF Masterworks collection on 12 August 2010.
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on 28 April 2006
Why the Helliconia trilogy is not better known and more highly regarded is beyond me. Collectively and individually, the three books are Aldiss' best.

Even though I have given Vol. I five stars, it is the weakest of the three. This is because the first third of it is a little slow. A casual reader unaware of how good the story is going to get might well give up on it.

The other weakness - it seems to me - is that the revival of human society as the world warms up occurs too quickly. Embruddock goes from village to city in only a few years.

Regardless, this is a beautifully written book. It doesn't quite match the febrile epic "Summer", or the magnificent desolation of "Winter", but nevertheless is an exceptional novel by sci-fi standards, and the first volume of a trilogy exceptional by any standards.
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on 6 June 2010
For quite a few years I have seen this one on the shelf, the first part of a trilogy. It always looked quite long and daunting to me, so I never quite got around to buying it. But a short time ago I saw it on the shelf of the Oxfam shop, so I took the plunge, and I am glad I did so.

I have read so many fiction books over the years, but let's face it, not many of them had me literally gasping with excitement. The ones that did include The Mote in God's Eye, Watership Down, The Lord of the Rings (the book, not the rubbishy movies!) but few others. But Helliconia Spring now joins the ranks of those that did so! It is a rich, compelling and vivid story. A marvellous book.

You may say, if it's that good, why have I not given it five stars? Well, the only slight criticism I have of Helliconia Spring is the inclusion of the stuff about the orbiting spacecraft, studying the planet. I'm afraid I found those bits rather distracting and dislocating. The story was already quite good enough, and did not need this extra dimension in my humble opinion.

That said, it is a wonderful book. The sheer rich, vivid nature of the story had me hooked, and I could not put it down. A magnificent setting (a planet in a double-star system), prodigious invention of strange life-forms on the planet, vivid human characters, high adventure, and a great story from start to finish. I say finish, but this is of course only the first part of the trilogy! I will definitely be buying the next one fairly soon.

A word of warning - the story is fairly brutal and gory at times. If it was made into a movie, it would be a certificate 18 for sure. But what a story! Aldiss certainly knows how to keep his readers on the edge of their seats. I can recommend this book to anyone who likes a great adventure tale.
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on 16 November 2014
I have read this twice before in hard copy - the first time over thirty years ago. It is a wonderful piece of writing. Forget all the magic swords, elfin princesses etc that other writers offer. This is a real world, beautifull conceived, and the whole story is gradually unveiled in a masterly fashion. Aldiss is one of the greats and this whole trilogy is wondrous. It's a shame the scoring won't allow 6 stars
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on 23 December 2014
An old favourite I thought I'd read again and am glad I have. Brilliant story and, like a lot of things we read about in sci-fi back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, surprisingly prophetic.
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on 3 February 2001
This is the second time I have read Helliconia Spring and I must say, it grows on you. Although I have not read the entire trilogy, I find that there are all too many characters which do not go anywhere. Aldiss's descriptions of the landscape, the sentiels, this entirely alternative and possible world Helliconia are at times poetic, as things themselves they hold a life of their own, from the trees that grow on top of geothermal mounds to the animal life. Yet the characters themselves only develop superficially, and there presence becomes superflous at times. There are many plot cliff-hangers which do not lead anywhere (at least in the first book) and occasionally character interaction is clumsy, perhaps a little trite. This is rather disappointing in contrast to some of the lyrical descriptive passages. On the whole, a good read, and certainly well worth the time spent on the 500+ pages, but lacking in plot direction.
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on 6 March 2010
The book was a hard back from ex university stock - a bit battered, but perfectly readable, and a very enjoyable reunion with a sadly underrated writer of science fiction
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on 26 December 1999
When I read "Heliconia Spring" first time, I was bored of the beginning, but afterwards, when I went to chapter 1, I was thrilled... Why couldn't I get next books (Helconia Summer?) ?
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on 29 November 2011
I have the Helliconia trilogy on my Kindle and also in paperback. I recently got an offer from Audible (owned by Amazon) for a free audio book. I chose Helliconia Spring.

Okay. As far as the audio quality and the reading goes it's fairly good. The thing that drops the stars for me is that the two files are .aax with drm, so no copying or lending to friends.

I think this whole drm thing is a cheat. Kindle do it with books, so you can only view them on your own Kindle and music downloads have them too, so they can only play on your iPod and 5 computers that are authorized. With a CD you can do what you like (within copyright law), which is how it should be. If I want to lend a CD to my neighbour, that's my business.

I looked for a CD version of Helliconia and it seems only Audible have the rights to it, so you have to get it from them and keep it to yourself. I personally think this sucks and won't be making any purchases from Audible. As I said, I got this one free as an introductory offer. When I did some research about the file type, I realised that this is a totally inflexible format.

The books are fabulous, if a little slow with the first instalment (Spring) - Aldiss' Magnum Opus series, in my opinion. I would highly recommend them, but not the Audible download or any other downloaded audio books.
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