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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A zeitgeist novel
Aldiss has always managed to write books which are very contemporary. HARM takes post-9/11 anti-terrorism measures as its opening theme. We join Prisoner B, a British writer whose Muslim heritage and a satirical episode in a book he has written have landed him in very hot water.

In a Guantanamo-like environment he is tortured beyond endurance, and seems to...
Published on 9 Mar. 2008 by Ray Blake

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Blunt and incoherent, I can't say I overly enjoyed this book
With an intriguing premise, there are some potentially great elements in this book, but some how it never comes together for me to be compelling or insightful. In tailoring both worlds, the author doesn't seem to do either the justice they deserve.

On Earth, Paul's torture scenes don't come across as particularly realistic. I know it would be hard to convey the...
Published on 24 Dec. 2009 by skb17


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A zeitgeist novel, 9 Mar. 2008
By 
Ray Blake (Hemel Hempstead, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harm (Hardcover)
Aldiss has always managed to write books which are very contemporary. HARM takes post-9/11 anti-terrorism measures as its opening theme. We join Prisoner B, a British writer whose Muslim heritage and a satirical episode in a book he has written have landed him in very hot water.

In a Guantanamo-like environment he is tortured beyond endurance, and seems to alternate between modern day reality and that of an alter-ego who is a colonist on a distant planet. His character there is suffering from institutionalised religious intolerance, too, and it soon becomes clear exactly how the characters are linked.

Aldiss manages to pack a lot into a short novel. There are some extraordinary pieces of SF invention - the 'dogovers' and their final secret is inspired, as is the method by which humanity reached such a distant outpost. Then there is social and cultural comment, rendered quite boldly but without preaching. And it is impressive that so much character is created in so few words; as the colony passes through three distinct leaderships, each leader is fully-realised in economical prose and dialogue.

I feel it it important to state that this is not a book which provides an uplifting experience to the reader, but it is one which tells a compelling and memorable story.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A firey, intelligent and formidable novel, 29 Jun. 2009
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harm (Paperback)
Paul Ali, a young British writer with Muslim parents but who calls himself a secularist, has written and published a comic novel in the tradition of P.G. Wodehouse. The book attracted some minor attention and made him a very small amount of money. One passage, in which the protagonists joke about what would happen if the Prime Minister was assassinated, has attracted the attention of the Hostile Activities Research Ministry. After learning that Ali visited Saudi Arabia on holiday recently, HARM arrests Ali as a suspected terrorist and sets about finding the truth from him...by any means necessary.

As Ali is interrogated, he escapes from the degradation and torture by constructing a fantasy world, Stygia, where in the distant future humans have sent a colonisation ship from Earth. The passengers were molecularly disassembled for transit, but their reconstitution did not go as planned and now the people are confused, or brain-damaged, or have problems with language. In this world Ali is Fremant, a bodyguard for the colony's deranged leader, Astaroth. As Astaroth prosecutes a genocidal war against the native inhabitants, the Dogovers, Fremant's loyalties are torn. There is upheaval in Stygia, war and revolution are coming, and what happens in the real world and in Ali's mind starts to reflect more and more on one another.

Brian Aldiss may be in his 80s now, but HARM (published in 2007) shows that his formidable powers as a writer have not diminished with age. In this novel Aldiss is clearly angry over what Britain and her allies did and became in the 'war on terror', but pulls himself back from a kneejerk polemical attack on the policies of the Bush-Blair axis. Instead he analyses the situation through the lens of SF, making the point that the brutal and oppressive measures that had been adopted were the result of fear and ignorance, an urgent need to distill complex issues down to a hopelessly naive black-and-white, us-and-them situation. At the same time, he also points out the reality of the threats that do exist and threaten us, and in the end offers no neat or pat answers because they simply do not exist.

All of this may make HARM sound like a tiresome political treatise rather than as a novel, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aldiss' engagement with the issues does not detract from the story, which is a dizzying multi-stranded narrative occupying two different levels of reality and how the state of Ali's mind in the 'real' world impacts on that of Fremant on Stygia. Aldiss' formidable powers of SF worldbuilding are again on display here, with the hostile insects and fauna of Stygia recalling the grotesque genius of Hothouse, whilst descriptions of the journey through space from Earth echo elements in Non-Stop. But HARM is its own, dizzyingly intelligent book.

The novel concludes with both an author's note and a fascinating interview between the author and his publisher in which analyses his motives in writing the book and where it sits compared to some of his other novels.

HARM (****½) is firey, smart and compelling (I read the book in one sitting), urgent in tone and convincing in argument. It is available now in the UK and USA.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars thought-provoking science fiction, 5 April 2009
By 
Sarah A. Brown (Cambridge) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harm (Hardcover)
The hero of `Harm' is Paul, a British Muslim living in a near future world where civil liberties have been (further) curtailed by the threat of Islamism. One strand of the novel charts Paul's terrifying ordeal at the hands of British and American interrogators. He is suspected of terrorist links because he published a satirical novel in which a character makes a brief and facetious reference to blowing up the Prime Minister.

Paul suffers from a multiple personality disorder and the second strand of the novel charts his odd double life as Fremant, a colonist from Earth's future, who struggles with parallel dangers on the remote and hostile planet of Stygia. We gather that the inhabitants of Stygia represent the remnants of Western civilisation and that they fled from Earth following a nuclear exchange.

As the interview with the author (included in the 2008 paperback edition) confirms, Aldiss sets out to offer a critique of the way Western governments responded to 9/11. I felt that this was sometimes done in an overly heavy-handed way. For example, the most extreme and ruthless adherents of the Western Armed Alliance are known as Waabee - and just in case the reader doesn't notice the similarity to `Wahibi' Aldiss spells it out for us.

But both elements of the novel were absorbing and effective. The Stygia sections reminded me of Christopher Priest's novels with their own many dreamy alternate worlds - as did the recursive device whereby Paul's own novel in turn contains a strange fantasy element. The double narrative, the juxtaposition of a traumatic, gritty storyline with scenes of fantasy, recalled similar techniques in Vonnegut's `Slaughterhouse 5' and Perec's `W'. Overall an interesting, challenging novel - but not a great one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought- provoking, 4 Sept. 2010
By 
Mondoro (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harm (Hardcover)
Brian Aldiss is virtually the last survivor of the great years of SF writing from the 1950s and 1960s, standing alongside the now deceased Arthur C Clarke and J G Ballard. His books displayed considerable acumen in the way they created imaginary worlds and unusual human societies, as well as posing awkward questions to his readers. These talents are evident in this novel, which was published after a long period of comparative silence, and Aldiss has added to these the very contemporary concern, identity. Paul Fadhil Abbas Ali, the central character, has names that reveal two identities in one persona, one Western, the other Muslim. Under a regimen of torture reminiscent of Abu Ghraib in a dystopian Britain of the not too distant future, these identities gradually separate out as the implicit tensions between these cultural value systems increase.

This dystopian vision is replicated in the imaginary world of the appropriately-named Stygia, in which Paul's alter ego, the ironically- named Fremant (in reality not a 'freeman' at all) lives through experiences that mirror Paul's back on earth. Here one can find the best of Aldiss's writing in the way he has created a nightmarish world subjected to long period of darkness, inhabited by things of beauty like the flying insects with gaudy wings that entrance human travellers' but also by horrors such as creatures lurking beneath the waves that treat human beings as incubators for their eggs, hatching out into grubs that kill their hosts in a matter of hours.

A previous reviewer has pointed out some of the weaknesses and loose ends in this novel. True, there are incidents, especially on Stygia, that seem to have no structural rationale, and Aldiss is not always effective in some of his plotting. He has evident problems with Aster, mistress of the dictator Asteroth, who soon becomes redundant wheh Bellamia appears on the scene, an older woman who accompanies Fremant on his odyssey. On the other hand, the suggestion that the Stygia scenario is an easy option for Paul to flee from torture in his real world ignores the fact that as with other victims of multiple personality disorder, an involuntary shift takes place over which he has no control. The sudden shift in locale indicates this only too well, constantly surprising the reader.

In short, a flawed book of great vision and imagination, as we have come to expect from one of our leading SF writers. Also, it addresses the issue of identity, one of the major challenges of our time. And it will greatly disturb the reader, right through to its unexpected - yet totally logical - conclusion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A parable on the surveillance society, 17 April 2009
By 
D. P. Mankin (Ceredigion, Wales) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Harm (Hardcover)
The novel interweaves two realities (or is it only one?) in an intriguing way that builds towards a climax that neatly encapsulates the paranoia of terrorism that is increasingly becoming a feature of our modern society . The ending will make you smile in a rather cynical way - not at any shortcomings with the story though. Rather at the way it so aptly captures the way in which politicians in recent years have played the 'fear' card, as it were, to justify increased surveillance and other strategies that erode traditional freedoms. It may not be a classic but its a good read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Blunt and incoherent, I can't say I overly enjoyed this book, 24 Dec. 2009
This review is from: Harm (Hardcover)
With an intriguing premise, there are some potentially great elements in this book, but some how it never comes together for me to be compelling or insightful. In tailoring both worlds, the author doesn't seem to do either the justice they deserve.

On Earth, Paul's torture scenes don't come across as particularly realistic. I know it would be hard to convey the true depravity of torture, but the characters involved don't come across as convincing in their dialog or actions, and Paul is so often escaping to his imaginary world that it almost puts across that his torture doesn't matter as he's elsewhere anyway. People swearing and punching a lot does not make a torture scene, it needs to be more than that.

Meanwhile on Stygia the story is definitely more interesting, but ultimately not a whole lot happens. I enjoyed when the author detailed how they got there, and some of the things that make the planet different to Earth, but there is just not a strong enough story arc. Stories like rape are brought up and dropped, and characters change their actions and intentions way too quickly leaving a rushed feeling at times.

One of my biggest problems was with the dialog. Many characters on Stygia speak in a 'broken' way due them being damaged. However it's an odd mix all round. You have characters who can barely talk properly, then you have characters using French, Latin and very in vogue words like "regime". Yet you then having using words like "Ruffian". The dialogue is also clunky on Earth, both with the interrogators and other characters. They speak in very old fashioned ways at times -- like many characters are in their 70s. People don't call people "brutes" and "ruffians", it just feels wrong.

Any politics in the book were over the top, so lost much merit. It took t-shirt slogna politics and incomplete thoughts and tried to turn it into a story. "Ooh look, we're losing our freedoms... well the government will torture anyone then for whatever they say. Let's call the department HARM, in case the readers don't get it.."

I could have also done without some of the sexual parts. Not because I'm a prude, far from it. It's just the descriptions were at times just a bit revolting, and a bit out of place. At one point a character masturbates, then is never heard from again. What's the point?

Finally there is a self-indulgent interview with the author at the end, with Del Rey (are they the publishers perhaps) where the politics is further explained if it wasn't blatant enough, and you get fawning over the author with statements like "It's incomprehensible to me that a writer of your proven gifts and stature could have difficulty placing a novel."

Overall, it just didn't engage me. The politics was too broad, the totalitarian elements too blunt, and the characters not engaging. There were elements of interest for how humans got to Stygia and their life there, but it wasn't enough to stop this book being a disappointment for me.
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Harm
Harm by Brian Aldiss (Paperback - 21 Aug. 2008)
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