Brian Wilson Aldiss (1925-2017), born in Norfolk, England, was not only a prolific writer of science fiction short stories and novels, but also anthologized science fiction and studied the history of the genre as well. Much of the background material in his works stemmed from his military service from 1943 through World War II in the Royal Corps of Signals in India, Burma, and Sumatra. Aldiss was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2004. He was for many years happily married to Margaret Aldiss, an editor and bibliographer who produced three bibliographies of Aldiss’s works. This archive is unique in that it represents a consistent and intensely personal correspondence over two years between close friends. The letters, eloquently written more often than not, reveal a wealth of details about Aldiss’s personality, emphasizing his worldliness, his productivity, the way he feels about the act of writing, the love he has for his family, and the way he views such things as life, death, and his own age progression.
Included in the archive are the following:
Xerox copy on a sheet of paper [8 ½” by 11”] reproducing two articles published by The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News (Sunday, March 3, 1985) regarding the speaking appearance of Brian Aldiss in Patrick Eddington’s home town, Salt Lake City, Utah.
TLS. Letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” by 11 ½”], dated 28.x.89, on Aldiss’s letterhead with the Boars Hill, Oxford address. The author begins by describing an imaginary planet that his friend the late astronomer Peter Cattermole has designed for him. Aldiss writes, “Reading his notes, gazing at his map, I feel like Keats On [sic] First Looking Into [sic] Chapman’s Homer. So I’m slowly getting my stuff together to write a novel about this planet. This’ll be a short one; I’m now too old and lazy to undertake another bloody great 3-volume operation.” Signed by Aldiss at the close.
Typed letter, most likely written by Margaret Aldiss, typed on both sides of a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 10”]. Dated the 5th of November (year not given). This letter was written at the time that their children were in their teen-age years. In this bit of correspondence, Margaret mentions how busy Brian is with his writing career. She writes, “I am kept busy with my word processor, putting all Brian’s stories through it, and looking after this house.”
TLS. Typed on 2 sheets of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ¾”], dated 21.xi.92, on letterhead with the author’s Boars Hill, Oxford address. In this long letter to Patrick, Aldiss writes quite a bit about his own writing, bringing up his recently published book, “Home Life with Cats,” a copy of which he has enclosed for Pat. He also writes that it has been an indifferent publishing year for him, listing what he has produced, and claiming, “ I do turn ‘em out.” He goes on to mention that his chief preoccupation is with his “slow-growing” novel, “Burnell’s Travels.” As he states, “BURNELL started as a couple of short stories; then I realized what I had a hold of. I began thinking about the novel last year, when Margaret and I were holidaying in an idyllic spot in France, lost in the green depths of the Perigord.
“While we were there, in that pleasant little farmhouse, I finished REMEMBRANCE DAY… I then had about two days of real holiday in which to relax. But already thoughts of Burnell were bubbling. Ah, how pleasantly idle was I in the early seventies. Since I’ve grown old, I have lost the gift of idleness. I can’t stop writing- notes, poems, whatever. Partly this is the hope to leave something- a name as well as money- to my darling wife and four dear children. But in the main it’s just something of which you know, difficult to articulate, the drive to translate the world, or more modestly one’s own ‘umwelt,’ into words and pictures. Right?” Aldiss has signed at the foot.
TLS. Letter typed on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ¾”] with the author’s letterhead bearing his Oxford address, dated Tuesday, 1st of June (year not specified). This piece of correspondence is special because it contains a detailed original sketch by Aldiss, covering a substantial portion of the page, of the Greek town Monemvasia. This charming sketch highlights the ruinous church, the steep ascent, the location of their hotel, and a “1 mile beautiful walk.” His simple sketch truly conveys the feeling of the town. Aldiss writes, “Pat, Monemvasia is wonderful! They dub it ‘Gilbraltar of Greece’, but the real Gibraltar is a lewd dump, built over the meagre Brit military housing and stuffed with Indian shops; it’s a bazaar. Monemvasia is a mystery. It’s a hell of a great chunk of rock, connected to the mainland only by a causeway. A natural fortress… The place is semi-ruinous; restoration is taking place. Mid-level is a narrow ‘road’ on which tourists live, choc-a-bloc with tavernas and shoplets selling postcards, honey, pottery, junk, and the inevitable T-shirts. Above, crowning the place, and achieved by a taxing ascent, is the old fortress, once besieged by Turks, Byzants, Franks, and any number of other bastards. The old church is being patched up: otherwise it’s acres of rock garden up there, colonized by brilliant or modest plants, euphorbias, herbs… A mile below lies the Aegean, breathing indigo. Marvellous place. Only eagles and artists should be allowed there.” The letter is signed at the foot by Aldiss.
Xerox copy [8 ¼” x 11 ½”] showing a partial view from above of Monemvasia .
TLS. Computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 17/3/95, on Aldiss’s Oxford letterhead. The letter opens with Aldiss thanking Pat for his generous gifts. He then goes on to mention that he will be attending the 16th Conference of the Fantastic, referring to himself as “their Permanent Special Guest.” He continues highlighting his busy schedule by stating, “Life is extremely full. In fact it overflows. I’m writing several things, including a shambolic object which could be construed as autobiography or something – THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE. However, what’s enclosed [see below] is a sort of core-plug through my geological time, written for a friend. I thought you might be interested; it reflects more rackety times in Oxford Past.” Signed, “Your pal, Brian.”
The above letter was sent with an eleven-page [8 ¼” x 11 ½”] computer-typed original manuscript of a story Aldiss was working on entitled “The Story of a Funeral: Remembering George Halcrow.” This piece, as one might expect, is chock-full of memories of how George met his wife, how George found Brian a room when his first marriage collapsed, and the first time Brian took Margaret out for a meal.
TLS. Computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 3/4”], dated 9/4/96, on Aldiss’s Oxford letterhead. In this letter, Brian thanks Patrick for his customary round of gifts, one of which is a frame, in which he debates “whether to change the picture from a view of old China to a view of young Margaret.” Signed, “Yours ever, Brian,” at the foot.
TLS. Computer-generated letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 9/9/99, dated two years after the death of his wife from pancreatic cancer, and printed with the author’s Old Headington, Oxford address at the head. The author writes, “It’s good to hear that the project continues and develops. I will include my “Cat Improvement Co” poem in the envelope, in case you can use it. I really don’t know any cat artists though.
“It’s so good-hearted of you to think of naming a star after Margaret. She really deserves no less. Her name is spelled MARGARET ALDISS. The family will be proud and comforted to hear what you are doing.” Signed by Aldiss at foot.
Xerox copy [10” x 8 ¼”] reproducing a poem by Brian Aldiss titled “The Cat Improvement Company.” Eddington later printed this poem as a limited edition broadside published by The Green Cat Press in 2004. The Green Cat Press was a small press run by Patrick Eddington and fellow Utah artist Susan Makov. In the aforementioned letter, Aldiss commentated that he knew no “cat artists.” In the end, Patrick himself provided the illustration.
TLS. Computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 1/11/0, on letterhead printed with his Old Headington address. In this letter to Patrick, Aldiss acknowledges having been through a lot in the last few years, but he survives, “thanks to some splendid ladies who have entered my life, and to the creative urge, which does not seem to abate.” He also mentions having in his possession a large deed box with his diaries from the sixties and seventies. He comments, “I’m currently writing Journal No. 36. They have become fuller since I’m in the house alone with no one to talk to. Mostly they are A5, and illustrated with cuttings, etc. I don’t know what to do with them, this all-too-ample record of a foolish life. I expect to present them to the Bodleian Library. Then this house will be three deed boxes lighter…
Of course I could leave them to my excellent daughter Wendy. She might possibly squeeze a little money from them- from the dirty bits, as it were!” Signed by Aldiss at the close.
TLS. Computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 5/3/0, on letterhead printed with his Old Headington address. Aldiss opens with, “You are a very kind friend! FedEx have delivered the star certificate in pristine order, with the name of Margaret Aldiss inscribed upon it…. So there she is, gleaming up there in Cyngus… It’s really a super thought of yours. I don’t mind admitting I shed a few tears over it, tears of sorrow but also of gratitude that we had such a good pal. Much appreciated.” What follows is Aldiss’s acknowledgement of his grief for Margaret, along with an almost schoolgirl-like discussion of his current infatuations with women. He ends the letter by very affectionately stating, “what you say about my role on [sic] your life is very flattering. But we formed an immediate friendship- it has certainly been important in my life too. I’m happy to know you. I’ll never forget the warmth of your kindness to me.” Signed by Aldiss.
TLS. Two-page letter written with a computer on sheets of paper [8 ¼” by 11 ½”], dated the 26th of September (year not mentioned, but circa 2000), from Brian W. Aldiss to Patrick Eddington. With Aldiss’s Oxford address printed at the head. In this long and extremely personal letter, Aldiss describes his recent travels in full detail. “The sloop was beautiful and comfortable. Five Turks looked after us, hoisted the sails, boxed the compass, did the cooking, etc. We were able to swim from the boat most days, either in open sea or in a sheltered bay. The food and wine were good and plentiful; since we had paid for everything beforehand, we were generous with the wine. But above all, the other passengers were darlings- intelligent, companionable, and witty… I soon became fond of every one of them and, I believe, they became fond of me. In fact, we came to prefer sitting on our stern deck just chatting, laughing, singing, to tramping round the ruins ashore. The weather was perfect, as we sailed slowly northwards on the Aegean.” At one point, he even brings up the bleak effect of World War I on the Dardenelles, reflecting that, “The slaughter on that campaign was ghastly. The Turks lost an estimated 300,000 killed, the Allies 265,000. I spent some sombre hours walking there among the pines, thinking about my father. He Stanley Aldiss, fought on Gallipoli; he was one of the lucky survivors.” Signed by Aldiss at the foot.
Art After Apogee: The relationships between an idea, a story, and painting by Brian Aldiss & Rosemary Phipps. Avernus, 2000. No. X in an edition limited to 100. Slender quarto in yellow wraps. Sent with the preceding letter. Inscribed by Brian Aldiss to his friend on the limitation page. A crude drawing of “The Cat & the Snake” is laid in.
TLS. Computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 3/7/1, on letterhead printed with his Old Headington address. A letter in which Aldiss tells Pat how busy he is. He writes, “Never have I been so busy as now. Endless interviews regarding “A.I.”. Of course I am fortunate, but it really means no creative time at all. On Monday, I returned from a conference at Liverpool University, while on Thursday I have to fly to the South of France (which of course will be very pleasant) for a conference on the Noir in Film and Fiction. After that, a more peaceful time, I’m hoping, before I retreat to a Greek island for a coupla weeks.” Signed at the foot by Aldiss.
TLS. Letter composed with a computer on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 3/12/1, on Aldiss’s Oxford letterhead. In this letter, Aldiss comments on the curious nature of the publishing business, stating, “My new reprint publishers, Stratus have recently gone bust: but not before they reprinted ‘Brightfount Diaries.’ This new edition omits the original pictures. However, here’s a copy. My first book. Terribly dated. Insane to have reprinted it… No wonder they went bust.” Next, Aldiss discusses the “Cat Improvement Co” broadside, wondering how many he will be able to acquire for himself without seeming greedy. Then, near the close of the letter, Aldiss muses on the changing medium of their correspondence, revealing himself to be a diehard letter writer: “It’s a bit sad you are going on email. There is a pleasure in writing letters and certainly a pleasure in receiving your hand-written ones.” Also of interest in this letter, is the fact that Aldiss encloses “another cat poem, a rather sinister thing.” The letter is signed at the foot by Aldiss.
Original manuscript poem printed from the computer on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ¾”]. Originally sent with the preceding letter. The title at the head of this poem is “Domestic Incident.” The second stanza of the poem reads, “All animal, burly cat, hideous but beautiful / My beautiful Sotkin, puissant in movement / Jaw locked round jackdaw / He struggles through the door / Into kitchen, his cave, its grave/ Twice himself in elegant fury. / Darker fangs grind my bones.”
TLS. Computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 3/4”], dated 19/11/1, on Aldiss’s letterhead printed with his Old Headington address. In this letter, the author comments on the search for Bin Laden, as well as the "Cat Improvement Co." broadside. Brian has signed at the bottom. Enclosed in the letter are the two pieces listed below.
A two-page [8 ¼” x 12 ½”] computer typed original manuscript entitled “The Cat Machine.” This story is what can only be termed a sci-fi/ horror cat story, involving a sort of Frankenstein-like cat, that continues to grow, eventually consuming a postman and a refrigerator, then attacking his owner when his back is turned, before disappearing into the night. The horror does not stop there- the machine cat goes on to become a world concern. On a lighter note, the story does end with the machine cat becoming King of Albania.
“The Cat Machine.” An original collage/drawing in marker, and ink on paper [11 ¾” x 8 ¼”]. With the author’s initials in ink in the lower right corner.
TLS. Computer-typed letter on two sheets of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 12/10/1, on Aldiss’s letterhead printed with his Old Headington, Oxford address. Aldiss begins this letter with beautiful imagery and words, writing, “It’s just on five of the afternoon. Sunlight filters into my west-facing windows, into my study and my small sitting room. You’d have to be a brute not to be moved by the beauty of the light.” The letter changes its tone a bit when Aldiss addresses the atrocities of September 11. He writes, “The world has changed. It’s misery, all uncertainty and foreboding. While appreciating that one must get a hold of the fanatic bin Laden, I grieve at the incessant bombing carried out by US and UK planes and ships. Christ, Kabul was already ruinous. It is always liable to seem like a war of the Rich against the Poor.” As per usual, Aldiss also includes some extremely personal information in this letter, pointing out that he has a “darling lover who lives only two doors away. Her name is Alison and great is my admiration for her. We went to a Greek island together last month, and bliss it was.” Signed at the foot by Aldiss.
TLS. Computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 3/4”], dated 12 February 2002, on Aldiss’s letterhead printed with his Old Headington, Oxford address. In this communication, Aldiss discusses the notion of collaboration between artists. He states, “I hope your collaboration with Cees [Nooteboom] works out well. I had enough – quite pleasurable – problems collaborating with Roger Penrose to cure me of the wish ever to collaborate again.” Signed by Brian above the postscript.
TLS. Brief computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 5 March 2002, on letterhead printed with his Old Headington address. In this communication, Aldiss refers to what Eddington calls “the screw up,” and offers to return the broadsides, stating at the same time, “Unfortunately I feel oddly reluctant to append my signature.” Signed by the writer at the close.
TLS. Computer-typed letter composed on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 11/5/4, on Aldiss’s Old Headington letterhead. In the body of the letter, the author addresses the fact that he is, as is typical, very busy. He asks, “How is your press studio getting on? You sound busy. So am I, doing all sorts of work. Plus trying to write a large ambitious novel, The Walcot Novel; I have 65,000 on the computer so far. Last week, I spent two days in a recording studio, reading aloud my novel, ‘Affairs at Hampden Ferrers’ into the mike, doing all the voices. Two days, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Quite fun if you concentrate. This for an audio book. I’ll send you a copy when it is published.” Signed by Aldiss at the foot.
TLS. Computer-typed letter on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”], dated 23/5/4, on Aldiss’s customary letterhead. Housed in a postmarked airmail envelope. Here, Aldiss elegantly opens the letter with the statement, “As one grows older, the winds of neglect blow more keenly. “ He continues with “Yesterday, a Prof Vladimir Gopman in Moscow sent me a copy of the Russian literary magazine – equivalent of our TLS or your New York Review of Books – in which he reviews ‘Affairs at Hampden Ferrers’ at some length, saying it is 'a brilliant piece of writing, full of energy and wit’. It’s pleasant to have the good opinion of the Russians, yet this novel of mine has been pretty well neglected in Britain.” He ends up closing this letter on a very personal note by writing, “It’s Sunday and sunlight streams into my study, stopping in the garden on the way. Today was my dead wife’s birthday. Poor lovely Margaret! Next Sunday, my younger daughter Charlotte gets married. There’s a busy week ahead before the great event. Still a remote and inaccessible thing in me says – whether there is wretchedness or rejoicing – ‘All this is nothing, Brian!’ This doppelganger effect must be what some people mistake for God…
“I save your envelopes as well as your letters. Don’t work too hard! Fond affection, (signed) Brian.”
“An Account of My Daughter Charlotte May’s Wedding, Sunday 30th May 2004.” An original 6-page computer-typed prose piece on paper [8 ¼” x 11 ½”]. This is an incredibly detailed account of the proceedings, where at one point, Aldiss asks, “What would Margaret have made of it all?” (One feels her presence several times in this piece, although she has passed). As in the piece Aldiss wrote about his friend’s funeral, one sees here the constant musing about life’s experiences, and the effect of these experiences, as well as the process of growing older. He poignantly writes, “We cuddled our drinks then sauntered about the pleasant open space, chatting. Everyone looked so decorative, young, old and in-between alike. .. Nafisa, the darling Hashemite Princess, accompanied by Martin and Nicky, looking quite her old self, though perhaps less bubbley [sic] than usual, after her recent encounter with cancer…. And my old passion, Hilary Sharp long since Hilary Parsons, with her husband, Adrian, still easy to look at, and he the perfect gentleman (i.e., a little stiff). It’s many a year since we worked together, Hilary and I, in Parker’s bookshop. She was never tall and has put on some weight, but I read in her face, in her expression, her eyes, that little glint of mischief I well recalled, as if everything including our advancing age, was secretly rather fun.” Aldiss does bring up his new loving partner in life, also in attendance, Alison, which adds to the atmosphere the feeling of progression from loss to a sort of “re-birth” in life. Inscribed by Aldiss to Eddington at the close of the piece: “Dear Pat- Just thought you might be interested! Regards, Brian.”
A two-page email letter printed on paper [8 ½” x 11”], dated August 29, 2004. Subject: “Prints. Corfu. Albania. Games.” In this email, Aldiss mentions that he will fly to Boston for the World Con, noting that his older son Clive, “on the premise that I am getting old and incapable, is flying over from Athens to accompany me, look after me, and generally get in the way.” Despite discussing the fact that he is advancing in years, the email contains much that is upbeat and positive. For example, he writes, “I took my darling and lovely ami Alison off to Corfu for a week’s break. It was perfect. The skies were always blue. It was warm. The sea was warm. We slept under a mosquito net… We ate in many a beach taverna… Generous Greek salads with feta cheese. The fish caught just before dawn were consumed as dusk gathered. And we drank endless bottles of retsina. And we laughed and kissed and screwed. I cannot tell you what a wonder, what a darling, Alison is, extremely honest, humorous and with a talent to be happy and amused. She has changed my life and maybe made me less of a bastard.”
Autographed Christmas/New Year Card Signed. Folded [6” x 4”]. No date. The card reads: “Dear Pat. Have a great festive season! As always, Brian (signed).”
ANS. Note on a card [6” x 4”] with the Old Headington letterhead. He mentions that he has been abroad several times. Signed by Aldiss.
Short computer-printed biography of Brian W. Aldiss on a sheet of paper [8 ¼” x 11 ¾”].
11 empty envelopes addressed to Patrick Eddington, one with a cat drawing in pen on the reverse of the envelope. Item #53909