Barefoot in the Head
by Brian Aldiss

Review by Glenn Frantz

The prolific British writer Brian Aldiss seems to have a unique period, around 1968-1970, when he was doing truly experimental writing, perhaps in emulation of his compatriot J. G. Ballard. Short stories from this period are collected in The Moment of the Eclipse, and there are two novels, Barefoot in the Head (1969), and Report on Probability A (1968). A short-story sketch for Barefoot, "The Serpent of Kundalini," is collected in Harrison & Aldiss' Best SF: 1968.

Barefoot in the Head is the most successful synthesis of experimental writing style with science fiction. The setting is the aftermath of a world war fought by massive aerial spraying of hallucinogenic drugs. Aldiss writes from the viewpoint of the protagonist, and it is a stream of almost Joyceian wordplay that presents nothing less than a new vision of the human mind. Under the inescapable influence of the drugs, the characters in Barefoot must try to evolve a new way of thinking. For me, this is science fiction at its best. Even the "songs" and poems interspersed with the narrative -- a common weakness among science fiction writers -- are fairly good. Be warned that some of the visual-acrostic poems are not typeset correctly in the paperback editions.

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