Have you read this book?
While many science fiction novels written in the 1960s are still highly entertaining, there are few that are just as timely and profoundly moving today as they were when originally published. The Dark Light Years by British author Brian Aldiss is one of those rare literary gems.
Originally published in 1964 (and reprinted in it’s current version by House of Stratus in 2001), the story chronicles how space-traveling humans deal with an intelligent alien race that they discover on a remote planet. The utods are hippolike beings with six limbs and two heads that like to wallow in their own excrement. The process is a ceremonial one for the utods and has deep cultural and spiritual significance. The humans, upon seeing them, are repulsed; and when the utods rise to view their strange bipedal guests, the humans proceed to gun them down. The survivors are taken back to London, where they are placed in a zoo before eventually being butchered by curious scientists.
Aldiss said that he wrote this novel in anger after he found out scientists were conducting inhumane experiments on dolphins. That anger is evident in the insane actions of some the main human characters. This novel asks the big questions: What is intelligence? What does it mean to be civilized? What is the meaning of life? According to Aldiss, humans have a long, long way to go before we can call ourselves intelligent.
The Dark Light Years is an absolutely brilliant novel — a must-read book with a chilling message, especially in these turbulent times when a little intelligence can go a long way.
Paul Goat Allen is the editor of Barnes & Noble’s Explorations science fiction/fantasy book review and is the author of Burning Sticks, Old Winding Way and Warlock Dreams.