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Brian Aldiss: Supertoys Last All Summer Long, And Other Stories Of Future Time

In the introduction to his anthology Supertoys Last All Summer Long, Brian Aldiss recounts how Stanley Kubrick once told him, "You seem to have two modes of writing—brilliant and not so damned good." This quote seems destined to show up in every review of Supertoys, thanks to its economy, its audacity, and its accuracy. It certainly sums up Supertoys' contents. Of these 19 stories (eight of which appear here for the first time, while the rest are reprints from various sources), roughly half are flowery conceptual vignettes that illustrate, with various degrees of success, how some sort of mental paradigm shift might have created the present from the past, or might create the future from the present. In the four pages of "The Pause Button," for instance, a chemical device allows people to think clearly in stressful situations, making the world a happier place. "Cognitive Ability And The Light Bulb" simply posits an expanding intellectual ability among humans, which similarly will make the world a happier place. These snippets, along with a handful of other entries, are too short to register, too light to signify, and too purposeless to prod speculation. But the solid core of the collection balances out some of the flotsam. The title story, which inspired Kubrick to start developing the movie that became A.I., is a directionless but wistfully poignant vignette about a robot boy, his robot teddy-bear companion, and the abstracted housewife whom they no longer properly entertain. Aldiss later fleshed out the idea with two more increasingly striking stories, "Supertoys When Winter Comes" and "Supertoys In Other Seasons," which develop the theme and press the point home a little more sharply. They also indicate how A.I. might have developed in less grandiloquent hands than Steven Spielberg's. These aren't the book's best offerings, with a couple of stellar, melancholy, evocative pieces, "Three Types Of Solitude" and "Nothing In Life Is Ever Enough," filling out the "brilliant" end of the brilliant-vs.-not-so-damned-good spectrum. By contrast, the "Supertoys" pieces, like much of the collection, come across as cleverly imaginative, but a bit too artificial and pious. In the end, just about the best thing in Supertoys is Aldiss' foreword, which details his collaboration with Kubrick, his frustration with and admiration for the director, and their joint work on A.I. The unpretentious openness and frank humanity of this introduction makes it more accessible than most of the book's rarified, abstract stories, and generally more relevant to boot.

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