With apologies to the late James W. Best for appropriating his image (from his 1935 Forest Life in India)

Monday, 15 April 2013

Pretty Much Irreplaceable

The house is on fire, I've rescued my cats and fishing tackle, and there's just enough time to grab one book off the shelves before my entire library goes up in flames. But which one? (No, not my own...) Here it is:


Doesn't look much, does it? Indeed, it's a pretty grotty 1980 Charter, New York paperback. But since I first found it in a second-hand book shop in the mid-1980s, A Rude Awakening has remained my favourite book, and Aldiss my favourite author. First published in 1978, it is the third in the semi-autobiographical 'Horatio Stubbs' trilogy – after The Hand-Reared Boy (1970) and A Soldier Erect (1971) – and sees Aldiss at the very peak of his powers. The setting is Sumatra in 1946. Stubbs is a squaddie, a veteran of the Burma campaign with only days to go before he returns to Blighty. He determines to marry his Chinese girlfriend and take her with him, but events conspire against him. In a particularly memorable passage, he finds himself powerless to save a Dutch friend from summary execution by Indonesian freedom fighters. The game is up for Stubbs, and for the British out East.