Aldiss was a key figure in the new wave of science fiction writing in Britain in in the 1960s and 70s, and immensely prolific (80 novels, more than 300 short stories). Fifty years on ‘Supertoys Last All Summer Long’ is – no surprise – dated in many of its assumptions and entirely off-message for modern readers when it comes to female agency. The then-future technologies will seem quaint to today’s reader – “the photostat in her hand, still moist from the wall-receiver” – although Aldiss is bang on the money when it comes to the internet and retina scanning. He also anticipates the loneliness and boredom of modern life, the isolation (in particular) of women in a male hegemony.
In a starving world there’s also an obesity problem, mentioned in this clunky bit of exposition:
Though three-quarters of the overcrowded world are starving, we are lucky here to have more than enough, thanks to population control. Obesity’s our problem, not malnutrition. I guess there’s nobody round this table who doesn’t have a Crosswell working for him in the small intestine, a perfectly safe parasite tape-worm that enables its host to eat up to fifty percent more food and still keep his or her figure. Right?
I realise I’m not making a strong case for this. But I recall being spellbound as I read the story in our local library as an unhappy teenager, and brooding for days afterwards on what reality was, and how to figure out my place in my family and in the world. It triggered in me a disabling self-awareness and lack of ease. I’m still living with that.
The story was optioned by Stanley Kubrick and spent many years not being made before it was eventually released as A.I. Artificial Intelligencein 2001, directed by Steven Spielberg. I haven’t seen it.
First published in Harper’s Bazaar, December 1969, and collected in The Moment of Eclipse, Faber, 1970, and widely thereafter. It is available to read online here. Picked by David Collard. David is a writer and researcher based in London. His latest book is About a Girl (CB editions) and he is currently working on a group biography of writers associated with Ian Hamilton’s New Review in the 1970s. His previous contributions to A Personal Anthology can be read here.