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Brian Aldiss: Barefoot in the Head
A post-apocalyptic novel but, as it’s by Aldiss, it is lot more intelligent than most. The Acid Head War has broken out. It is not conventional or even nuclear bombs but psychochemical aerosols that propagate psychotomimetic states. In other words, everyone is tripping out (remember that this novel was written in the Sixties). The hero, Colin Charteris, realizes that we now have a new vision of the universe. All other human beings were symbols, nodes in an enormous pattern. Returning to England (which was most affected) from France, Charteris is going to have to make some adjustments. Sex, art, Ouspensky and Gurdjieff become the focus of attention. But Charteris leads a crusade into war-torn Europe and soon becomes a messiah. But we all know what happens to messiahs, particularly when they come up against Germans.
Not only is this an attempt – perhaps the best attempt in modern literature – to examine the effects of psychedelic drugs not just on an individual but on a whole society but it only examines the effect of these drugs on language, for language is the first thing to go when the mind goes. Yes, Aldiss has read his James Joyce but whatever the Irishman’s influences, it seems highly unlikely that they were psychedelic. Aldiss’ are. Yes, I think he inhaled. Forget the Jesus story – it has been done many times before in science fiction – but come for the drugs.
First published 1969 by Faber and Faber