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Brian Aldiss: Report on Probability A

Someone – we do not know who, though they do have strange names like Domoladossa and Midlakemela and seem to be from a different universe – is writing a report on Mr. and Mrs. Mary and their now former servants – G (gardener), C (chauffeur) and S (secretary). Probability A is, according to Domoladossa and Midlakemela, the continuum containing Mr. and Mrs. Mary. What seems to have happened is that the probability of there being another universe parallel to that inhabited by Domoladossa and Midlakemela and the probability of there being another universe parallel to that inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. Mary have resulted in the two coinciding, at least for a while. There are similarities between the two. W. H. Hunt’s (=William Holman Hunt in our universe) painting The Hireling Shepherd exists in both universes but in the other universe, it is by Winkel Henri Hunt who is definitely not a pre-Raphaelite.

Aldiss, of course, is playing with what the semantically challenged Americans would call alternate universes – the idea that there are undoubtedly universes, many similar to ours, hovering around in a different continuum and which occasionally run into ours. We, of course, are not sophisticated enough to spot them but they may well spot us. These other universes may well have many similarities with ours – this one certainly does – but they may also have odd differences as this one also does and this causes much consternation for Domoladossa and Midlakemela and their fellows, as well as for us, as we see their (to us) strange habits. He is also interested in probability – a key theme of 20th century literature but rarely expressed as baldly as Aldiss expresses it here. However, he takes the whole matter a bit further for, while Domoladossa and Midlakemela spy on our universe, G, C and S are spying on Mr. and Mrs. Mary, setting up a whole who is spying on the spies thing. Indeed, the whole novel is a post-modernist work, worthy of Robbe-Grillet, Robert Coover and Co.

Publishing history

First published 1968 by Faber and Faber