Hothouse

Hothouse

by Brian W. Aldiss

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Overview

In the future, when the Sun has expanded and is ready to go nova, few animal species remain while plants have adapted to fill animal niches. One of the few species to survive are humans, but in much-altered forms. It is here where young tribal Gren finds himself captured by an intelligent fungus with plans to colonize humans to control the world!

Hothouse tells the story of a remarkable journey of discovery that will alter your perceptions about the true nature of the world today... and the world to come!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671559304
Publisher: Baen Books
Publication date: 12/28/1984
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Hothouse


By Brian W. Aldiss

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1962 Brian W. Aldiss
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1035-1


CHAPTER 1

Obeying an inalienable law, things grew, growing riotous and strange in their impulse for growth.

The heat, the light, the humidity—these were constant and had remained constant for ... but nobody knew how long. Nobody cared any more for the big question that begin "How long ...?" or "Why ...?" It was no longer a place for mind. It was a place for growth, for vegetables. It was like a hothouse.

In the green light, some of the children came out to play. Alert for enemies, they ran along a branch, calling to each other in soft voices. A fast-growing berrywhisk moved upwards to one side, its sticky crimson mass of berries gleaming. Clearly it was intent on seeding and would offer the children no harm. They scuttled past. Beyond the margin of the group strip, some nettlemoss had sprung up during their period of sleep. It stirred as the children approached.

"Kill it," Toy said simply. She was the head child of the group. She was ten, had lived through ten fruitings of the fig tree. The others obeyed her, even Gren. Unsheathing the sticks every child carried in imitation of every adult, they scraped at the nettlemoss. They scraped at it and hit it. Excitement grew in them as they beat down the plant, squashing its poisoned tips.


Clat fell forward in her excitement. She was only five, the youngest of the group's children. Her hands fell among the poisonous stuff. She cried aloud and rolled aside. The other children also cried, but did not venture into the nettlemoss to save her.

Struggling out of the way, little Clat cried again. Her fingers clutched at the rough bark—then she was tumbling from the branch.

The children saw her fall on to a great spreading leaf several lengths below, clutch it, and lie there quivering on the quivering green. She looked pitifully up at them, afraid to call.

"Fetch Lily-yo," Toy told Gren. Gren sped back along the branch to get Lily-yo. A tigerfly swooped out of the air at him, humming its anger deeply. He struck it aside with a hand, not pausing. He was nine, a rare man child, very brave already, and fleet and proud. Swiftly he ran to the Head-woman's hut.

Under the branch, attached to its underside, hung eighteen great homemaker nuts. Hollowed out they were, and cemented into place with the cement distilled from the acetoyle plant. Here lived the eighteen members of the group, one to each homemaker's hut, the Headwoman, her five women, their man, and the eleven surviving children.

Hearing Gren's cry, out came Lily-yo from her nuthut, climbing up a line to stand on the branch beside him.

"Clat has fallen!" cried Gren.

With her stick, Lily-yo rapped sharply on the bough before running on ahead of the child.

Her signal called out the other six adults, the women Flor, Daphe, Hy, Ivin, and Jury, and the man Haris. They hastened from their nuthuts, weapons ready, ready for attack or flight.

As Lily-yo ran, she whistled on a sharp split note.

Instantly to her from the thick foliage nearby came a dumbler, flying to her shoulder. The dumbler rotated, a fleecy umbrella, whose separate spokes controlled its direction. It matched its flight to her movement.

Both children and adults gathered round Lily-yo when she looked down at Clat, still sprawled some way below on her leaf.

"Lie still, Clat! Do not move!" called Lily-yo. "I will come to you." Clat obeyed that voice, though she was in pain and fear, staring up hopefully towards the source of hope.

Lily-yo climbed astride the hooked base of the dumbler, whistling softly to it. Only she of the group had fully mastered the art of commanding dumblers. These dumblers were the half-sentient fruits of the whistlethistle. The tips of their feathered spokes carried seeds; the seeds were strangely shaped, so that a light breeze whispering in them made them into ears that listened to every advantage of the wind that would spread their propagation. Humans, after long years of practice, could use these crude ears for their own purposes and instructions, as Lily-yo did now.

The dumbler bore her down to the rescue of the helpless child. Clat lay on her back, watching them come, hoping to herself. She was still looking up when green teeth sprouted through the leaf all about her.

"Jump, Clat!" Lily-yo cried.

The child had time to scramble to her knees. Vegetable predators are not as fast as humans. Then the green teeth snapped shut about her waist.

Under the leaf, a trappersnapper had moved into position, sensing the presence of prey through the single layer of foliage. The trappersnapper was a horny, caselike affair, just a pair of square jaws, hinged and with many long teeth. From one corner of it grew a stalk, very muscular and thicker than a human, and resembling a neck. Now it bent, carrying Clat away down to its true mouth, which lived with the rest of the plant far below on the unseen forest Ground, in darkness and decay.

Whistling, Lily-yo directed her dumbler back up to the home branch. Nothing now could be done for Clat. It was the way.

Already the rest of the group was dispersing. To stand in a bunch was to invite trouble, trouble from the unnumbered enemies of the forest. Besides, Clat's was not the first death they had witnessed.

Lily-yo's group had once consisted of seven underwomen and two men. Two women and one man had fallen to the green. Between them, the eight women had borne twenty-two children to the group, five of them being man children. Deaths of children were many, always. Now that Clat was gone, over half the children had fallen to the green. Lily-yo knew that this was a shockingly high fatality rate, and as leader she blamed herself for it. The dangers in the branches might be many, but they were familiar, and could be guarded against. She rebuked herself all the more because of the surviving offspring, only three man children were left, Gren, Poas, and Veggy. Of them, she felt obscurely that Gren was born for trouble.


Lily-yo walked back along the branch in the green light. The dumbler drifted from her unheeded, obeying the silent instruction of the forest air, listening for word of a seeding place. Never had there been such an overcrowding of the world. No bare places existed. Sometimes the dumblers floated through the jungles for centuries, waiting to alight, epitomizing a vegetable loneliness.

Coming to a point above one of the nuthuts, Lily-yo lowered herself down by the creeper into it. This had been Clat's nuthut. The headwoman could hardly enter it, so small was the door. Humans kept their doors as narrow as possible, enlarging them only as they grew. It helped to keep out unwanted visitors.

All was tidy in Clat's nuthut. From the soft fibre of the inside a bed had been cut; there the five-year-old had slept, when a feeling for sleep came among the unchanging forest green. On the cot lay Clat's soul. Lily-yo took it and thrust it into her belt.

She climbed out on to the creeper, took her knife, and began to slash at the place where the bark of the tree had been cut away and the nuthut was attached to the living wood. After several slashes, the cement gave. Clat's hut hinged down, hung for a moment, then fell.

As it disappeared among the huge coarse leaves, there was a flurry of foliage. Something was fighting for the privilege of devouring the huge morsel.

Lily-yo climbed back on to the branch. For a moment she paused to breathe deeply. Breathing was more trouble than it had been. She had gone on too many hunts, borne too many children, fought too many fights. With a rare and fleeting knowledge of herself, she glanced down at her bare green breasts. They were less plump than they had been when she first took the man Haris to her; they hung lower. Their shape was less beautiful.

By instinct she knew her youth was over. By instinct she knew it was time to Go Up.

The group stood near the Hollow, awaiting her. She ran to them, outwardly as active as ever, though her heart felt dead. The Hollow was like an upturned armpit, formed where the branch joined the trunk. In the Hollow a water supply had collected.

The group was watching a line of termights climb the trunk. One of the termights now and again signalled greetings to the humans. The humans waved back. As far as they had allies at all, the termights were their allies. Only five great families survived among the rampant green life; the tigerflies, the treebees, the plantants and the termights were social insects mighty and invincible. And the fifth family was man, lowly and easily killed, not organized as the insects were, but not extinct, the last animal species in all the all-conquering vegetable world.


Lily-yo came up to the group. She too raised her eyes to follow the moving line of termights until it disappeared into the layers of green. The termights could live on any level of the great forest, in the Tips or down on the Ground. They were the first and last of insects; as long as anything lived, the termights and tigerflies would.

Lowering her eyes, Lily-yo called to the group.

When they looked, she brought out Clat's soul, lifting it above her head to show to them.

"Clat has fallen to the green," she said. "Her soul must go to the Tips, according to the custom. Flor and I will take it at once, so that we can go with the termights. Daphe, Hy, Ivin, Jury, you guard well the man Haris and the children till we return."

The women nodded solemnly. Then they came one by one to touch Clat's soul.

The soul was roughly carved of wood into the shape of a woman. As a child was born, so with rites its male parent carved it a soul, a doll, a totem soul—for in the forest when one fell to the green there was scarcely ever a bone surviving to be buried. The soul survived for burial in the Tips.

As they touched the soul, Gren adventurously slipped from the group. He was nearly as old as Toy, as active and as strong. Not only had he power to run. He could climb. He could swim. Further, he had a will of his own. Ignoring the cry of his friend Veggy, he scampered into the Hollow and dived into the pool.

Below the surface, opening his eyes, he saw a world of bleak clarity. A few green things like clover leaves grew at his approach, eager to wrap round his legs. Gren avoided them with a flick of his hands as he shot deeper. Then he saw the crocksock—before it saw him.

The crocksock was an aquatic plant semi-parasitic by nature. Living in hollows, it sent down its saw-toothed suckers into the trees' sap. But the upper section of it, rough and tongue-shaped like a sock, could feed also. It unfolded, wrapping round Gren's left arm, its fibres instantly locking to increase the grip.

Gren was ready for it. With one slash of his knife, he clove the crocksock in two, leaving the lower half to thrash uselessly at him as he swam away.

Before he could rise to the surface, Daphe the skilled huntress was beside him, her face angered, bubbles flashing out silver like fish from between her teeth. Her knife was ready to protect him.

He grinned at her as he broke surface and climbed out on to the dry bank. Nonchalantly he shook himself as she climbed beside him.

"Nobody runs or swims or climbs alone," Daphe called to him, quoting one of the laws. "Gren, have you no fear? Your head is an empty burr!"

The other women too showed anger. Yet none of them touched Gren. He was a man child. He was tabu. He had the magic powers of carving souls and bringing babies—or would have when fully grown, which would be soon now.

"I am Gren, the man child!" he boasted to them, thumping his chest. His eyes sought Haris's for approval. Haris merely looked away. Now that Gren was so big, Haris did not cheer him on as once he had, though the boy's deeds were braver than before.

Slightly deflated, Gren jumped about, waving the strip of crocksock still wrapped round his left arm. He called and boasted at the women to show how little he cared for them.

"You are a baby yet," hissed Toy. She was ten, his senior by one year. Gren fell quiet. The time would come to show them all that he was someone special.

Scowling, Lily-yo said, "The children grow too old to manage. When Flor and I have been to the Tips to bury Clat's soul, we shall return and break up the group. Time has come for us to part. Guard yourselves!"

She saluted them and turned about with Flor beside her.

It was a subdued group that watched their leader go. All knew that the group had to split; none cared to think about it. Their time of happiness and safety—so it seemed to all of them—would be finished, perhaps forever. The children would enter a period of lonely hardship, fending for themselves before joining other groups. The adults embarked on old age, trial, and death when they Went Up into the unknown.

CHAPTER 2

Lily-yo and Flor climbed the rough bark easily. For them it was like going up a series of more or less symmetrically placed rocks. Now and again they met some kind of vegetable enemy, a thinpin or a pluggyrug, but these were small fry, easily despatched into the green gloom below. Their enemies were the termight's enemies, and the moving column had already dealt with the foes in its path. Lily-yo and Flor climbed close to the termights, glad of their company.

They climbed for a long while. Once they rested on an empty branch, capturing two wandering burrs, splitting them, and eating their oily white flesh. On the way up, they had glimpsed one or two groups of humans on different branches; sometimes these groups waved shyly, sometimes not. Eventually they climbed too high for humans.

Nearer the Tips, new dangers threatened. In the safer middle layers of the forest the humans lived, avoided the perils of the Tips or the Ground.

"Now we move on," Lily-yo told Flor, getting to her feet when they had rested. "Soon we will be at the Tips."

A commotion silenced the two women. They looked up, crouching against the trunk for protection. Above their heads, leaves rustled as death struck.

A leapycreeper flailed the rough bark in a frenzy of greed, attacking the termight column. The leapycreeper's roots and stems were also tongues and lashes. Whipping round the trunk, it thrust its sticky tongues into the termights.

Against this particular plant, flexible and hideous, the insect had little defence. They scattered but kept doggedly climbing up, each perhaps trusting in the blind law of averages to survive.

For the humans, the plant was less of a threat—at least when met on a branch. Encountered on a trunk, it could easily dislodge them and send them helplessly falling to the green.

"We will climb on another trunk," Lily-yo said.

She and Flor ran deftly along the branch, once jumping a bright parasitic bloom round which treebees buzzed, a forerunner of the world of colour above them.

A far worse obstacle lay waiting in an innocent-looking hole in the branch. As Flor and Lily-yo approached, a tigerfly zoomed up at them. It was all but as big as they were, a terrible thing that possessed both weapons and intelligence—and malevolence. Now it attacked only through viciousness, its eyes large, its mandibles working, its transparent wings beating. Its head was a mixture of shaggy hair and armour-plating, while behind its slender waist lay the great swivel-plated body, yellow and black, sheathing a lethal sting in its tail.

It dived between the women, aiming to hit them with its wings. They fell flat as it sped past. Angrily, it tumbled against the branch as it turned on them again; its golden-brown sting flicked in and out.

"I'll get it!" Flor said. A tigerfly had killed one of her babes.

Now the creature came in fast and low. Ducking, Flor reached up and seized its shaggy hair, swinging the tigerfly off balance. Quickly she raised her sword. Bringing it down in a mighty sweep, she severed that chitinous and narrow waist.

The tigerfly fell away in two parts. The two women ran on.

The branch, a main one, did not grow thinner. Instead, it ran on and grew into another trunk. The tree, vastly old, the longest lived organism ever to flourish on this little world, had a myriad trunks. Very long ago—two thousand million years past—trees had grown in many kinds, depending on soil, climate, and other conditions. As temperatures climbed, the trees proliferated and came into competition with each other. On this continent, the banyan, thriving in the heat and using its complex system of self-rooting branches, gradually established ascendancy over the other species. Under pressure, it evolved and adapted. Each banyan spread out farther and farther, sometimes doubling back on itself for safety. Always it grew higher and crept wider, protecting its parent stem as its rivals multiplied, dropping down trunk after trunk, throwing out branch after branch, until at last it learnt the trick of growing into its neighbour banyan, forming a thicket against which no other tree could strive. Their complexity became unrivalled, their immortality established.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss. Copyright © 1962 Brian W. Aldiss. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Hothouse 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This award-winning novel from 1962 does everything that a great science fiction book should do: make you think, entertain you, make you care about the main character (even though he isn't the most likable of people, you still want to know what happens to him.) The setting: Earth, millions of years in the future the sun is dying, the Earth has stopped rotating, one side of the planet is in perpetual dark the other side has become one giant greenhouse covered with continuous foliage some plants have become mobile and carnivorous, the remnants of humanity are no longer the dominant species, they have daily life-or-death struggles with the plants and the plants are winning an escape of sorts is provided by large benign plants that will take you to the moon (the moon has ceased revolving around the Earth, has come closer due to gravitational pull, and is now connected by strands of vegetable matter extended from Earth), protected from the vacuum by giant seed pods brave humans ride to the moon where they are mutated by the lower oxygen content (siphoned from Earth's atmosphere due to gravity and the nearness of the two bodies.) If this all sounds fantastic (unrealistic say some critics) that's because it is--but that's not the point. While it may be highly unlikely, it is just as possible as many so-called rational scenarios of the end of days. More importantly, this one is highly entertaining. For fans of well-written, entertaining SF, this book is not to be missed.