I think that the classic “Helliconia” trilogy by Brian Aldiss is one of the greatest works of science fiction, and quite possibly the greatest of all time.

Written in the 1980s, this brilliant series charts a single “Great Year” in the history of the distant Earth-like world of Helliconia.

I love it so much that I read it every few years. I’ve never tired of it, and I never fail to get something new out of it.

Aldiss’ resonant prose is as good as you’ll find anywhere. The characters he creates feel utterly real. These are men and women full of all the contradictions, frustrations, vulnerabilities and occasional joys that make up human existence.

Aldiss took care to make the planet Helliconia as scientifically plausible as possible, carefully working out the details of its orbital cycles and their implications, as well as the planet’s geology and biology. He builds them into a complete system where the various Helliconian species are adapted to the peculiarities of their planet.

Helliconia is a planet orbiting a cool star called Batalix roughly once every 1.5 Earth years. Batalix  in turn elliptically orbits a blazingly hot star called Freyr once every 2592 Earth years.

As a result, Helliconia has a Little Year and a Great Year.

The huge climatic extremes of the Great Year drive Helliconia’s cyclical history.

Civilisation huddles in Winter, and mostly perishes.

It reawakens in Spring, having lost almost all knowledge of the previous Great Year.

It endures the  fiercely hot centuries of Summer, when the ignorant believe Freyr will swallow up the world.

By the onset of Winter the equatorial continent of Campannlat is already coming asunder, its nations disintegrating.

But the dour peoples of the northern continent of Sibornal always hold together, saving what they can for the long-off generations of the next Spring.

I heartily recommend Helliconia to anyone with a taste for epic science fiction of a high literary standard.

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