“A Kind of Artistry,” Brian Aldiss, 1962 – The story of adventurer Derek Ende who leaves his demanding Mistress to make contact with the Cliff, an exotic species born of an asteroid. Life off-world gives him insight into his home planet, Earth, leading him to question whether or not he will take up his role in its extremely repressed, matriarchal, and dying society.
Comments: Read in A World Treasury of Science Fiction. Themes of incest, intimacy, masculinity, matriarchy. Features the figure of the domineering mother (compare with Philip José Farmer’s “Mother”). Some generic play: A stock romantic scene at beginning soon leads to something much less conventional. See a short review of the story at A. V. Club, as it fits in with the theme of civilization and its phases in Aldiss’s collection Starswarm.
See the summary by Joseph Milicia on Aldiss’s website: “‘A Kind of Artistry,’ the first tale [in Starswarm], is perhaps the most rich and subtle — and also most direct — of the eight tales in its portrayal of these tensions: here, more accurately, tension between yearning for freedom and attraction to the restraining force. Ostensibly, Derek Ende would prefer to remain with his Mistress in his ancestral home, and spends a good part of his time exploring alien planets only because Star One needs his talents; but his restlessness and his weak denials of his Mistress’ accusations that he is ‘running away’ from her indicate that a part of him is very glad to go. When we later learn that his ‘Lady’ is mother as well as mistress, we see that Derek is an archetypal case of the male who ‘loses himself’ to escape a smothering maternal domination. Derek himself generalizes that all explorers (or at least the male ones) have had the same motivation: ‘. . . wouldn’t it be strange if most of them only ventured into the unknown because the struggle at home was too much for them?’ (p. 27)”
Author: Wikipedia: “Brian Wilson Aldiss, OBE (born 18 August 1925) is an English author of both general fiction and science fiction. His byline reads either Brian W. Aldiss or simply Brian Aldiss. Greatly influenced by science fiction pioneer H. G. Wells, Aldiss is a vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society. He is also (with Harry Harrison) co-president of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. Aldiss was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 2000, and has received two Hugo Awards, one Nebula Award, and one John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His influential works include the short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long”, the basis for the Stanley Kubrick-developed Steven Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” For an overview of Aldiss’s themes, see Joseph Milicia’s introduction to Starswarm. Gardner Dozois summarizes Aldis’s “old earth” stories in his introduction to The Furthest Horizon.