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A Straight A” Student

Report on Probability A

By Brian W. Aldiss 

9 Jun, 2024

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You


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Brian W. Aldiss’ 1967 Report on Probability A is a stand-alone New Wave science fiction novel.

Novel” might raise inappropriate expectations. Say rather, a novel-length narrative.”

Mr. and Mrs. Mary’s estate comprises the house in which the Marys live and several smaller buildings. The outbuildings are occupied by gardener G, secretary S, and chauffer C. G, S, and C take a close interest in the Marys’ activities.

Surveillance does not end there.

Domoladossa and Midlakemela peer from their universe into the Marys’ universe. The goings-on at the Mary estate are closely monitored. While the two universes appear nearly identical, Domoladossa and Midlakemela cannot be sure this is the case. Perhaps the similarities are only superficial.

The four Distinguishers studying Domoladossa and Midlakemela from the vantage point of the Distinguishers’ universe are in much the same boat as Domoladossa and Midlakemela. What they see is clear. What it all means is not clear at all.

Observation versus comprehension also perplexes some researchers in New York City. The researchers have found a path from the researcher’s world into that of the Distinguishers. What is going on, what to make of it, is unclear.

Of course, it doesn’t end there. All observers are themselves observed by observers observed in their turn. There is no end to observation. But there does seem to be a common thread: the painting The Hireling Shepherd. It’s found in several of the universes. Is this significant? Is it coincidence? Or it is it all a cosmic joke?


Probability A was written in 1963 but only published in 1967. It appears to have been rejected by numerous publishers.

This is a British New Wave novel. The term New Wave was coined by P. Schuyler Miller in Analog Science Fact, November 1961, to refer to the new wave of British authors, Aldiss being an example cited in the review. The term evolved1 and was identified with new interest in interior lives, stylistic experiment, and other matter anathema to grognard SF.

The book strikes me as a literary experiment in recursion and rejection of conventional plot. Perhaps because it’s an experiment, the characters are not especially compelling. Nor is there really a plot as such. Obsessively detailed descriptions aside, the prose is workmanlike. However, characters and plot really aren’t the point. If anything, Aldiss is going out of his way to avoid delivering a standard narrative. To the extent that I understand what he was attempting, the book is a success.

Would I recommend this? If the concept intrigues you, you might want to take a chance on the book. Even if it does not sound interesting, it’s not much longer than a modern novella. You’re not risking much time if it does not please.

Report on Probability A is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). I did not find Report for sale at Words Worth Books).

1. Miller mentions Aldiss, Brunner, both (sometimes contentiously) lumped in the New Wave, but also Kenneth Bulmer and E. C. Tubb, who were conventional SF authors. This is because Miller uses the term in an entirely different sense than the later ones: he means those notable new British authors discovered by John Ted” Carnell.

Sadly, I lack space to talk at greater length about that review’s other comments about Carnell. No doubt I will return to it some time. It’s a fascinating document.