I don't tend to read much of Aldiss' work these days although I've read quite a bit in the past. He has some great classics to his name but I've also encountered some of his more mediocre pieces so I had cooled a bit towards him. I've had this quite early collection sitting on my to-read shelf for some time and it was my involvement in a reading group that caused me to get around to it. I'm glad I did.
This is a collection of originally unrelated stories that have been retrospectively arranged (and slightly re-worked by the author himself) to form a kind of future history of earth, spanning the eons until the end of the galaxy. Even though the stories themselves are quite varied, it's a framing device that works very well and gave the collection a cohesion that many lack.
And there were some real gems in here too. "Three's a Cloud" was a touching tale of three strangers who stumble upon each other but find themselves inexplicably transformed into some kind of completed unit, a gestalt.
"Who Can Replace a Man?" was a superb story about a time when human kind appears to have finally become extinct, freeing all the service robots from lives of endless toil to attempt to form some kind of new society for themselves. There's definitely a few allegorical messages to be found here as they do very badly at organising themselves, especially when they find out that humans are not quite as extinct as they thought they were...
"Incentive" completely blew me away in how ahead of its time it seemed to be as it took a left turn and slipped into Ligottian horror as human kind is forced to come to terms with a new way of viewing its place in the cosmos.
The following story "Gene Hive" goes in the opposite direction, moving from a horror story to become SF after all as it explores a possibility for Man's next evolutionary leap. This theme is explored again in a different way in the final story of the collection "Visiting Amoeba".
Not all of the stories were top quality but all in all a very strong collection. Highly recommended if you can find it.