“Let’s Be Frank” by Brian W. Aldiss – Classics of Science Fiction


Group Read 72: The Best Science Fiction Stories of 1957

“Let’s Be Frank” by Brian W. Aldiss #08 of 20 (Read)

Fantasy and science fiction are two genres where writers can imagine anything, but strangely we seldom see stories with first-of-their-kind concepts. As The Bible says, there’s nothing new under the sun. However, I think Brian Aldiss has produced a unique idea in “Let’s Be Frank.” If I’m wrong, I’d love to read other takes on this concept.

I’m never sure how much of a story I should give away. “Let’s Be Frank” isn’t an all-time top short story, or even a best of the year story. There’s a reason writing teachers advise their students “Show don’t tell.” Aldiss tells this story. There’s no tension, no drama, no mystery. Aldiss produced his idea and explained how the billions of people on Earth end up with two conscious minds. Maybe that’s enough of a tease to get you to read the story. (Follow the link above.)

It’s a shame that Aldiss didn’t spend more time with his idea and created a version of the story that showed us what it was like to be a consciousness with multiple bodies. You might think I’m talking about a hive mind, but I don’t think I am. “Let’s Be Frank” does suggest a clever kind of telepathy. Can you imagine being in two bodies at once, one in England and one in Spain, with four legs, four arms, four eyes, and two heads?

If ChatGPT was conscious, it might experience something like this. Imagine being in a million bodies having a million conversations simultaneously? ChatGPT does that.

“Let’s Be Frank” isn’t a memorable short story either. Our group is working to identify the best science fiction stories of 1957. I don’t think “Let’s Be Frank” is one. But it is neat. The act of looking for exceptional stories makes me think about what makes a standout work of short fiction. I haven’t read all twenty we’re going to discuss, but I do know that “Call Me Joe” by Poul Anderson, “Omnilingual” by H. Beam Piper, and “The Menace from Earth” by Robert A. Heinlein are the great science fiction stories of 1957. They are the ones to read, reread, and remember.

Yet, what makes those stories great? What’s missing from “Let’s Be Frank” that’s in those stories? Each of those stories have original ideas too, especially Heinlein’s human powered flying on the Moon. They do have drama and characterization. I’m not sure Aldiss could have dramatized “Let’s Be Frank,” but if he could, it would have made all the difference in the world.

James Wallace Harris, 3/28/24

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