A rare and vital mainstream outing finds sf master Aldiss (Last Orders, p. 256; etc.) chronicling with wit and pathos the obsession of a middle-aged Oxford history don for his dead brother's life. Clement Winter's quiet academic life is thrown too often into shadow by the noisy, limelighted life of his wife, Sheila--a.k.a. "Green Mouth" for her trademark green lipstick and, as creator of the best-selling world of Kerinth novels, the "Top Priestess of Epic Fantasy." With Sheila's book money, Clement lives very well in a posh North Oxford home complete with servant; but money satisfies neither Sheila's yearnings (Clement's caught her in bed with her American publisher) nor Clement's own: he feels, achingly, that "he had another life which had never been lived." Then entree into that richer, more adventurous life comes by way of his older brother's death, for among Joseph's effects Clement finds letters and a journal--reproduced at length here--detailing his brother's stint in Sumatra during WW II and his torrid and ultimately heartbreaking affair there with a married woman. And, like Joseph, Clement too seems destined to heartbreak as his world-edifice--already battered by the earlier death of his daughter--begins to crumble: behind Joseph's swashbuckling he slowly discerns a man desperate for his mother's love; the live-in maid quits; Sheila flees into the arms of her publisher. But a visit by Joseph's last and much younger lover--a visit that swells with erotic promise--momentarily uplifts Clement, and then when things again seem at their bleakest, he hears Sheila's key turning in the front door lock. Wonderfully controlled--Aldiss shifts from comedy to tragedy and glides between past and present without a bump--and teeming with memorable incident and acute, sympathetic observation of the daily drama of mortal lives. Not Aldiss' usual, then--but still one of his best.