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by Brian Aldiss

Pub Date: July 23rd, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-09370-5
Publisher: St. Martin's

 In another significant mainstream outing (Forgotten Life, 1989; Life in the West, 1990), British science-fiction/fantasy grandmaster Aldiss discovers fresh and arresting nuances in the dichotomy between blind chance and predestination in human affairs. In 1990, professor Hengist Morton Embry, founder and president of the American Stochastic Sociology Association, prepares to test his theory of ``submerged social causation.'' In 1986, an IRA bomb in a Great Yarmouth, England, hotel killed four people. Were these random deaths, wonders Embry, or were they selected by sociological forces of which we are at best only dimly aware? In further flashbacks, Aldiss explores the lives of an impressive array of potential victims: Ray and Ruby Tebbutt, a quintessentially English couple now down on their luck, together with their friends and acquaintances; Ruby's mother; daughter Jennifer and her boyfriend, mysterious Czech businessman Jaroslav Vacek; Tom Driscoll, the bomber; East European war orphan and computer whiz-turned-hotelier Dominic Mayor and his family. Which of these will be present at the hotel on the day in question? And of those, who will die? Is the question ``why?'' answerable? It must be said that Aldiss will never master American dialogue (``Absolutely first-rate''). He does provide superbly delineated character and subtle, layered ironies--but ultimately it's up to the reader to decide whether or not Embry's theories hold water. The upshot is original, disturbing, and memorable.