LIFE IN THE WEST by Brian W. Aldiss


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Another wise, limpid mainstream outing for sf/fantasy master Aldiss (Forgotten Life, 1989). This one first appeared in Britain in 1980, and centers on Thomas Squire, a middle-class maker of TV programs: incidents at an international conference that Squire is attending illustrate problems in his personal life, and these in turn illuminate modern Western attitudes and mores. Although Squire's TV series, Frankenstein Among the Arts, exploring today's culture of mass production and its dubious sense of value vs. worth, was a popular success, his personal life is in a shambles: his wife, a fabricator of exotic, arty insects, has left him, and without her Squire lacks the will to maintain his ancestral halls. The proximate cause of the breakup is Squire's affair with the sexy star of his TV series; he gives her up with an air of martyrdom, then invokes the double standard with elaborate justifications. At the International Congress, Squire's impatience with Marxist rhetoric leads him to insult several delegates and offend one of his oldest friends. He warms to a Russian colleague, a minor dissident complete with KGB watchdog, and professes to trust him--but, when tested, Squire finds this trust to be only a pleasant illusion. And the book's title? Well, Squire considers clean, industrious, friendly, regimented Singapore to be the freest city in the world, and indeed it exactly matches his background and outlook. A little too clever, sometimes in its precise weaving of informative strands--even Squire's name is significant, and the reader is conscious of having been manipulated--but in the main a discerning, often amusing portrait of Western middle-class culture, and less social satire than ironic truth.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1990
Publisher: Carroll & Graf