by Paul Davies.
Basic, 160 pages, $20.00.
Professor Davies teaches natural philosophy at the University of Adelaide and promises to keep technical jargon to a minimum--or try to. His subject is "Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life," and technical jargon, in the form of mathematical calculations well beyond the three-Rs level, proves unavoidable. Unexpectedly, considering its subtitle, the book is more concerned with the pros and cons of the existence of extraterrestrial life than with the effect that the proof of such life would have on human thinking, which can be summarized as a heavy jolt. The author believes that extraterrestrial life does exist, but he presents contrary theories with such fair-minded clarity that a nonscientist reader with no entrenched opinion on the matter may find all the arguments equally plausible and come "out by the same door where in I went."
by Vikram Chandra.
Little, Brown, 560 pages, $24.45.
by Augustus Hare.
Academy Chicago, 320 pages, $26.95.
Augustus John Cuthbert Hare (1834-1903) published his autobiography in his old age. It ran to six volumes, admittedly in large type, and has been edited to reasonable size by Anita Miller and James Papp. Hare was born into an aristocratic English family, most of whose members were considerably worse than peculiar. As a small boy, he might well have envied the happy life of Oliver Twist. As an adult, he had no money--at least by his standards--but he "collected cousins as others collect stamps" and could always find a country house to put him up. He also collected anecdotes, with which he enlivened a series of guidebooks that flourished for decades, and with which, as a raconteur, he became a valued guest. His text includes a lively description of Mark Twain, a report on Thomas Carlyle complete with Scottish accent, tales of ghosts and ghastlies, and complaints about his publisher. His instrument was the pen rather than the harp, but in his way Hare was a wandering minstrel, and he is an attractive and sometimes witty acquaintance.
by Jane Gardam.
St. Martin's, 240 pages, $20.95.
by Francine Prose.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 247 pages, $20.00.
Ms. Prose's heroine, Martha, a stolidly unimaginative fact checker at a stolidly moderate women's magazine, is moping on the beach at Fire Island when she falls in with a group of enthusiastic, demonstratively affectionate worshippers of the great Goddess. They are led by Isis Moonwagon. With no other social life to speak of, Martha becomes a misfit member of the androphobic female-solidarity cult, and winds up with them on a pilgrimage to study with a Native American shamaness in the wilds of Arizona. Isis Moonwagon is accident-prone, and so is the trip. One ridiculous contretemps follows another; the lesbian lovers split; the mother and daughter exchange snarls; innate cattiness surfaces; and the climate is a killer. Ms. Prose describes the debacle in elegantly restrained style, creating a novel that is satirically amusing but not unsympathetic. Her women are superficially silly, but their desire for a more generous ethic than society has offered them is not.
by Alan Bennett.
Random House, 432 pages, $25.00.
Mr. Bennett, the author of The Madness of King George and of numerous successful television shows, offers a miscellany of memoirs, diary excerpts, occasional pieces, and book reviews, most of the material involving the theater. The diaries are of particular interest, because they describe what the author experiences, notices, and sometimes suffers as one of his television scripts is brought to life on location. He observes that he has "very little knowledge of 'ordinary life.' I imagine it in a script and come up against the reality only when the script gets filmed. So the process can be a bit of an eye-opener. . . ." Such unexpected revelations--and opinions--are frequent rewards in this quirky collection.
by Ada Graham and Frank Graham Jr.
Tilbury House, 170 pages, $30.00.