Here's a novel that's set in the...

Here's a novel that's set in the '60s and '70s, and takes place in Sacramento, Washington and Los Angeles. The heroine is a young woman whose father first becomes governor of California, and later is elected President of the United States. If the plot sounds oddly like the life of Patti Davis (nee Reagan), that could be because "Home Front," scheduled for March publication by Crown, has been written jointly by Davis and veteran novelist Maureen Strange Foster. Though the manuscript remains top-secret, Crown thought enough of Davis' first literary effort to offer the actress, one-time pop singer, anti-nuclear activist and well-known exercise addict an advance of six figures.

Noting that "after all, Margaret Truman writes books," a Crown spokesman saw nothing unusual in a First Daughter turning to fiction. One tiny peek of the characters offered by Crown reveals that the mother in "Home Front" is "blonde and 10 pounds overweight." As Shakespeare used to say, how sharper than a serpent's tooth.

Not from Outer Space but from Australia comes word of the West Coast sweep of the 1984 Hugo Awards, announced not long ago at the World Science Fiction Convention. Best novel went to "Neuromancer," by John Gibson of Vancouver. For best novella, Eugene, Ore.'s John Varley took the top prize for a story about computer theft, "Press Enter." "Bloodchild" won Octavia Butler of Los Angeles the award for best novelette, and fellow Angeleno David Brin won best short story for "Crystal Sphere." Finally, veteran sci-fi whiz Terry Carr of Oakland was named best professional editor.

In a definite case of science following fiction, one of the hottest speakers on the natural history/anthropology circuit these days is novelist Jean Auel. The author of the mega-hits "Clan of the Cave Bear" and "Valley of the Horses," and of the just-out "The Mammoth Hunters" was in residence briefly at the University of Maine's Center for the Study of Early Man, working with scientists who expressed admiration for Auel's copious research and respect for her theories that early humans had a developed culture, social structure and language. Along with speeches by Auel and assorted scientists, the University of Maine event featured a demonstration of something called flint-napping, or making pieces of flint into weapons.

Auel will speak at the Smithsonian Institution, and has scheduled speeches also at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and at Milwaukee's Natural History Museum. A spokesman for her publisher, Crown, said that "almost every college in the California State University system" has invited Auel to speak. In addition, she is expected to lecture at the Irvine and Santa Barbara campuses of the University of California.

So massive are Crown's expectations for "Mammoth Hunters" that the publishing house has issued a first run of 500,000 copies. On the other hand, those hopes are based on actual numbers. Currently in its 19th printing, "Valley" outsold "Clan" by 3-to-1. "Clan," however, is in a none-too-shabby tenth printing itself.

One explanation for the gargantuan success of these stories of life-at-the-beginning-of-time is the broad swath of interest they seem to cut. As Crown's Sally Ann Berk observed, "You can't peg her audience."

Local author makes good: Redlands' own Harry Blackstone Jr., author of "The Blackstone Book of Magic and Illusion" (now in its second printing for Newmarket Press), also known as one of the planet's pre-eminent men of magic, has signed on as a regular guest on Children's Television Workshop. On the adult front, Blackstone will be the star of what is billed as the biggest magic show on the East Coast at the Tropicana Hotel in--where else?--Atlantic City, N. J. Finally, for magic fans of all ages, Blackstone and his late, equally famous magician-father will be featured in a major exhibition at Washington's Smithsonian Institution. It opened, presumably with a suitable shazam!, Oct. 29.

Forty years after she first taught at Bard College, Mary McCarthy has been named that school's Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor in the division of languages and literature. Widely honored for her novels and social and literary criticism, including "The Group," "Birds of America," "A Charmed Life" and "Cannibals and Missionaries," McCarthy will begin teaching at Bard next fall.

Suitable for reading on a very long plane trip--say, perhaps, to China: In a joint publication agreement with the Foreign Languages Press of Beijing, the University of California Press will offer up the first modern translation of "Three Kingdoms," the 1,800-page novel UC Press' Brian George describes as "the national epic of China, the first of the great classical Chinese novels."

Scheduled for publication, probably in three volumes, in early 1988, the book will be translated by New York University Chinese literature professor Robert Moss, translator also of an abridged version of "Three Kingdoms" published by Pantheon in 1976.

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