Wonder's Child: My Life in Science Fiction, Jack Williamson (Bluejay: $8.95). There's something in these pages even for those who aren't interested in reading Jack Williamson's classic stories about adventures in magic castles, battles with giant crabs or basketball-size artificial worlds whose days equal seconds of our own time. True, science-fiction skeptics might at first raise an eyebrow when Williamson calls his genre a successor to Greek tragedy: "Its theme was human nobility. In our bleak-seeming present, those old gods dead and our own new technologies grown more awesome than they ever were, we need the chastening awe the Greeks once knew, and the stout faith in human greatness that was part of it." Yet skeptics of science fiction shouldn't fear, for, instead of supernatural stories, "Wonder's Child" gathers Williamson's thoughts and feelings about his vagabond days as a child in the American Southwest, free-lance writing, the magic of science (as well as its "tragic shadow" after Hiroshima) and authors, especially H. G. Wells. The book, which won a Hugo Award when it first appeared in 1984, is humorous, engaging and expansive (Williamson sold his first story in 1928). Williamson's normally direct prose, however, becomes vague when describing a somber period in his life: He began taking psychotherapy after thinking about leaping into a murky stream "red-stained with the life-blood of the despoiled and dying land." Williamson only tells us that his thoughts of suicide were part of "a final fatal rebellion against the old false tyranny of self-control."
Neptune's Revenge: The Ocean of Tomorrow by Anne W. Simon (Bantam: $3.95) argues that as the only nation failing to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty, the United States is selling out the world's oceans for short-term gain. The oceans' striped bass are becoming extinct, Anne Simon writes, shellfish are too poisonous to eat and the consequences of the destruction are inconceivable because we take a well-functioning ocean for granted. This critically acclaimed book, however, is not a polemic against American policy making. Simon's conclusion is hopeful: A U.S. government Ocean Commission, whose formation is being considered by Congress, could be a major step forward, she writes, run by the many "scientists and scholars of achievement (in the United States), wise men, men of intellect, independent of the industrial and government hierarchy."
Mary Kay on People Management, Mary Kay Ash (Warner: $3.95). A man and three women beam in admiration at Mary Kay in the photo on the jacket cover, but this is one case in which the cover doesn't tell all. While many guides for corporate managers, such as Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy's "Corporate Cultures," look upon the ideal corporation as a shrine, Mary Kay continually reminds readers that career should rank a distant third, behind God and family. Even readers on the lookout for slick salesmanship (Kay turned her $5,000 savings account into a Fortune 500 company) will be swayed by the book's straightforward words of motherly advice: Men and women dress up more for co-workers than for their loved ones, writes Mary Kay, but "shouldn't it be the other way around?"; "All through school we're taught to read, write and speak--we're never taught to listen"; "Sandwich criticism between two layers of praise"; "Never hide behind policy or pomposity." Though some of her conclusions are questionable (she writes, for instance, that women primarily gain pride in themselves by "looking their best"), this book convincingly argues that one can do well and do good at the same time.
American Album: How We Looked and How We Lived in a Vanished U.S.A., Oliver Jensen, Joan Paterson Kerr, Murray Belsky (American Heritage Houghton Mifflin: $19.95). Hundreds of vivid photographs are collected in this 1968 work, now in its fifth printing, recording everything from Washington Irving basking in the sun at the door of his "little old-fashioned stone mansion" in New York to the U.S. Capitol when it was only a half-completed dome facing a mess of dirt piles and wooden fences around a drainage canal. All of the photos, however, evoke a common theme: transience. As Charles Kuralt comments in a new introduction, "A picture book of 19th-Century France or Italy or Ireland would show villas, country cottages, country roads and streets of shops, old churches, and public buildings that we might still visit. 'American Album' portrays a country no traveler can ever find again." The bustle is frozen in the book's first photos, simply because the technology of the time couldn't capture motion. One of the pioneers of that new technology, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, tried to hide the camera's limitations, selling his device without describing his methods: "The exquisite minuteness of the delineation," Daguerre said in 1839 to Samuel Morse, "cannot be conceived." But motion is implicit in most of the photos: Cheyenne and Arapaho tribesmen, for instance, dress in white and black near the North Canadian River in Oklahoma Territory, doing the Ghost Dance in one of the last pathetic moments of Indian resistance; mule trains arrive in a little get-rich-quick town in Montana, while prospectors mingle with developers.
Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, T. R. Fehrenbach (Collier: $12.95), begins not in Texas but in Pleistocene North America, where Amerinds migrated from Asia in search of deer, bears and buffaloes, which they killed with flint spears. T. R. Fehrenbach then jumps to Texas in the 17th Century. There, however, he finds a similar struggle, only this time the combat is only between men. The Spanish were the first to attempt to turn the region's Indians into hard-working, Christianized and ultimately integrated Spanish citizens. They failed, as did a later attempt by the French to achieve dominion. Finally, New Englanders tried to impress their philosophy on the Texans. In one sense, writes Fehrenbach, they succeeded: Texans possessed a remarkable ability to shed old baggage quickly and change; "any useful tool, any new technique," Fehrenbach writes, "exploded across the whole frontier." Yet social changes were another matter altogether. "The lawlessness of Texas," the author writes, "was generally misunderstood. At least half of it came because of the continual attempts to impose law that did not fit the place or times. No intelligent people could obey laws that contradict their society or that make no sense." This 719-page book, widely considered one of the most panoramic analyses of the state, has been re-released to supplement a TV series on the state now airing nationwide on public television through Feb. 2.