Best Seller Preview : Literary Lotions for July

Authors of July best sellers know their books will likely be read on vacation, where they have to contend with the elements--from the enervating rays of the sun to a distracting parade of bodies as scantily clad and amply endowed as anything described on the printed page. If they have one thing in common, beachtime books try just a bit harder. Their stories rev at higher r.p.m.s, in settings that are even more outlandish than usual. The big July book issues the challenge: Are you ready for this?

Pearls (Morrow: $18.95), by London Times TV critic Celia Brayfield, takes the best-buy prize. The exquisite Catherine Bourton (known as the Mona Lisa of Wall Street) and her raunchy rock singer ex-junkie sister Miranda (Monty) wake up one morning to find a 200-carat natural pearl under each of their pillows. Finding out who the extravagant tooth fairy was takes 512 pages, spans four generations and covers a lot of exotic ground--the upper-class boardrooms and bedrooms of London, the jungles of Malaya, the sordid bordellos of Singapore and their soignee counterparts in Paris, and some sex-charged back rooms at rock concerts.

There is something for everyone: The dress-for-success reader will love Catherine, who gets her thrills trading commodities; more creative types will lean toward the tortured Monty as eagerly as she inclines toward skinny musicians in tight satin pants.

"Pearls" has a 100,000 first printing, to be backed up by $175,000 in advertising and promotion and a U.S. author tour.

All the nap time in Satisfaction (Poseidon: $18.95) is post-coital, as four Radcliffe roommates (class of 1976) fall overlappingly into, and out of, love with a man whose dominant personality trait is his Gary Cooperesque silence. First novelist Rae Lawrence dishes up four very different types--Rosaline, the sheltered sweet rich girl; Marinda, the dark, insecure ethnic binge eater; Katie Lee, the conniving Southerner, and December, the free spirit with the horrible secret.

Lawrence clearly believes that we are what we wear, which is convenient for the reader who wants to take half an hour off to work on her tan: In addition to proper names, there are plenty of sartorial markers to guide the reader back into the story. Lawrence also has a strong sense of justice, so the bad girls pay for their pettiness and the good girls come off happy, healthy and wealthy, if not terribly wise. Three out of four isn't bad, and in anticipation of satisfied customers, Poseidon is printing 125,000 copies and spending $150,000 to advertise and promote this Book of the Month Club alternate selection.

Eerily, one of the most unbelievable things about both these stories is the enthusiastic polygamy, which was merely a standard plot contrivance until AIDS elevated it to the realm of escapist fantasy. Reading about women who have lots of affairs isn't just the next best thing to being there. These days it's better.

Putnam's science-fiction imprint, Ace, introduces a new line in hardcover and offers a quartet of heavy hitters to lure the reader out of the sun and into the bookstores: Robert Heinlein celebrates his 80th birthday with the publication of To Sail Beyond the Sunset, the memoirs of the lusty, loving Maureen Johnson Smith, who lived between 1882 and 1982, fainted one day on her way to motel room assignation and awoke in another time on another planet. Ace is also publishing Piers Anthony's Out of Phaze, Clive Barker's The Damnation Game and Philip Jose Farmer's Dayworld Rebel in its first season.

Science-fiction writer Norman Spinrad assumes that medical precautions will be unnecessary by the 21st Century, so he's taken Abbie Hoffman's prescription for revolution--sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll--and catapulted it into the future in Little Heroes (Bantam: $18.95), whose plot can best be described as Grace Slick meets Max Headroom. An aging rock doyenne, Glorianna O'Toole makes a deal with the devil incarnate, the president of the Muzik Factory, a floundering record company: If Glorianna produces a couple of profitable Artificial Personalities, technology's computerized answer to petulant, demanding, oh-so-human rock stars, the company will grant Glorianna the closest thing to eternal life, an Artificial Personality based on her younger self.

But she's a bohemian at heart, not a company girl, and her desire to rock on gets her hooked up with radical elements; disgruntled yuppies selling black-market software and Latin streeties in wire hairnets that transport them into sexual bliss at the push of a button, and who speak a pastiche of Spanish and English (with a nod to the Russified lingo of "A Clockwork Orange").

Glorianna's personal quest--ah, the '60s--sparks a social movement, as power, quite literally, goes to the people. The story is as intricate, loopy and repetitive as a macrame wall hanging. It is also as tempting as a Hershey bar to someone who's been smoking dope. Bantam deflects queries about print run and advertising budget; these things, along with the technology behind those hairnets, remain a secret.

Jack Ryan, the hero of Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October," is back again in Patriot Games (Putnam's: $19.95), and while he may sleep only with his wife and live only in the here and now, he is a formidably fantastic creation: An intelligent, educated husband and father who sometimes free-lances for the CIA, sometimes acts heroically on his own, and always has a conscience.

On a sightseeing trip to London, Ryan instinctively tackles a couple of gun-toting gangsters who are riddling a Rolls with bullets, and finds he's saved the Prince and Princess of Wales and their toddler from a couple of Irish terrorists, whose comrades then pursue Ryan and his family back to the United States.

On the spit-polish heels of his two previous best sellers, "The Hunt for Red October" and "Red Storm Rising," Clancy's latest is a main selection of the Literary Guild, the Doubleday Book Club and the Military Book Club.

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