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June 22, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

Alien Cargo, Theodore Sturgeon (Bluejay: $8.95). The author was as seduced by the stars as his colleagues, yet even when writing in the heyday of the pulp magazines in the 1930s and '40s, Theodore Sturgeon, who died last year, never allowed his love for the great issues eclipse his sensitivity toward the human microcosm. Sturgeon wrote with empathy about homosexuals, women searching for self-identity and the relationship between love and authoritarianism at a time when others concentrated on orchestrating battles between robots and green-tentacled creatures. This collection of short stories written between 1939 and 1945 chronicles unusual encounters that prompt self-discovery: A stranger named Zeitgeist, for instance, helps a disillusioned man learn to regain love for himself and his wife in one tale, while in another, an inventor creates a race of small beings, only to see them quickly surpass him in intelligence and sophistication.

Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria, Niles Eldredge (Simon & Schuster: $8.95), is far more accessible and magnetic than the title suggests. Rather than simply popularizing recent discoveries, "Time Frames" tries to capture the creative process, the thoughts and feelings that move science onward. Rethinking Darwin's theories became necessary, writes Niles Eldredge, when advances in genetics showed that natural selection is only one of many types of evolutionary change--recent data, for example, strongly suggests that changes in genetic information might occur between single generations. So new are these theories that Eldredge, the chairman of New York's American Museum of Natural History, spends a good part of the book describing debates within evolutionary biology; he gives little credence, however, to "the misleading and misinformed" views of the creationists.

Waiting: The Whites of South Africa, Vincent Crapanzano (Vintage: $8.95). Reports of discrimination and demonstrations in South Africa confound as much as they inform: With international opposition mounting, where is the impetus driving on the dated and diseased social and political system? Paradoxically, many whites in positions of leadership in South Africa are themselves "horrified and disgusted" by apartheid, writes Vincent Crapanzano, a professor of anthropology and comparative literature at Queen's College. "Their horror and disgust rendered their life in South Africa tolerable," Crapanzano found. "It gave them the certainty that they were different." Outsiders might see a "symmetry, simplicity and consistency" in the dynamics of South African society, but South Africans themselves are lost in "the plurivocality, the cacophony, the baroque" texture of everyday life. This book, nominated for a 1985 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, is no apologia, however: The author does not let his understanding and empathy blind him to the "brute, unmediated legislation of human inferiority."

The Narrow House, Evelyn Scott (Norton: $7.95). Progress is barely perceptible in this portrait of a family without foundation. The characters remain in limbo, trapped between social tensions--the father unable to reconcile his vision of himself as the provider with his extramarital affair, the step-daughter finding her need for love unfulfilled because she makes plaintive requests for it. As with many other still lifes, however, this 1921 novel is remarkably detailed and even-handed in its study of how, as William Blake wrote, "Love seeketh only Self to please, / To bind another to its delight, / Joys in another's loss of ease, / And builds a hell in heaven's despite." "The Narrow House" is one of three works recently reprinted for the publisher's new "Shoreline Books" series. A second title, "Tin Wedding," by Margaret Leech, looks at a young woman's belated coming of age; on her 10th wedding anniversary, she discovers that her husband has been unfaithful. "Death in the Woods," a hypnotic collection of Sherwood Anderson's short stories from 1933, focuses on people in the northern Midwest, isolated from each other but subtly and inevitably connected with nature.

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