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July 27, 1986|ALEX RAKSIN

The Delinquents, Criena Rohan (Penguin: $5.95). "I'll make sure the Westerlies don't blow cold on you," Brownie tells Lola. "You be the caveman," Lola suggests, "and sleep across the mouth of the cave to keep away the evil spirits and the sabre toothed tigers." Lola was joking, but the union between these two young Australians is so fundamental and mysterious that the mythic image applies. Unfortunately, when it first appeared in 1962, this book was dismissed as yet another example of the (Marxist) social realist tradition: Brownie and Lola's harmonious inner world, critics scoffed, existed only to underscore the grimness of the world outside. In fact, this magical novel--a true find--is simply a story about two people struggling to survive. When "adolescence came and stirred her body and tugged at her mind, Lola knew she was lonely." She meets Brownie, weeping after a fight with his father, "and then her mouth found his. Quickly it flowed into her body, driving away his hurt. A soft warm wave--the healing and rebirth of love and possession." But Lola is 14, Brownie, 15, and though she's convinced that they'll be happy ("We'll get a wedding ring and anyone would take you for old enough to be married, you're nearly six feet tall"), they're pulled apart by police and parents. Their reunion two years later is bittersweet, for just before they finally marry ("No one is going to feel sentimental about us anymore," says Lola), Mavis, a close friend, dies while giving birth. Before Mavis dies, her husband notices that her bottom lip is trembling, and we see a new instance of "healing and rebirth": "Gently, he kissed it and it steadied, and as on that first day they met, he saw the fear leave her eyes."

Eon, Greg Bear (Tor: $3.50). This attempt to venture beyond the stylistic frontiers of science fiction isn't wholly successful, for the book's three main elements--a last-minute struggle to save Earth from nuclear annihilation, the exploration of a mysterious civilization and relatively sophisticated social observation--never manage to co-exist harmoniously. Each part, however, is entertaining in itself. Suspense heightens when Patricia, our heroine-scientist, discovers documents in a huge spaceship from the future chronicling a devastating nuclear war only months away. Mystery builds as Patricia and her team venture through the spaceship (containing seven vast chambers filled with forests, lakes, rivers and hanging cities). Social observations intrigue: "Gee whiz!" and other exclamations from pulp science fiction are here replaced by grown-up profanity; personal relationships are more important than personal computers, and women have come into their own. In one episode, for instance, Patricia gets drafted by the President's chief science adviser, a woman; she flies into space in a ship piloted by a woman and reads a letter from her home-bound boyfriend, who reports that "life here is mundane--especially when I think of where you might be," and then sends his kisses.

Legalism: Law, Moralism, and Political Trials, Judith N. Shklar (Harvard: $7.95). Members of American social institutions often consolidate power by denying they have it. Politicians represent. Journalists report. Law reflects. By believing the myth that institutions simply serve a clearly defined "public will," we're distracted from considering such questions as, "Why do politicians fund unpopular uprisings?" or "Doesn't 'objective reporting' sometimes favor certain power groups?" Judith Shklar, a professor of government at Harvard, joins the fray by asking, "Isn't law an ideology in itself?" Traditional legal scholars would say "no," arguing that since moral rules prevail in society, it is possible for judges to form moral decisions in hard cases. Shklar, however, contends that "lawyers cannot escape the normal political conflicts of a pluralistic society." The Alger Hiss trial, for instance, was not merely an "objective" ruling, she writes, but an attempt to indict the New Deal. Since Shklar looks upon America's legal system from the removed perspective of an anthropologist viewing a tribe, it's no wonder that this book stirred up a storm when it first appeared in 1964: Law itself, after all, is popularly seen as a way of escaping cultural preconceptions.

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