FICTION

His Natural Life, by Marcus Clarke (Penguin, $6.95). This is one of the great national novels of Austrlia, and it is a page-turner. Innocent Rufus Dawes is framed and condemned to the prison colony at Botany Bay. This injustice unleashes almost a thousand pages of a peculiar fictional mix in which the hoariest devices of 19th-century melodrama share the page with heart-stopping, near-journalistic accounts of abuses and atrocities. Clarke was a young English expatriate (he was only 26 when he finished the novel) who evidently had strong feelings on the subject. He also had a powerful gift for nature description -- one account of an adventure in an underground tidal cave is particularly astonishing. Originally published as a magazine serial during the 1870s, this is the first time the novel has appeared complete in a single volume. Earlier readers made do with an abridged version called, For the Term of His Natural Life. NONFICTION

A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Diaries & Letters, by Barbara Pym, edited by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym (Vintage, $6.95). Barbara Pym once visited Jane Austen's house and, as she recorded later in her diary, "I put my hand down on Jane's desk and bring it up covered with dust. Oh that some of her genius might rub off on me!" The charm of the anecdote is typical of the riches contained in this intimate memorial to the English novelist assembled by her literary executor and her sister. Pym died in 1980, three years after the Times Literary Supplement proclaimed her one of the most underrated novelists of the 20th century.

Calcutta, by Geoffrey Moorhouse (Holt Rinehart Winston, $9.95). "The truth is that almost everything popularly associated with Calcutta is highly unpleasant and sometimes very nasty indeed," asserts the author near the beginning of this affectionate, bittersweet tribute to the teeming city on the Hooghly. In 1971, when Calcutta was first published, Paul Scott, author of The Raj Quartet, declared it to be "the best book on modern India I have read." High praise, to be sure, but since echoed by others.

Killings, by Calvin Trillin (Penguin, $6.95). Humorist Trillin is also a peripatetic journalist. In the course of writing his "U.S. Journal" for The New Yorker, he found himself drawn to murders -- and especially the family history and community background necessary for understanding violent deaths. The 16 reportorial essays collected in this volume are, in Trillin's words, "more about how Americans live than about how some of them die."

The Studio, by John Gregory Dunne (Limelight Editions, $7.95). In the mid-'60s Richard D. Zanuck, vice-president in charge of production at Twentieth Century Fox, gave reporter Dunne -- now better- known as a novelist (Dutch Shea, Jr.) and screen- writer (True Confessions) -- unrestricted access to the inner workings of the studio. This remarkable privilege resulted in a book drenched in candor and lore. Veteran producer Joe Pasternak weighs in with a pronouncement about hitting the mark -- resuming the action at the exact spot where it stopped in the previous shot. "That's the toughest thing for an actor to learn," he says. "Hitting the mark. A young actor starts looking for the mark, then the shot's no good. The old pros hit the mark without even looking." Dunne professes ignorance as to why Zanuck was so rash as to let him cover the movie business from the inside but has admiration for the mogul's cinematic horse sense. "Richard Zanuck was fired by his father at Fox; he went to Warner Brothers and was fired there. He formed an independent production company, went to Universal and co-produced Jaws, which probably has made more money than all the films his father produced personally in a lifetime."

FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION

Terry Carr's Best Science Fiction of the Year (TOR, $3.50). Readers wishing to dip intosf short fiction can choose from three annual collections of the field's best: a mammoth volume by Gardner Dozois (Bluejay), a fine if conservative selection from Donald Wollheim (DAW), and this gathering by Terry Carr. For readers on a budget Carr's volume offers especially good value, as it includes three of this year's Nebula winners -- John Varley's novella "Press ENTER," Octavia Butler's "Bloodchild" and Dozois' "Morning Child" -- as well as such acclaimed stories as Connie Willis' screwball "Blued Moon" and Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Lucky Strike," a tale about what might have happened had the Enola Gay crashed and another plane taken its place.

Medea: Harlan's World, edited by Harlan Ellison (Bantam/Spectra, $10.95). Some 10 years ago Harlan Ellison organized a series of seminars on sf, the highpoint of which was an evening symposium at which Thomas M. Disch, Frank Herbert, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon and Ellison himself developed stories involving a planet called Medea. Medea itself had been specially designed by distinguished world-builders: Hal Clement developing the planet's basic character, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, Frederik Pohl and artist Kelly Freas working on its geology, biology and culture. Now all their specs, the discussions and the 11 stories that came out of them have been gathered into this field guide-anthology. For would-be writers the brain-storming session should prove especially fascinating, as it depicts five very different writers imagining, arguing, and creating together. Among the better known stories about Medea are Poul Anderson's "Hunter's Moon" and Ellison's "With Virgil Oddum at the East Pole."