THERE'S NOTHING covert about it. The big news in this fall's books is espionage, in particular the kind practiced by the Central Intelligence Agency, a bastion of government secrecy apparently under permanent siege by writers. Indeed, the most heralded book of all this autumn is probably Bob Woodward's examination of the late William J. Casey's six-year reign as CIA director. It will have a gargantuan first printing of 500,000 copies (Simon and Schuster, October), and if that isn't impressive enough, consider this: right now even the title is hush-hush, it being an actual codeword.

There are other books, fiction and nonfiction, that may cause flutters in Langley.

Jonathan Kwitny investigates a sordid underworld of espionage in The Crimes of Patriots: A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA (Norton, September), which begins with the discovery of the body of an Australian banker with his head blown off. In his wallet is found the calling card of former CIA director William E. Colby.

David Ignatius -- like Woodward a staff member of this newspaper -- visits the ominous streets of Beirut in his first novel, Agents of Innocence (Norton, October), a vivid portrait of an idealistic American spy amid the ancient and venomous hatreds of the Middle East.

The daughter of the man who presided over the creation of the CIA, Margaret Truman, continues her mystery series with some exotic tradecraft in Murder at the CIA (Random House, November).

Finally, historian Robin W. Winks looks at the cozy links that used to exist between American universities and the intelligence community in Cloak & Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961 (Morrow, August). Many of the cloaks, it appears, were Yale blue.

Lots of other books will appear in fall 1987, of course.

Such proven best-selling authors as James Michener, Erma Bombeck, Bill Cosby, Stephen King, John Jakes, Tom Wolfe, Garrison Keillor, Shirley MacLaine, Carlos Castaneda, Joan Didion and Toni Morrison will weigh in with new works. There will be novels from the distinguished pens (distinguished word processors, more likely) of Brian Moore, Ivan Doig, Thomas Keneally, Russell Hoban and Margaret Drabble.

There will be biographies of Oscar Wilde, Frank Lloyd Wright, Rebecca West and Beryl Markham, autobiographies by Arthur Miller, Chuck Berry, Lech Walesa and Annie Dillard, thrillers by Ross Thomas and Robert Campbell, science fiction by Gene Wolfe, history by Peter Gay and poetry by John Ashbery. There absolutely will be no lack of books to read this fall.

Hitler on the Lam

OF THE HUNDREDS of books which will be published between now and Christmas, you might also look for the following on best-seller lists. The Berkut, by Joseph Heywood (Random House, September): Hitler escapes from the Bunker pursued by Soviet commandos. Legacy, by James Michener (Random House, September): the U.S. Army as the shield of the republic. Spangle by Gary Jennings (Atheneum, October): life in a 19th-century European circus. The Tommyknockers, by Stephen King (Putnam, November): a writer in a New England village finds a piece of metal sticking out of the ground, and . . . the horror, the horror. Heaven and Hell, the conclusion of the North and South trilogy, by John Jakes (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, October). Washington Wives, by Maureen Dean (Arbor House, October): you remember "Mo" Dean, wife of John Dean, of Watergate fame. Savages, by Shirley Conran (Simon and Schuster, September): five corporate wives get a little tetchy when their husbands compete for the presidency of a Fortune 500 company. Sarum: The Novel of England, by Edward Rutherford (Crown, August): 5,000 years of history on Salisbury Plain, from the Ice Age to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. Rage, by Wilbur Smith (Little, Brown, October): South Africa in the 1950s and '60s. Rite of Spring, by Andrew M. Greeley (Bernard Geis/Warner, November): illicit love and violent death in Chicago.

The Dance of Politics

THE 1988 presidential campaign already looms. First off the mark in the campaign biography genre will be Looking Forward, by Vice President George Bush with Victor Gold (Doubleday, September). By way of an antidote, one might want to read The Life of the Party: Democratic Prospects in 1988 and Beyond, by Robert Kuttner (Viking, November) or The New Season: A Spectator's Guide to the 1988 Election, by George Will (Simon and Schuster, November).

Two venerable gentlemen will remember smoke-filled rooms in Man of the House, by Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. with William Novak (Random House, September) and Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century, by Claude Pepper with Hays Gorey (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, October). For the younger generation (and a nostalgic older one, too) there'll be The Race for the Eighth: The Making of a Congressional Campaign -- Joe Kennedy's Successful Pursuit of a Political Legacy, by Gerald Sullivan and Michael Kenney (Harper & Row, November). Let the last word on the Iran-contra hearings go to Art Buchwald, the perennial master of the telling phrase, in I Think I Don't Remember (Putnam, October).

One could reasonably argue that the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System affects the average citizen in more direct and immediate ways than any other branch or agency of government. The board's monetary and fiscal bag of tricks will presumably be demystified in William Greider's Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country (Simon and Schuster, November). Another puissant but little-known Washington official (does he still wear a cutaway coat and striped trousers?) will be studied in Lincoln Caplan's The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law (Knopf, November). Did you know that one-third of the United States is owned outright by the federal government? Jim Conaway visits the public lands out West in The Kingdom in the Country (Houghton Mifflin, October).

Notable Novels

IN Toni Morrison's lyrical Beloved (Knopf, September), an ex-slave living in Ohio after the Civil War attempts to beat back her tragic past, which is reawakened by the arrival of a possible suitor and a haunted temptress. Dancing at the Rascal Fair, by Ivan Doig (Atheneum, September): Scottish immigrants rough it in turn-of-the century Montana. The Color of Blood, by Brian Moore (William Abrahams/Dutton, September): an East European cardinal on the lam from the secret police. The Playmaker, by Thomas Keneally (Simon and Schuster, September): inmates of an Australian penal colony put on a play. Unanswered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel, by Truman Capote (Random House, September): the glitz society, etched in acid. The Medusa Frequency, by Russell Hoban (Atlantic Monthly Press, October): a retelling of the Orpheus myth. The Radiant Way, by Margaret Drabble (Knopf, October): her first novel in seven years. The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe (Farrar Straus Giroux, October): a satiric master's first novel. The Splendid Outcast: Beryl Markham's African Stories, edited by Mary S. Lovell (North Point, October).

The Duke and Others

BILL Cosby's Time Flies, (Dolphin, September) will address the perplexing question of how to age gracefully. It's All in the Playing, by Shirley MacLaine (Bantam, September): she says we can remake ourselves in the images of our dreams. The Making of 'The African Queen' Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind, by Katharine Hepburn (Knopf, September): for one thing, there were all those leeches. Call Me Anna, an autobiography by Patty Duke with Kenneth Turan (Bantam, September). John Wayne: My Life With the Duke, by Pilar Wayne with Alex Thorleifson (McGraw-Hill, October).

Speaking of stars, there'll be these science fiction books: Gene Wolfe's much-anticipated The Urth of the New Sun (Tor, October); Tim Powers' On Stranger Tides (Ace, November); Greg Bear's The Forge of God (Tor, September); hot new writer Lucius Shepard's Life During Wartime (Bantam, September); and The Bridge of Lost Desire, by Samuel R. Delany (Arbor House, November).

The Lively Art

STUDENTS of literature are salivating at the prospect of Oscar Wilde, by the late Richard Ellmann (Knopf, November). Timebends: A Life, by Arthur Miller (Grove, November). Chuck Berry: The Autobiography (Harmony, October). Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright, by Brendan Gill (Putnam, October). An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard (Harper & Row, September). The Marcos Dynasty, by Sterling Seagrave (Harper & Row, November). A Way of Hope, by Lech Walesa (Holt, October). Sherwood Anderson: A Biography, by Kim Townsend (Houghton Mifflin, September). Strength for the Journey, by Jerry Falwell (Simon and Schuster, November). The Fords: An American Epic, by Peter Collier and David Horowitz (Summit, October). Rebecca West: A Life, by Victoria Glendinning (Knopf, October). Queen Mother, by Robert Lacey (Little, Brown, October).

For relaxation, a quartet of thrillers: Out on the Rim, by Ross Thomas (Mysterious Press, October): Philippine rebels operating in a labyrinth of greed and homicide. Tricks: An 87th Precinct Novel, by Ed McBain (Arbor House, October). Alice in La-La Land, by Robert Campbell (Poseidon, November). He writes about Los Angeles so well, the Miami folks are jealous. Talking to Strange Men, by Ruth Rendell (Pantheon, September). And then there's Weaveworld, by Clive Barker (Poseideon, October). Barker is regarded as England's modern master of horror. His story begins . . . with this funny rug.

Dream On, Sigmund

ONCE UPON a time there were giants in this town. Read about them in The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, by Merrill D. Peterson (Oxford University Press, October). More history: A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis, by Peter Gay (Yale University Press, October). The Naval War of 1812, by Theodore Roosevelt (Naval Institute Press, September). Teddy's first book, still authoritative. The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa, by David Levering Lewis (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, November). The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, by Paul Kennedy (Random House, November). Dreams and Delusions: The Drama of German History, by Fritz Stern (Knopf, October).

Poetry readers are always in for a deluge, but among this fall's tsunami are John Ashbery's April Galleons (Viking, October) and Howard Nemerov's War Stories (University of Chicago, October). Two Irish poets with strong followings here also have new collections: Seamus Heaney's The Haw Lantern (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October) and Paul Muldoon's Meeting the British (Wake Forest/ September).

Military historians have been busy, too: The Mask of Command, by John Keegan (Viking, November). The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-1953, by Clay Blair (Times Books, November). The Korean War, by Max Hastings (Simon and Schuster, November). December 7, 1941: The Day the Japanese Attacked Pearl Harbor, by Gordon W. Prange with Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon (McGraw-Hill, November).

Surprise! There are books about journalists, as well as books by them. The Baltimore Sun, 1837-1987, by Harold A. Williams (Johns Hopkins University Press, November) celebrates a proud name. Dynasties are remarked in House of Dreams: The Bingham Family of Louisville, by Marie Brenner (Random House, November) and Iphigene: My Life and The New York Times -- The Memoirs of Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, as written by Susan Dryfoos (Times Books, September). For a real sizzler, how about The Corpse Had a Familiar Face: Covering Miami, America's Hottest Beat, by Edna Buchanan (Random House, October)? The author, the Pulitzer prize-winning police reporter of The Miami Herald, claims to have seen 5,000 corpses.

Speaking of Dade County, Joan Didion pays a visit in Miami (Simon and Schuster, October), Also: The Power of Silence, by Carlos Castaneda (Simon and Schuster, November): more from Don Juan, the Yaqui Indian shaman. The Discovery of the Titanic: Exploring the Greatest of All Lost Ships, by Robert D. Ballard (Madison/Warner, October): they say the dust jacket art is a humdinger. Voyager, by Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan with Phil Patton (Knopf, October): how the principal authors flew around the world without refueling.

Last laughs: If You Can't Say Something Nice, by Calvin Trillin (Ticknor & Fields, October): assorted hilarities, including the suggestion that Nebraska adopt as its license-plate motto "A Long Way Across." Family: The Ties That Bind . . . And Gag!, by Erma Bombeck (McGraw-Hill, August). Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories, by Garrison Keillor (Viking, September).

Reid Beddow is an assistant editor of Book World.