NONFICTION

The Carousel Animal , by Tobin Fraley; photographs by Gary Sinick (Chronicle Books, $12.95; cloth, $24.95). Think of childhood pleasures, and riding the carousel, or merry-go-round, is sure to be among the most cherished: Who can forget the booming oom-pah of the calliope, the feel of the smooth steel pole between your hands, the rise and fall of the galloping horses, the strobe-like glimpses of Mom and Dad as the platform gaily rotates. But, as this beautifully produced album makes clear, underneath the peeling paint those horses -- or occasionally lions, rabbits, zebras, frogs and ostriches -- were magnificent examples of wood carving. Fraley has restored hundreds of these once-neglected examples of folk art and here describes some 50 of them; Gary Sinick's pictures show us the prancing animals in full splendor.

Reel Power: The Struggle for Influence and Success in the New Hollywood , by Mark Litwak (NAL Plume, $9.95). Attorney Mark Litwak went out to Hollywood in 1979 to make movies and was suprised at how easy it was to get onto the fast track. Studio heads loved the fact that he had worked with Ralph Nader, and one studio gave him a contract to produce television stories. Then the head of Litwak's studio was fired and Litwak discovered how easy it was to get off the fast track. In Reel Power, he recounts other such stories of ascent, decline and fall, the sum of which make the reader wonder how anything gets done in Hollywood at all.

Third World Film Making and the West , by Roy Armes (University of California, $17.95). While most Third World countries have come to film through the vicarious experience of Western cinema, indigenous film making is alive and well in most Asian, African and Latin American countries. This book examines Third World film in the overall context of culture and economics, traces the history of film production in the Third World, and includes profiles of six film makers, among them Youssef Chahine of Egypt, Ousmane Sembene of Senegal, and Satyajit Ray of India.

'The Target Is Destroyed': What Really Happened to Flight 007 and What America Knew About It , by Seymour M. Hersh (Vintage, $4.95). According to expert opinion, this is the definitive account of the ill-fated Korean Air Lines flight whose destruction by the Red Air Force on Sept. 1, 1983, killed 269 persons and strained superpower relations. The author, a noted investigative reporter, is highly critical of the way the Reagan administration used the shootdown for propaganda purposes, while not admitting that a U.S. military intelligence flight had been in the general vicinity of the downed commercial airliner.

Elegance , by G. Bruce Boyer (Norton, $9.95). A Guide to Quality in Menswear is the subtitle of this book, but there is a great deal more to it than that. Elegance does provide some useful and informative suggestions for the purchase and wear of men's clothing, but Bruce Boyer also writes brief histories of certain fabrics, accessories and styles: Harris tweeds, the polo coat, Savile Row, khaki, Panama hats and madras, to name only a few. His taste is an agreeable mixture of Continental dash and Anglo-American conservatism; he likes spread collars, for example, but he also likes button-downs. His prose is as elegant as his title, and witty into the bargain.

SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY

Watchmen , by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins (Warner, $14.95). This volume, the collected 12 issues of Watchmen published by D.C. Comics in 1986 and 1987, will surprise anyone used to the comic books of the '40s and '50s. For one thing, the story opens with scenes viewed from angles more commonly associated with avant-garde cinema. For another, the super-hero crimefighters are all aging, past their prime and beset with troublesome psychological problems. In the world that writer Alan Moore creates and artist Dave Gibbons illustrates, a law has been passed forbidding super-heroes as vigilantes. When someone begins to kill off the old crime-fighters, the others find they must choose between the safety (and boredom) of their lives. Or begin to act, in defiance of authority.

The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction , edited by Brian Aldiss and Sam J. Lundwall (Penguin, $4.95). Most sf originates in the United States, "and American sf is gaudy, exciting and generally apocalyptic in tone: the world or the galaxy is to be saved or won or destroyed," asserts the introduction to this collection, which brings together 26 outstanding stories in translation by sf writers as far afield as Brazil, Israel, Italy, Ghana and China. And indeed the stories are less apocalyptic: a laboratory experiment goes awry, a priest is murdered, a number of lunatics disappear. This anthology, incidentally, was a project of World SF, the international organization of sf professionals, which annually presents the Karel Award (after the Czech writer Karel Capek who first used the term "robot") for sf translation.

Burning Chrome , by William Gibson (Ace, $2.95). With the publication of his first novel, Neuromancer, William Gibson became one of the most talked-about and highly-praised new science fiction writers. Here, Gibson returns with a collection of short stories. Most, like the title story -- about two hustlers stealing from a powerful computer that controls large sums of money -- are about computer cowboys, big scores and dangerous women. But there are other stories that are just as thrilling: In "The Gernsback Continuum," a photograper is drawn into an alternative present, one akin to the future envisioned by the designers of the 1920s and '30s, a future where airplanes the size of ships would fly to London in two days, and every family owned a flying car for shorter trips. In "The Belonging Kind," a teacher of linguistics finds out what lies behind the inanities so often uttered in bars and taverns by "the kind you see . . . who seem to have grown there, who seem genuinely at home there. Not drunks, but human fixtures. Functions of the bar. The belonging kind."

The Definitive 'Time Machine' , edited by Harry M. Geduld (Indiana University Press, $10.95; cloth, $27.50). A good case can be made that H.G. Wells' The Time Machine is the most influential work of science fiction ever written. One of the earliest true examples of sf, it also set forth many of the genre's abiding elements: the wonderful machine, the evolution of mankind, the alien who destroys a world, the paradoxes of time travel, the extrapolation of social trends, etc. Wells worked and reworked his vision; as Geduld indicates the text went through some half dozen versions, from the serial "The Chronic Argonauts," through magazine pieces about time travel, to very different English and American first editions in book form. This scholarly edition reprints the Atlantic edition of 1924, includes considerable commentary and explanatory material, and even appends some important essays on the book. There are bibliographies, excerpts from the periodical articles, and virtually everything an admirer could want to know about this chilling, beautifully imagined vision of man's future.