FICTION

Words in Commotion and Other Stories

, by Tommaso Landolfi, translated from the Italian by Katherine Jason (Penguin, $7.95). Along with Dino Buzatti and Italo Calvino, Tommaso Landolfi was an Italian master of the modernist tale. Calvino, indeed, provided an introduction for this volume, which belatedly brings his colleague (who died in 1979) to the attention of English-speaking readers. Calvino presents him as having been fond of roulette and correspondingly obsessed with chance in his fiction -- hence the prevalence of game-playing protagonists in these stories. In one, "The Provincial Night," a lights-out game of cop-and-assassin produces a real murder. In a gameless story, Landolfi proceeds on the premise that Gogol's wife was literally a doll.

The Stars at Noon

, by Denis Johnson (Vintage, $5.95). It is 1984 in Nicaragua, and a young American woman is trapped in Managua. Who she is and what she is doing there remains unclear. She may be a journalist, except that the police have confiscated her press card. She may be representing a pacifist organization called Eyes for Peace. One thing is certain: she has no money, and is dependent for her continued existence on favors from the local police and from visiting journalists who know nothing of her reputation. When she meets an English businessman, she sees the chance for escape, but her involvement with him leads to increasingly sinister complications and, finally, a betrayal in the name of survival.

NONFICTION

Assignments 1: The Press Photographers Association Yearbook

, foreword by Harold Evans (Salem House/Phaidon, $24.95). This is the first in a planned annual series showing the best work of the Press Photographers Association of Great Britain. Many of the photographs represent what might be called traditional English subjects -- royalty, rural landscapes, London street scenes, flower shows -- but even these old favorites are depicted in new and startling ways -- witness the shot of a skinhead making an obscene gesture as a bobby arrests him. The news photos are suitably dramatic -- the Yorkshire Ripper gazes eerily into the camera and a capsized ferryboat lies awash in the Channel. Even the shots of politicians delight: see Prime Minister Thatcher, the Iron Lady, trying on a pair of armoured gauntlets.

The Best of Spitball: The Literary Baseball Magazine

, edited by Mike Shannon (Pocket Books, $5.95). Eight years ago, Mike Shannon and Jim Harrison founded Spitball, a literary magazine dedicated to publishing fiction and poetry about baseball. Included in this collection are W.P. Kinsella's "How I Got My Nickname," the story of a high school senior who becomes a pinchhitter for the New York Giants; "The Reporter" by Roger Kahn, reminiscences of Roger Maris; and "Hardball, Aunt Steve, and the White Sox," a story by former major league pitcher Jim Brosnan. There are also interviews with Brosnan and Kinsella and poetry by Harrison, Tom Sheehan and Jan Brodt. This isn't a collection for just anybody, but baseball fans interested in literature will find it fascinating.

One Life at a Time, Please

, by Edward Abbey (Owl, $7.95). Here is another volume of essays by Thoreau's bad boy -- the iconoclastic environmentalist-writer Edward Abbey, who has argued that it is appropriate to toss beer cans into the lakes formed by dams because they are monstrosities in the first place. In this collection he expands his range to comment on feminism, the unique position of an American writer ("precisely because of his freedom . . . {he} has the moral obligation to act as a critic of his own society") and illegal aliens. On the latter topic, he argues that we should "stop every campesino at our southern border, give him a handgun, a good rifle, and a case of ammunition, and send him home."

SCIENCE FICTION

Trillion Year Spree

, by Brian W. Aldiss with David Wingrove (Avon, $9.95). This updated version of Aldiss' Billion Year Spree provides the best general history of science fiction, at once scholarly, enthusiastic, and idiosyncratic. Aldiss finds Mary Shelley's Frankenstein the great patterning work of sf, and he discusses brilliantly its importance. He has illuminating remarks on Poe, Wells and John Campbell, the influential editor of Astounding. Where his book falters a bit is in its judgments on contemporary fiction: For the most part, only American writers published in Britain receive thorough treatment. Still, anyone wishing to understand better such varied talents as J.G. Ballard, Gene Wolfe, Lucius Shepard and Thomas M. Disch -- writers as highly regarded in the mainstream as in the sf estuary -- would do well to read this lively history.