DON'T HOLD your breath but there's reason to hope that this fall will be one of the best seasons for literary fiction in years. On hand or promised are major novels from superstars Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Updike and Norman Mailer. The supporting cast is also glittering: John Edgar Wideman, Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee, Mario Vargas-Llosa, Isabel Allende, T. Coraghessan Boyle, George V. Higgins, Diane Johnson, Thomas Berger, Anne Rice, John Barth, Larry McMurtry, Ivan Doig, Muriel Spark.

In nonfiction, this is a season for second thoughts, as assorted pundits assess the end of the Cold War, the dramatic changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the 1988 presidential campaign and the Reagan years that preceded it. Not least among those looking back is Ronald Reagan himself, whose autobiography will be coming out in November.

What follows is a survey -- inevitably incomplete -- of notable books scheduled for publication during the next five or six months.

John Updike's Rabbit at Rest (Knopf, October) is the fourth and (probably) final novel about Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom, whose fortunes Updike first chronicled in 1960 in Rabbit, Run. Rabbit is now 56, more or less retired from his Toyota dealership, living in Florida part of the year. The time frame is from just after the Lockerbie crash until just after Hurricane Hugo (Rabbit thinks in terms of disasters these days); the prose is as lush as any Updike has ever written.

Scheduled for January (though that date may change) is Harlot's Ghost by Norman Mailer (Random House). According to the publisher, this is Mailer's "great American novel," a big book about the CIA and "the American soul."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The General in His Labyrinth (Knopf, September) is a fictionalized version of the life of 19th century Latin American revolutionary Simon Bolivar. Known as "the Liberator," Bolivar dreamed of creating the largest country in the world, "one nation, free and unified, from Mexico to Cape Horn." The novel focuses on the last two weeks of Bolivar's life as, defeated and dying, he travels along the Magdalena River.

Also from Latin America: Isabel Allende's The Stories of Eva Luna (Atheneum, January) is a sequel to the Chilean exile's 1988 novel, Eva Luna, in the form of the stories the character Eva tells to her lover. Mario Vargas Llosa's In Praise of the Stepmother (Farrar Straus Giroux, September) is an erotic jeu d'esprit about a very naughty little boy, angelically beautiful, devishly seductive. (Vargas Llosa came close to winning the presidency of Peru earlier this year. It boggles the mind to imagine the fuss a novel like this would stir up in an American political campaign.)

Two of South Africa's most distinguished writers have novels coming out this fall. In Nadine Gordimer's My Son's Story (Farrar Straus Giroux, October), the son of a black South African activist discovers his father's affair with a white woman. In J.M. Coetzee's Age of Iron (Random House, September), an old white woman dying in Cape Town personally encounters the brutal reality of apartheid for the first time.

From England comes Muriel Spark's Symposium (Houghton Mifflin, December), the latest moral comedy by the author of A Far Cry From Kensington.

Fine American novelists with new books include John Edgar Wideman, whose Philadelphia Fire (Holt, October) is an ambitious exploration of the black experience in the last decades of this century; T. Coraghessan Boyle, whose East Is East (Viking, September) concerns the adventures of a Japanese seaman who jumps ship off the coast of Georgia; George V. Higgins, whose Victories (Holt, November) is the story of a former ballplayer set up as a political candidate in 1968 in an attempt to foil a long-haired radical.

Larry McMurtry's Buffalo Girls (Simon and Schuster, October) retells the story of Calamity Jane, and Ivan Doig's Ride With Me, Mariah Montana (Atheneum, September) is a fictional grand tour of Montana in its centennial year.

From Diane Johnson, author of Persian Nights, comes Health and Happiness (Knopf, September), a novel about a patient in a big-city hospital. The heroine of Anne Rice's The Witching Hour (Knopf, November) is a neurosurgeon who is descended from a dynasty of witches. Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy (Farrar Straus Giroux, October) is the story of a West Indian girl who comes to this country to be an au pair for a wealthy American family.

In Thomas Berger's new novel of smalltown America, Orrie's Story (Little, Brown, October), Auggie is murdered by his adulterous wife and her lover. Auggie's son, Orrie, urged on by sister Ellie, takes his revenge and is driven nearly mad by his guilty conscience. Sound familiar? Aeschylus' version was called "The Oresteia." John Barth's The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (Little, Brown, February) also plays with an ancient motif, interweaving the legendary voyages of Sinbad the Sailor and the adventures of a contemporary journalist.Big Books, Big Bucks COMMERCIAL novels expected to make big bucks this season include Judith Krantz's Dazzle (Crown, January), in which golden-eyed beauty Jazz Killkullen, 29, a world-famous photographer and a heiress, "confronts the endlessly interesting problems of being talented, rich, and a woman in the 1990s."

More of the profitable same: Jackie Collins's Lady Boss (Simon and Schuster, October) continues the adventures of the heroine of Chances and Lucky; Belva Plain's Harvest (Delacorte, September) is the fourth volume in the Werner family saga begun in Evergreen; Sidney Sheldon's Memories of Midnight (Morrow, September) was "inspired" by The Other Side of Midnight; Len Deighton's Spy Sinker (Harper, September) completes a trilogy of thrillers.

Stephen King's Four Past Midnight (Viking, September) is four tales of terror and the supernatural. And Dick Francis's Longshot (Putnam, September) is a mystery with -- surprise! -- a racetrack setting.

New chapters in the romance of prehistory: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel (Crown, October), volume four of the adventures of Ayla, which began with The Clan of the Cave Bear. And The Animal Wife by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (Houghton Mifflin, September), a second novel set in Siberia 20,000 years ago from the author of Reindeer Moon.

Colleen McCullough's forthcoming novel, however, is a departure. The First Man in Rome (Morrow, October) is "a grand epic" of political maneuvering in ancient Rome, planned as the first of several novels about the collapse of the Republic and the establishment of the Empire.

The first novel from M. Scott Peck, author of the inspirational best-seller The Road Less Traveled, is called A Bed by the Window (Bantam, September). Set in a nursing home, it is described as "a novel of mystery and redemption."

Of special Washington interest: Margaret Truman's latest, Murder at the National Cathedral (Random House, September), and a first novel about the rich and the powerful, Public Affairs, Private Relations (Doubleday, November), by Letitia Baldrige, etiquette guru and White House social secretary to Jackie Kennedy. The Book of the Season IN WASHINGTON -- and elsewhere, the publisher presumes -- the nonfiction book of the season should be Ronald Reagan's memoirs, Ronald Reagan: An American Life (Simon and Schuster, November). Whatever one thinks of his politics, his career has been extraordinary -- from Tampico, Ill., via Hollywood to the most powerful job in the Western world.

Two other political lives of note are Joseph Persico's Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey from the OSS to the CIA (Viking, October) and John G. Tower's Consequences: A Political Memoir (Little, Brown, February).

Taking an outside look at the Reagan administration is Washington Post columnist Haynes Johnson in Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years (Norton, February.) Historian Richard E. Neustadt has updated and revised his classic study of Presidential Power, first published 30 years ago. The new book is called Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan (Free Press, October).

Few would argue that the most significant achievements of the Reagan years include the forging of a new relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in the person of Mikhail Gorbachev. Gail Sheehy profiles the Russian leader in Gorbachev: The Man Who Changed the World (Harper, November). Other considerations of the Soviet Union past and present include Hedrick Smith's The New Russians (Random House, November); dissident writer Andrei Sinyavsky's Soviet Civilization: A Cultural History (Arcade, October); and Richard Pipes's history of The Russian Revolution (Knopf, October).

The East European response to glasnost is chronicled in Lighting the Night: Revolution in Eastern Europe, by Wall Street Journal reporter William Echikson (Morrow, September), no doubt the first of many journalistic accounts. A dissenting view of the most dramatic European change comes from German novelist Gunter Grass in Two States -- One Nation?, opposing German reunification (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, October). Columnist George F. Will gathers his essays on the collapse of Communism and related themes in Suddenly: The American Idea Abroad and at Home 1986-1990 (Free Press, November).

For former Post reporter Sidney Blumenthal, Gorbachev was the most important man in the 1988 presidential campaign -- though the candidates didn't catch on. His new book is Pledging Allegiance: The Last Campaign of the Cold War (Harper, October).

Other perspectives on the '88 campaign are offered by Post reporter Paul Taylor in See How They Run: Electing the President in an Age of Mediaocracy (Knopf, September), and Baltimore Sun columnist Roger Simon in Road Show (Farrar Straus Giroux, October). Garry Wills uses the issues and dramatis personae of the 1988 campaign as the focus for a study of the way religion influences politics in Under God: Religion and American Politics (Simon & Schuster, October).Visions of the Future WHAT NEXT? Among the pundits weighing in on the shape of things to come are Robert Kuttner in The End of Laissez-Faire: Economics and the National Interest After the Cold War (Knopf, February), and Alvin Toffler in Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence in the 21st Century (Bantam, November). Toffler argues that the "powershift" is "from muscle and money to mind as the primary lever of social control." The key to power will be the control of information.

Meanwhile, some old problems continue to haunt us. Heralded as important contributions to the discussion of race are The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America by Shelby Steele (St. Martin's, September) and The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York by Jim Sleeper (Norton, September).

The Washington Post's Judy Mann weighs in on a variety of themes in Mann for All Seasons (Donald I. Fine, October).

Though the Mideast is on everyone's minds these days, not many books on the subject are on publishers' lists this fall. One exception is The Passionate Attachment by George W. Ball with Douglas Ball (Norton, February), on the high price America pays for its special relationship with Israel. A very timely title is Daniel Yergin's The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (Simon and Schuster, November).

Reports from other troubled parts of the world include two books on Cuba: Cuba: A Journey (Knopf, February), by Jacobo Timerman, the Argentine author of Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, and Guerrilla Prince: The Real Story of the Rise and Fall of Fidel Castro by syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Little Brown, February.

American novelist R.M. Koster and Panamanian journalist Guillermo Sanchez Borbon have collaborated on In the Time of Tyrants: Panama, 1968-1990 (Norton, September).

Two Washington Post correspondents have written books on their experiences in Africa: Blaine Harden's Africa: Dispatches From a Fragile Continent (Norton, October) and Steven Mufson's Fighting Years: Black Resistance and the Struggle for a New South Africa (Beacon, November).

From the author of India: A Wounded Civilization (1977), V.S. Naipaul, comes India: A Million Mutinies Now (Viking, January), which looks at social and political changes in India during the last 25 years.

The Dalai Lama is the author of two books this fall: Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama (Harper, September) and My Tibet (University of California, October), a picture book with photos by Galen Rowell.

Some journalistic investigations of special interest: Kati Marton's The Polk Conspiracy: Murder and Cover-up in the Case of CBS Correspondent George Polk (Farrar Straus Giroux, October), a new look at Polk's mysterious death in Greece in 1948; Jonathan Groner's The Elizabeth Morgan Case (Simon and Schuster, January), and Howard Blum's Out There: The Government's Secret Quest for Extraterrestrials (Simon and Schuster, September).

Notable historical titles include several on the Civil War: None Died in Vain: The Saga of the American Civil War, by Robert Leckie (Harper, September); The Civil War: An Illustrated History, a companion to a PBS series, by Geoffrey C. Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns (Knopf, September); Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (Oxford, January) by James M. McPherson, essays from the author of Battle Cry of Freedom; and Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854, by William W. Freehling, a social and political history of the antebellum South, the first volume of Freehling's "The Road to Disunion" (Oxford, September).

Other promising histories include Nicholas Lemann's The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (Knopf, February), on the 20th-century movement of 5 million blacks from the rural South to the urban North; The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, edited by John McManners (Oxford, November); and The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (Knopf, October), by Kirkpatrick Sale, which is both a reassessment of the man and an examination of what we'd now call the "environmental impact" on the New World of Columbus and those who followed.

In the category of biography are several arresting accounts of troubled lives. Breaking the Silence, by Mariette Hartley with Anne Commire (Putnam, October) is the actress's memoir of an upbringing haunted by suicide, alcoholism and abuse. Richard Rhodes, prize-winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, has also written a memoir about his traumatic childhood (his mother was a suicide, his stepmother an abusive monster), called A Hole in the World: An American Boyhood (Simon and Schuster, October). Already available is novelist William Styron's account of his descent into near-suicidal depression, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (Random House, September).Writing Lives VLADIMIR NABOKOV: The Russian Years, is the first volume of an authorized biography by Brian Boyd (Princeton, September). Theodore Dreiser: An American Journey 1908-1945 is the second volume of Richard Lingeman's biography (Putnam, October). Peter Griffin's Less Than a Treason: Hemingway in Paris (Oxford, September) is also a second volume. And M.M. Kaye's The Sun in the Morning: My Early Years in India and England begins the autobiography by the immensely popular author of The Far Pavilions (St. Martin's, September).

More Lives: John Richardson's A Life of Picasso, Vol. I: 1881-1906 (Random House, November), the first volume of what is billed as the definitive biography; Holding on to the Air: An Autobography by ballet dancer Suzanne Farrell, with Toni Bentley (Summit, September); The Shape of Love, by Gelsey Kirkland and Greg Lawrence, a sequel to the dancer's controversial Dancing on My Grave (Doubleday, September); and Voices in the Mirror, a memoir by photographer, writer and film director Gordon Parks (Doubleday, November).

In One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream (Random House, January), Tom Wicker writes of the former president. In Being Red: A Memoir (Houghton Mifflin, November), best-selling novelist Howard Fast recalls his years in the Communist Party in the '40s and '50s, including his prison sentence for refusing to give names to the HUAC. Epicurean Delight: The Life and Times of James Beard, by Evan Jones (Knopf, October), is the story of the cookbook writer who played a central role in putting American food on the gastronomic map.

In Breaking Barriers (Little, Brown, January), Carl T. Rowan recalls his pioneering career as black journalist, ambassador and cabinet member. Jane Goodall's Through a Window: My Thirty Years With the Chimpanzees of Gombe (Houghton Mifflin, October) is a sequel to In the Shadow of Man, in which Goodall wrote of her first 10 years on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Charles Kuralt's A Life on the Road (Putnam, November) is the popular television figure's story.

Out of Hollywood comes Ava: My Story, by Ava Gardner (Bantam, November), which the actress reportedly finished shortly before her death in January; The Fondas: A Hollywood Dynasty, by Peter Collier (Putnam, October); and Ronald Brownstein's The Power and the Glitter: The Hollywood-Washington Connection (Pantheon, January), which examines special relationships from William Randolph Hearst and Herbert Hoover, to Warren Beatty and Gary Hart.

Finally, two standout titles that have in common only that both defy easy classification: John McPhee's Looking for a Ship (Farrar Straus Giroux, September) chronicles the voyage of one of the last American merchant ships, from Charleston through the Panama Canal and down the coast of South America. And Robert Coles's The Spiritual Life of Children (Houghton Mifflin, November) is the eighth and concluding volume in Coles's "Children of Crisis" series.

Nina King is editor of Book World.

THE FOUR ANGSTROMS come to Mirror Lake, where mute swans float, and Flamingo Lagoon, where . . . flocks of flamingos, colored that unreal orange-pink color, sleep while standing up, like big feathery lollypops, each body a ball, the idle leg and the neck and head somehow knitted in, balanced on one pencil-thin leg and wide weird leathern foot. Others, almost as marvellous, are awake and stirring, tenderly treading. "Look how they drink," Harry tells his grandchildren, lowering his voice as if in the presence of something sacred. "Upside down. Their bills are scoops that work upside down." And they stand marvelling, the four human beings, as if the space between farflung planets has been abolished, so different do these living things loom from themselves. The earth is many planets, that intersect only at moments. Even among themselves, slices of difference interpose, speaking the same language though they do, and lacking feathers, and all drinking right side up. From "Rabbit At Rest," by John Updike

PHILADELPHIA FIRE

MUSIC DOO-WOPS in thick pure phrases from the car on Forty-third behind the chain-link fence. Music reigns supreme and there is nothing not listening. Cudjoe holds his breath. Doesn't need breath as a high sweet tenor and voices trilling behind it shine like silver, shine like gold.

Could you bring down a city with trumpets? Could a song lay waste skyscrapers? Scour the hills, cleanse the rivers, wipe the sky? Everything in creation had been listening to the music. Now sirens and jets and horns and trolleys, dogs howling, babies screaming had started up again. Thump of Cudjoe's heart again. That shield of filth the city flings up at the sky in place again. Stars spatter against it like rain on a tin roof trying to get in. Hushed for a moment but now a river of noise again and the tune from a tape deck is a twig drifting along with everything else caught in the current . . . You look up and can't see the stars and that doesn't bother you as much as it should. You don't know what's wrong but maybe more's wrong than you want to know.

From "Philadelphia Fire," by John Edgar Wideman

WILLIAM J. CASEY

HIS LIFE IS worth our attention because it is a story of how power is acquired in this country, even by those who begin with none, and how that power is exercised at the pinnacle. Casey's story is particularly intriguing and instructive because, at the end, it involves possibly the most serious challenge to the United States's democratic institutions since the country's founding. Iran-Contra struck at the vitals of the Constitution. The sanctity of the President's duty to uphold the laws? Iran-Contra suggested that the President may ignore laws he does not like. The system of checks and balances that one branch of government exercises over another? Evade it by the simple expedient of leaving one branch in the dark about what another branch is doing. The separation of powers? Carry out by presidential fiat whatever Congress refuses to pass into law. And in all this, by the force of his character, by his activist conception of the CIA, by the freedom he enjoyed under the lightly held reins of Ronald Reagan, Casey was to play a leading role. Sorting out his role in Iran-Contra -- accomplice, silent partner, mastermind -- is a principal objective of this book.

From "Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey from the OSS to the CIA," by Joseph Persico

AN AMERICAN BOYHOOD

WHEN I WAS thirteen months old, my mother killed herself. So I eventually learned, as I learned her maiden name, Georgia Saphronia Collier, and where she was born, Sulphur Springs, Arkansas, and how old she was when she ended her life, twenty-nine. (And good lord, writing these words now, all these years afterward, for the first time in memory my eyes have filled with tears of mourning for her. What impenetrable vessel preserved them?) I didn't know my mother, except as infants know. At the beginning of my life the world acquired a hole. That's what I knew, that there was a hole in the world. For me there still is. It's singularity. In and out of a hole like that, anything goes.

From "A Hole in the World: An American Boyhood," by Richard Rhodes