A $7 million suit against author David Rorvik and his publisher over a book that purports to record the first cloning of a human went to trial today in U.S. District Court. The jury is to decide whether Rorvik and his publisher, J. P. Lippincott Co., are liable for damages for publishing a book that the court already has called "a fraud and a hoax."

The book, "In His Image, the Cloning of a Man," was published in 1978 and was trumpeted in a national advertising campaign as the "report of the century."

J. Derek Bromhall, an Oxford University scientist who is one of the leading researchers in embryonic development and cloning, brought the suit to have the book declared a fraud and to be compensated for the way the book "wrongfully appropriated" his work. Bromhall also charges that a mention of him in the book against his will invaded his privacy.

Bromhall's first desire was granted in an earlier motion when the court declared that "the cloning in the book never took place," and that "all of the characters mentioned in the book, other than the defendant Rorvik, have and had no real existence."

In his opening statement to the jury, Bromhall's attorney, Arthur Raynes, said that Rorvik and the publisher "cooked up this book so it would sell as nonfiction."

He said that Rorvik was rejected by three other publishers with a manuscript that told the same story, but with different characters and different events.

The book, which was a bestseller in England and America, relates the story of a mysterious 60-year-old millionaire, code-named Max, who had himself cloned. In the earlier manuscript, according to Raynes, the millionaire's name was Billy and he had a sexually perverted son who played a part in the cloning drama.

These characters eventually were dropped to make the book "more believable," Raynes said.

He also charged that if the publisher thought the work might be real, the story could have been quickly checked, as newspapers did when they wrote their initial stories on the book. Raynes said that Lippincott did not even check with the medical experts on their own medical-book publishing staff.

Raynes also displayed a letter to Bromhall asking for detailed information on how a cloning in mammals might be carried out. The letter was dated five months after the supposed birth of the clone, and a year after Rorvik was supposed to have participated in the human cloning.

Cloning is the creation of a geneticially identical copy of a plant or animal from one of its cells. Most scientists believe that only lower animals have been cloned and that the prospect of cloning as complex a creature as man is some years distant if it is even possible.

Attorney Samuel Klein, in his opening statement for the defense, said that the issue in the case was not the fraudulence of the book, but only whether Bromhall was actually hurt by being included in it.

"You won't hear about a lost research contract because of it. You will hear him say he is not able to recall one single individual who commented to him about" his work being referenced in the book, Klein said.

Bromhall and his work were mentioned in two paragraphs and a footnote in the book, which said the details of the cloning process were not necessarily linked to Bromhall's cloning method used on rabbits.

Though Rorvik has never appeared in court during the four years of litigation, he has acknowledged through his attorney that three characters in his book were fictitious. But he has promised to have the mysterious millionaire communicate directly with the court. Rorvik also offered to have blood tests on the purported clone and the millionaire to help authenticate the cloning.

Rorvik said he could not allow the court to see the millionaire or the boy clone, and would not allow court-appointed doctors to perform the medical tests that were supposed to help authenticate Rorvik's tale. The court rejected Rorvik's elaborate authentication scheme.

The trial is expected to continue through this week.