POOL.Sharyn McCrumb.Simon...

ZOMBIES OF THE GENE

March 22, 1992|By SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE SPEAKING FRANKLY: WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE DEMOCRATS AND HOW TO FIX IT. Barney Frank. Times Books. 164 pages. $19. | SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE SPEAKING FRANKLY: WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE DEMOCRATS AND HOW TO FIX IT. Barney Frank. Times Books. 164 pages. $19.,LOS ANGELES TIMES BYGONES. LaVyrle Spencer. Putnam. 382 pages. $21.95.

ZOMBIES OF THE GENE POOL.

Sharyn McCrumb.

Simon & Schuster.

208 pages. $18. Back in the early '50s, the Lanthanides, a group of young science fiction fans, buried some of their short stories in a time capsule. A few Lanthanides went on to become giants of the genre, making those primitive efforts extremely valuable; but when the Tennessee farm where the capsule was planted was submerged under the waters of a man-made lake, the stories appeared to be lost forever.

Almost 40 years later, the lake is going to be drained, and the Lanthanides decide to reunite for the unearthing of "the Dead Sea Scrolls of science fiction." The happy occasion is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of Pat Malone, a much-loathed member of the group who supposedly died years ago, after he penned a vicious expose of the science fiction scene called "The Last Fandango."

"Zombies of the Gene Pool" is the sequel to Sharyn McCrumb's 1987 science fiction send-up, "Bimbos of the Death Sun," but it isn't nearly as fresh and funny as the first book, which also had a much better villain. Still, readers familiar with science fiction should enjoy the author's gentle gibes at the scene and its eccentric, ever-devoted fans. The unspoken question is: Will the Democrats be out of the repair shop by November? Given what Barney Frank has in mind, it may well take longer than that to make the party road-worthy again. Mr. Frank, the Massachusetts congressman who survived a 1990 reprimand (for dealings with a male prostitute) to be elected to a sixth term, is of the opinion that Democrats are unable to snare the highest office in the land because they are too busy looking left instead of right. A concern with satisfying left-liberal Democrats, one that dates back to the late 1960s, has left the party open to charges that it is soft on crime, racial policies and abortion.

When it comes time to vote for president -- an office Mr. Frank says is won or lost on values, as opposed to lower-level races, which are issue-oriented -- the middle-American Democrat turns from his party and votes Republican, because that party seems to espouse the sort of values this country stands for. Mr. Frank's primary concern is wooing this "swing voter" back into the flock. He anticipates accusations of selling out, in his provocative tract, but gently suggests that policies without the presidency doom the Democrats to generations more in the role of the opposition. Family dynamics can be as tough and unforgiving as anything in the world: Michael and Bess Curran can testify to that. Married in college, they seemed to have the perfect marriage. Bess put on hold any career aspirations to raise their two children, Randy and Lisa. Michael threw himself into his career. But quietly, inexorably, their marriage unfurled. Bess became resentful of Michael's success. He felt she was not supportive and left Bess for another woman. By the time their divorce became official, there was much bitterness.

Six years after the divorce, Bess is independent but lonely. Michael's second marriage also ended in divorce. One night, Bess is invited to Lisa's place for a dinner. Bess will receive two bombshells: Michael is also invited to the dinner, and Lisa not only is going to be married but is also pregnant.

LaVyrle Spencer's "Bygones" is a smart and tough look at family relationships in the 1990s. "Bygones" is filled with believable characters, and this fine novel looks at very serious family issues and does not flinch at the answers.

EILEEN POWER

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