Here they are, the ones to watch

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The Independent Online
BY this time, just before Christmas, there is usually a learned book on the best-seller list. It tends to have a zippy pseudo- philosophical title such as A Brief History of the Universe, Does Salman Rushdie Pay Council Tax? or Will the Real God Please Stand Up and be Counted? People buy it for each other in vast quantities, and sometimes read it. The author, who tends to be called Dawkinge or Hawkin, tends to get richer. Everyone is happy.

But this year, so far, no such book. Or at least, no such best- seller, for there are in fact plenty of books around that might make the quantum leap into best-sellerdom. They just haven't been noticed, that's all. So here is my short-list of the top 10 candidates for the thinking best-seller of Christmas 1992.

A Brief Walk Backwards Through Time by Joseph Hawkmoth. This sparkling book takes as its thesis the possibility that time moves backwards - or, at least, that we move backwards through it. One illustration he uses is the idea that when a man writes a book, the end result is a very confused and imperfect version of the clear vision he had when he started - almost as if the whole process is moving back to front. He thinks, on a larger scale, that we are moving away from the end of the universe (which was the Big Bang) towards its beginning.

A Brief History of Chaos by Hugo Hawkweed. Books on chaos theory were going to be last year's big sellers. It never quite worked out that way. Why not? Because, according to Professor Hawkweed, of chaos theory itself. 'When a book tailor- made for the market simply vanishes into a black hole called 'Remaindered', the rules of the universe are being flouted. The only explanation is chaos theory.' This passage is on page 4. Unaccountably and unpredictably, I gave up on page 6.

The Little Old Dry Cleaner of the Universe by Professor Reith Hawkwood. This is a praiseworthy effort to make the universe comprehensible to everyone, in terms we can all understand. Briefly, Professor Hawkwood's concept is that whether or not there was an architect behind the universe, our part of it was put in for repairs a hundred thousand years ago and left behind by accident. Yes, our solar system has been awaiting collection by its owner during all of known history. Only thus, argues the professor, can we explain the apparently good design of the product, and the severe distress caused to it by lack of maintenance.

Saturday Evening Post-Modernism by Lance Seifert. If last year's seller was going to be a chaos book, this year's was going to be one on Post-Modernism, but that hasn't happened either. A pity, because there are many potential sellers around with such snappy titles as Never send Anything by Registered Post- Modernism and First Past the Post-Modernist] There is certainly a need for such a book, as many people want to know about post-modernism, but retire baffled from the guides. Saturday Evening Post-Modernism is different. It explains what it's all about, but leaves you not in the least interested in wanting to know.

Is God an Atheist? by Professor Sir Lancelot Hawkeye. An intriguing book that takes as its starting point the paradox that, while we always believe it is possible to lose one's faith in God, it never occurs to us that the opposite is possible. Hawkeye, the Regius Professor of Post-Modernist Archaeology at the Open University, puts forward the idea that, after creating the universe, God lost interest in his creation, and then finally lost belief in it. It certainly explains a lot of things.

What's So Scientific about Science? by Brian Hawkyard. If this year's best-seller wasn't going to be about Post-Modernism, it was going to be about science, and our presumed loss of faith in it. This is the book which was going to be that best-seller.

Watch out Everyone - Here comes Christopher Columbus] by Professor Digby Hawktop. A final attempt to get a Columbus book into the best-seller lists. Hawktop's thesis is that the way we tend to learn things is exactly the way Columbus found out things - blindly. Columbus went to America all right, but he didn't know how he had got there, what he had discovered or where he was. It was left to his successors to work out the answers he had found - and the questions. Similarly, argues Hawktop, scientists never quite know what they are doing - but you can probably guess the way the book goes.