February 25, 1991 12:00 PM

by Jack Womack

Womack, an exciting sci-fi stylist, returns to familiar territory in his third novel: the chaotic not-so-distant future. As the millennium turns, Long Island is a nuclear wasteland populated by mutants. Tanks patrol Manhattan in service of the monolithic Dryco corporation. The gulf between haves and have-nots has turned into a war zone.

The novel’s title is a corruption of “heathen.” a reference to the great irradiated masses. The paupered postliterate populace communicates in a clipped semaphore.

Meanwhile, Thatcher Dryden, head of Dryco, a man who makes Ivan Boesky look like a choirboy, continues to make a killing off the misery of these shattered people. He’s even grooming a miracle-working teacher on the Lower East Side, planning to market him as the messiah.

Heathern is, in fact, a prequel to Womack’s earlier novels, Ambient and Terra-plane, in what is projected as a six-book series. Though the content is a little thinner than in those volumes (which should be read first in any event), Womack’s imaginative projection of our imminent fate is still gripping. (Tor, $16.95)

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