It's possible these shouldn't be called ``stories''maybe thought-fictionsbut perhaps it doesn't matter: Marcus's debut volume has a grace, complexity, and literary ambition that put it at the highest rank. Here is a dazzling word-wizardry: always difficult, often exhausting, at times opaque, yet clearly driven by a consistent vision, program, and purpose. ``This book'' (says ``Argument'') ``is a catalog of the life project,'' adding that ``There is no larger task than that of cataloging a culture.'' Indeed. Yet in piece after piecemost a few pages long, many lessMarcus takes up that great task, even his titles offering hints as to the potential ultimacy of his subject: ``The Death of Water,'' ``The Weather Killer,'' ``Automobile, Watchdog,'' ``Outline for a City.'' By turns futuristic (``after the second appearance of 1983''), mock- historic (``One system of dating places their arrival...as early as the wakeful period of 1979''), surrealistic (``often each leg was clothed in a contrasting food style''), lyrically pathetic (``Your man can run, walk, sleep, drink, eat, and, of course, weep and die''), and simultaneously philosophic (``Certain weather is not recognized by the land it is practiced on'') and satiric (``Every year a day was set aside for discussion''), Marcus is extraordinary and boundless in his verbal and imaginative powers. After each grouping of stories (Sleep, God, Food, The House, Animal, Weather, Persons, The Society), a glossary of ``Terms'' is provided, shedding light both back and forward. In one of these, ``Ben Marcus, The''akin to the book written by sameis defined as ``a fitful chart in darkness,'' suggesting a latterday map for survival; and ``Rhetoric'' is defined as ``The art of making truth less believable''thus defining the method of Marcus's book with its mastered legacies from Swift, Beckett, and Barthelme. A rare, genius-struck achievement intended to warn readers into looking at the truth anew; not easy, but filled always with great beauties, high themes, enormous sorrows.