If Mair's sketchy takeout on Time Inc.'s Home Box Office subsidiary were a TV transmission, the screen would be full of ghosts. While it fails to measure up on many counts, the author's out-of-focus picture of the still-evolving cable-TV field and its star performer is further blurred by the fact that he clearly has some axes to grind. A sometime journalist who worked in HBO's P.R. department during the early 1980's, Mair confides in a brief preface that he has spent nearly $20,000 defending against a lawsuit apparently designed to suppress his book. Mair views HBO as an almost accidental enterprise whose dramatic growth and influence owe more to favorable circumstances than to the myopic stewardship of Time Inc. executives--for whom the wayward property now represents the largest single source of corporate profit. Starting in 1973 as an intermediary between movie-makers and cable-system operators, HBO has become a megabuck colossus with significant stakes in film financing as well as production, programming, sports promotion, video cassettes, pay TV, and allied areas of the booming market for home entertainment. Mair goes out of his way to condemn HBO for arrogantly throwing its weight around Hollywood and other show-biz venues; he also contends, however, that the upstart organization is losing its grip on a marketplace where technological change remains one of the few constants. Even allowing for the remarkably fluid state of the cable-TV art, Mair makes a generally poor job of putting HBO coherently in the context of an industry it helped create but whose destinies it seems incompetent to control. The principal problem is not the author's penchant for gratuitous critiques (which are more snide than telling), but his inability to make systematic sense of either the economic or technical forces at work in a fast-moving marketplace. Mair's muddied, frequently repetitive text holds precious little interest for readers in search of TV guidance.