Fourteen variations, 1976-89, reprinted from various newspapers and magazines. Two appeared in Ballard's previous collection, Memories of the Space Age (1988). The title piece--civil war in Beirut artificially prolonged by the UN as a means of studying the roots of conflict--fails to rise above routine irony despite the unsurprising shock ending; likewise predictable is a journalist's search for a crashed aircraft. A story consisting of answers to a nonexistent questionnaire fails to amuse, in contrast to the sharp and witty presentation of an index to a lost biography--sort of a potted Zelig. A future-sex variant turns out limp, as does future-European mania for body-building. Other recognizably Ballardian pieces include an invention that consists entirely of footnotes and two variations on the inner space-expansion of perception/multiple mental dimensions theme. What remains are the real standouts: an apparently deranged assassin's target turns out to be an astronaut turned dangerous fascist/fanatic prophet of a new religion; pollution causes the flora and fauna of a coral island to run hallucinatory riot; and, best of all, a nation morbidly fascinated with the minute-by-minute state of aging, third-term President Reagan's health fails to notice the occurrence of WW III. A notably uneven collection, ranging from mordant commentary and febrile near-brilliance to murky or trite experiments and subterfuges.