A selected few individuals blast off into space to carry on the human race, as Earth confronts a final calamity. It appears that their cultural baggage consists of two video discs, one representing Freud's discovery of the unconscious and the other Trotsky's vision of universal socialism. The author purportedly considers these the two greatest events of our century (with space travel itself making a third). Yet a passenger says: ''Burn them both. Better nothing than those.'' Fortunately someone also has a cassette of Mozart.
What wouldm be worth saving at the end of the world is the question posed to the reader by this ''entertainment,'' which is often more vulgar and grisly than that name implies. It provokes thought about a society of the future, which Burgess imagines as an extension of present follies that ought to be a warning to us.
A kind of harsh moral vaudeville - with sensationalism indulged as well as deplored - is not unexpected from the Burgess of ''A Clockwork Orange'' and ''Earthly Powers.'' Once again he includes fragments of a musical comedy, this time one about Trotsky on a 1917 visit to New York with lyrics like: ''The women are striking/But the workers not'' and ''We don't want just war/We want a justm war.'' As for Freud, the clinical sexual diagnoses and interpretations of dreams reach a point of absurdity, as he tries to convince his colleagues while his wife says, ''Not before the children, Sigmund''; his own dreams turn into nightmares; and a disease talks in his ear like an evil character.
It is all like watching three TV screens at the same time without knowing exactly where the medium ends and the message begins. Even this device is framed by another device. The novel retains Burgess's franchise on technical ingenuity but perhaps not a place for itself on that spaceship.