THE meaning of life conundrum gets a fresh outing in John Barrow's The Origin of the Universe (Weidenfeld & Nicolson $120). This heads back to the beginning of time to examine the latest theories on the Big Bang and tackle some of those mind-blowing questions such as where did the universe come from and will it ever end? Meanwhile, Ed Regis moves into physicist Richard Feynman country with Nano (Little Brown $240). Nanotechnology finds scientists trying to build objects molecule by molecule thus opening the door to the creation of any structure or substance. Regis looks at how this could alter life for the better - for example, it may allow common diseases to be eliminated - and the dangers of such a science if put to the wrong use. The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken (Phoenix $94) proposes that the business world is the key to preserving the environment for future use. Hawken acknowledges the greening of certain companies but points out that unless the whole structure of society is revolutionised so that industry sustains rather than demolishes the environment, an individual response is doomed to fail. Later chapters map out his route to the new world. Alan Hollinghurst's The Folding Star (Vintage $72), shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize, offers a beautifully-crafted tale of gay love. A young teacher leaves England for Belgium where he investigates the work and life of Symbolist painter Edgard Orst and falls in love with his student. Peter Carey's The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (Faber $85) leaps into the make-believe republic of Efica to follow the trials and tribulations of one of its members. The novel comes complete with glossary of Efican English, explanatory footnotes and map. Yet more on Monroe in My Sister Marilyn by Bernice Baker Miracle and Mona Rae Miracle (Orion $72). Bernice is the sister and Mona her daughter who helped produce this work. Bernice and Marilyn shared the same mother but led separate lives until Marilyn was told at 12 she had an older sister. The book aims to show the 'private' side of the movie star as she appeared to her relatives. Best Organising Tips (Simon & Schuster $200) by Stephanie Winston hands out ways to ease the muddle of daily life both at the office and at home. Paperwork is the least of her worries. She also imparts her wisdom on how to get a grip on your clothes closet, phone calls and even your kids. Pat Heim and Susan Golant's Smashing the Glass Ceiling (Fireside $100), out in paperback, goes to war on the problems women still face in securing top jobs in business. The authors offer advice on raising your profile at the office, gaining promotion and other handy hints on how to beat the male-dominated system. Master of horror Clive Barker has trouble in store for the residents of Everville (HarperCollins $72). Above the city is a door through which lies a world of evil. Fantasy writer Terry Brooks continues his Magic Kingdom of Landover saga in The Tangle Box (Legend $60) with the return of conjuror Horris Kew and a new challenge for the king of the realm. Also in mystical mode is Robert Holdstock who takes off for Merlin's Wood (HarperCollins $60), the legendary forest where the old wizard found his powers. Two youngsters, who had fled the forest, are drawn back to its enchanted ways with dire results.