It's the time of year when, driven by dubious motives, magazine editors concoct dubious lists of dubious length.

Although of dubious import, such lists are among the 25 Easiest Ways to Fill a Column About Magazines.What's most interesting about this year's bumper crop is that even the perennially upbeat lists are largely depressing. Take, for instance, Discovery's "Top 50 Science Stories."

Right off the bat, the magazine hits a sour note, mentioning the Mars Observer's untimely disappearance, disappearing congressional funding for the super-conducting supercollider and cutbacks on the space station.

But some science stories were more upbeat and fascinating:

- Reginald Newell, a climatologist at MIT, discovered that vast rivers of water vapor swirl through the atmosphere moving moisture all over the globe.

- There's not much cheerful on the AIDS front, but epidemiologist Francis Plummer and others have found statistically small groups with astonishing immunological resistance to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and to the disease. Within that phenomenon may lie clues to treatment.

- It took him seven years and 200 pages of figuring, but mathematician Andrew Wiles seems to have proved the theorem scrawled by Pierre Fermat more than 350 years ago. (It has to do with the impossibility of arriving at whole-number solutions in Pythagorean theorem-like equations when one cubes the sides of a right triangle - or uses larger exponents.)

Wiles, in fact, is one of People Weekly's "25 Most Intriguing People" of 1993. Don't confuse People with Scientific American, though. Also on People's list are such non-newsworthies as Susan Powter and Lorena Bobbitt.

Others may also make readers despair for the state of intrigue: Rush Limbaugh, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, Howard Stern, Janet Reno, Shannen Doherty. . . .

In a narrower field of interest, the January Popular Mechanics lists its Design and Engineering Awards, including: GM's automatic van door opener, the SSC Radisson Diamond twin-hull cruise ship, Matsushita's flat vision television and Apple's Newton MessagePad.

U.S. News & World Report, meanwhile, makes 20 predictions for 1994, such as:

- 20. Soccer will catch fire in the United States.

- 11. North Korea will become President Clinton's Cuban Missile Crisis.

- 9. Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin will turn authoritarian.

Given the predominantly grim nature of news and predictions, it's no wonder that the most entertaining list by far this year is the most cynical: Esquire's Dubious Achieve-ment Awards.

Don't yawn. This annual list has been getting a bit predictable, but this year's is more blistering than usual.

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You know how it works. The magazine comes up with a bunch of people and events, sticks them in little boxes, and adds witty captions that make the people or events look really stupid.

Here are the cheap shots that readers are advised to skip without even reading the predictable captions (or inventing their own): John Wayne Bobbitt (he's Man of the Year), Michael Jackson, Barney, Chevy Chase, Fabio, Robert James Waller and Roger Clinton.

Even better, though, are the fake advertisements interspersed through the awards section. They're so real (despite their absurdity) that readers will do triple takes.

The best one shows Bill and Hillary Clinton doing a "What's on Your PowerBook?" ad for Apple.

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