Surprise! There is life beyond personal computers. There are actually more people working on impersonal mainframe and minicomputers than using IBM PCs or Macs. More of you patient readers spend your days at VAX and VMS type operating systems than use MS DOS and ProDos.

Corey Sandler's book User's Guide to the VAX/VMS Operating System ($19) is important reading for nontechie types who find themselves working on a DEC VAX. Billed as "the non-technical manual" by its publisher, Scott, Foresman and Co., it'll teach you a lot more about your system than you got from whoever broke you in.It explains the concept of terminals and how they communicate. It goes into file manipulation, command language, and the operating system's logic. Because it has good chapters on e-mail and telecommunication, we also recommend it for managers and planners using VAX or VMS.

Want to find out whether your business can use computer-aided drafting and design (CAD)? Auto-CAD is a top-selling CAD program that cuts across micro-to-mainframe computers, and AutoCAD Applications by Gerald E. Jones ($25; Scott, Foresman) explains all that it can do.

After an initial overview of the program, most of the book's chapters show how engineers, manufacturers, construction companies, process controllers, and facilities managers use AutoCAD. There's a good chapter of advice to planners. The entire book is easy reading, down to earth, and to the point.

For IBM-type personal computing, OS/2 and Windows are the big buzzwords of the past couple of years. OS/2 is an operating system, a combination traffic cop and housekeeper which helps programs and computers work together. Inside OS/2 ($19.95; Microsoft) was written by Gordon Letwin, one architect who designed OS/2.

Novices can find out how OS/2 came out of MS DOS. Techies can get a detailed description of OS/2's architecture. Semanticists can either abhor or adore Letwin's word inventions such as "virtualization," "checksumming," and "sublocation."

Programmer's Guide to The IBM PC and PS/2 by Peter Norton and Richard Wilton ($23; Microsoft Press) is not just for ardent programmers. Half of its 500 packed pages contain tips and tidbits that should fascinate rank novices.

If you're just curious about PCs, read the easy first chapters. They describe what's inside IBM PCs and compatible computers. They explain how the computers work (or, frequently, don't work), and how various designers would like them to work better. They also take the mystery out of main processor chips, memory, disk storage, screen displays, and lots more.

If you've been using PCs since MS DOS 1.0, the book has plenty of shortcuts to rid you of cumbersome habits you learned using early MS DOS. Some of the nuts-and-bolts technical matter gets mighty deep and jargony, but if you learn just one way to speed up your disks and screen display changes, the book will have paid for itself.

Windows is the computer's answer to schizophrenia. On an IBM type PC, it lets anyone display several different programs onscreen at the same time. You can even work with several programs at once. It's a growing favorite with dedicated computer users.

Windows is an integral part of the OS/2 operating system. But it can also be bought to run with MS and PC DOS, giving them a bit of a Macintosh look and feel.

Running Windows by Nancy Andrews and Craig Stinson (Microsoft Press) tells novices more than they'll ever need to know about Windows. For $20, it can help you decide whether to invest in the program. The book is sprightly and simple to read. It gives lots of instructional examples you can test out for yourself. It may even help you master Windows on your computer.

If you're a programmer, have a look at the $22 Introduction to Windows Programming by Guy Quedens and Pamela S. Beason (Scott, Fores-man). It gives a quick once-over of basic programming concepts. It explains how to create icons, manage memory, and interface with graphic devices. It's got lots of routines and modules. However, serious programmers will find few that can be replicated in your own programs.

Don't expect Inside the Apple La-serWriter ($22; Scott, Foresman) to read like Incredible Voyage. But Roger Hart does give facts, figures, and guidelines about Apple's top-notch printer that you won't find in official Apple literature. He taught us a few good tricks for our Laser-Writer.

For example, Hart has a way to get around that annoying limit of 100 sheets in paper-feeder trays. He tells how to add an envelope feeder and how to shrink fonts to fit. If you're still wondering what laser printer to buy, he explains clearly why it may make sense to invest an extra thousand or two in a Postscript type printer.