In dark times, we get entertainment that reflects the world we’ve made. Welcome home.

UNIVERSAL LOVE

Eleven new stories about our potentially weird future.

Weinstein (Children of the New World, 2016) made a big splash in SF with his debut collection and follows it up with nearly a dozen stories that are just as creepy and will fit right in if you’re watching Black Mirror. The opener, “The Year of Nostalgia,” comes especially close to that particular flavor; it concerns a family trying to deal with grief by interacting with their hologram relatives. In “Beijing,” we find people living in the last days of the climate crisis erasing unpleasant memories of the things that hurt them most. “Comfort Porn” takes the concept of Tinder and similar apps to an unpleasant destination. Really, it’s all a prescient warning about technology, not that we really need a warning at this point. In “We Only Wanted Their Happiness,” indulgent parents give their kids access to information that turns them into little monsters. “True Love Testimonials” is, yes, a little weird, with its post-Tinder confessions about how to hook up with, say, a guy you can make look like your ex, or hosting “morphing orgies.” Things get stranger. In “Childhood,” the kids...malfunction, and we’ll leave it at that. Inevitably, in “Sanctuary,” we discover aliens, but in the most unusual and dangerous place imaginable. Time travel? Sure, why not? In “Infinite Realities,” we meet someone trying to find the version where they get it right, for once. We’re running out of time, so to speak, but there’s something to say about abandonment in “Mountain Song” and, finally, another dry look at the end times in “Islanders.”

In dark times, we get entertainment that reflects the world we’ve made. Welcome home.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-14435-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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