Barrett's stories rank with the best.

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ARCHANGEL

The award-winning author returns with another collection of stories distinguished by uncommon scope and depth.

Having won the National Book Award with Ship Fever (1996), Barrett has continued to command fictional territory all her own. Her latest collection of five stories finds her fiction typically steeped in science, rich in ideas, set in the historical past, and filled with characters who share the excitement, and some of the fear, of discovery. Framing the collection are two stories featuring the same protagonist, Constantine Boyd, as a boy of 12 from Detroit in “The Investigators,” set in 1908, and as a soldier amid the madness of war in the concluding title story, set in 1919 Russia. The first story is a masterwork of misdirection, as the boy investigates a world rife with discovery—of evolution, flight, family, identity, self (away from home, he flirts with calling himself “Stan”)—while the reader discovers the underlying story of the protagonist’s home life, the reasons why the boy spends summers with one uncle or another. Other stories delve deeply into the debates initially surrounding evolution, the popular but subsequently discarded notion of ether, and the darker implications of genetics (with the rise of Nazi Germany as a backdrop). Yet the characters are never secondary to (or mere mouthpieces for) the provocative ideas, as the stories explore relationships among mentors and students, scientific rivals, romantic attractions. She writes not only of someone “who still appreciates the poet’s wonderment in these days at the marvels of science,” but as someone who can recapture that wonderment decades after such marvels have been embraced or refuted. And she recognizes throughout the collection “how the theories seized on with such enthusiasm by one generation might be discarded scornfully by the next.”

Barrett's stories rank with the best.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-24000-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

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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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