A strong collection in which elements of the strange are sustained by a surprising subtlety and understanding of human...


Basic human truths lie at the heart of every story in this collection, which ranges from the odd to the fantastic.

The title story begins with the lines, “I cut my boyfriend in half; it was what we both wanted. I said we could double our time together.” From there, things only get weirder. The narrator is left with identical versions of her boyfriend, essentially two halves of the same man, and for a while, it works. But then, they think, why stop? There is always more to do, and the more bodies around, the easier their lives will be; the narrator cuts her boyfriend in half again, and then again. The more halves she makes, the more unsettling and unexpected the results. Amid the bizarre reality of the story, however, lie surprisingly familiar emotional complications. This is a thread that runs through the collection—the weird and sometimes fantastic eventually reveal issues that very much belong to the real world. In “There’s a Woman Works Down the Chip Shop,” the narrator recounts the summer her mother became Elvis—“she was Elvis, hips a gogo, rocking onto the balls of her feet with only the counter between her and lasses screaming and promising to love her forever.” The totality of the transformation is ambiguous, but it acts as a lens through which a secret side to the mother’s life is revealed. Readman’s writing style is plain in ways that can sometimes feel tired, and occasionally the stories can be convoluted. As they progress, though, both the author and the stories find solid footing.

A strong collection in which elements of the strange are sustained by a surprising subtlety and understanding of human nature.

Pub Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-908276-52-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: & Other Stories

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet