Mississippi's literary powerhouse returns with another group of stories (Airships, 1978; the novels Boomerang, Never Die, etc.) in which the surreal social vision and subsurface savagery that have become Hannah's hallmarks are present in abundance. Twenty-three pieces ranging widely in length from one to forty pages make up this collection, and the various themes are no less diverse. The brief title story (``Bats Out of Hell Division'') re- creates a Civil War standoff in which desperate, starving Rebels finally assault their well-armed, well-fed adversaries with little more than a military band playing Tchaikovsky—only to win the field when the Union troops are so moved by the sight that they surrender. ``Rat-faced Auntie'' is a more substantial tale involving a talented trombonist who peaks too soon, losing himself to liquor and dropping into sociology as a consolation, with his bills paid by a sour, shriveled Auntie Hadley, who wants him to write her biography instead of telling the stories of the skid-row bums he met before she rescued him. Another biographer appears in ``Hey, Have You Got a Cig, the Time, the News, My Face?'' as a successful writer of celebrity bios—whose secret passion is shooting innocent passersby with an air rifle he keeps hidden in his car—tries to understand his angry poet-son, who loses his desire to write, his university job, his wife, and his sanity by the age of 30, turning to Mormonism before finally regaining his equilibrium and his voice. Warped family situations, individual frustrations, intimations of perversion, and the just-plain strange are common threads throughout here, combined in Hannah's dazzling, bizarre style. A compelling concatenation, even if sometimes overwrought or marred by seemingly superficial weirdness.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 1993

ISBN: 0-395-48883-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1992

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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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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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