Weissman gathers all that is ugly, vulgar, obscene, scary, disgusting, dangerous, sick, tragic, and sad to create a debut collection that offers a refreshing, nauseating, hilarious, deranged take on human nature. In these stories what at first seems average suddenly, or sometimes stealthily, turns perverse. A man returning home from a a job ``too bland and pitiful'' to name, dreams of the only thing in life he looks forward to—eating his favorite cherry-filled cookie; he breaks down when he discovers that his dog has beaten him to it. A woman who never wanted to be anything but a mother refuses to lose her son to his new wife, so she hires two hoodlums to decapitate her in order to get him back. A young boy gives a detailed account of his day, including church (``I want to go to hell because in hell the dead run around with no clothes on and I can spend all day staring'') and a trip to the museum, where he wanders away from his parents and has sex with a naked girl in a painting. A 16-year-old birthday girl seduces her older brother by talking dirty to him over breakfast. A serial killer who keeps favorite body parts (torsos and heads) in a valise for sexual release, explains how ``killing, cutting up little boys has made me a better person.'' A Christian Scientist reprimands his son for thinking that ``just because his mother is dead we should bury her.'' And a father thanks a dead person for having a car accident and enlivening his family's road trip. While these tales can be too much when read all at once, we come to understand when a man who kills his friends because he loves to eulogize them says ``no matter how pathetic I become it amazes me how there's always room to get worse.'' A blood-and-guts account of the real American Dream.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-85242-330-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

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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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