Scratch a city and find its ghetto; scratch its ghetto and find the cesspool of drugs, disease, and despair that first-time author Giovinazzo, a filmmaker, limns in these 16 harsh yet potent vignettes. Junkies, whores, and muggers find their voices through the author's sinewy prose, which runs from cool (``Mary Montell was proud of her gifts. For a man she was well endowed'') to fever-hot (``Pedro said he saw Londa's ghost floating down the street but nobody believed him cause he was on acid at the time and suddenly his insides poured out of his mouth...''), Giovinazzo presents his lost souls without condemnation, even the worst among them: The longest tale, ``Bullets and Brutality,'' follows one Romeo, a teenaged sociopath, as he goes on a rampage of beatings, robbings, and brutal sex until he's sitting in a dark room, gun in hand, ready for the cops (``Then Romeo closed his eyes and waited for destiny''). Often, though, Giovinazzo elicits sympathy for the downtrodden by highlighting their humanity: In ``Homos Off Houston,'' a transvestite hooker tends to her AIDS-stricken lover; in the most powerful piece here, ``Miss Lonely Has a Date Tonight,'' a hooker, eager to please her pimp, submits unwittingly to a snuff-scene. In like vein, Giovinazzo rarely misses a chance to knock, crudely, white-collar types: In ``Nancy Normal Needs Another,'' a crack-addicted suburban housewife submits to her bond- trader husband's clumsy sexual advances; in ``The Psalm of Richard the Executive,'' the title character cruises for child whores. And while the author's energetic writing sometimes boils over the top (as in ``Cellblock Serenade,'' an obscene raving by a nameless prisoner), it more often captures the sounds and soul of the urban underworld with artful precision. Bold songs of the street—not for the squeamish—in the honorable tradition of Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.

Pub Date: May 28, 1993

ISBN: 1-56025-054-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1993

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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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