Probably not for anyone on this planet or any other, but a successful cross-genre experiment, and a welcome addition to what...



A dozen smart tales that travel far and wide to straddle the line between SF and literary—in a first collection from novelist Scholz (Radiance, 2002).

Most of these pieces originally appeared in SF magazines (Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), though they might just as easily have appeared in mainstream literary quarterlies, and some did (The Missouri Review, Crank!). The first, “The Eve of the Last Apollo,” tells of an ex-astronaut’s post-moon ennui colliding with his 40th birthday and the final moon shot, a combination that creates the ultimate midlife crisis; the title story is about an unwitting insurance salesman traveling to Europe for some Kafkaesque turns of fate—and perhaps a friendship with K. himself; “The Nine Billion Names of God” is the epistolary exchange between an editor and a writer, “Carter Scholz,” who is either a plagiarist or an artful borrower; while “A Catastrophe Machine” is the life story of a young man whose guilt, possibly, has tangible effects in the form of a machine that may shape the course of history; and a lonely man (“Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor”) observes sex in a neighboring apartment, an experience that, combined with his lifelong bachelor’s ethic, triggers a bizarre masturbatory fantasy involving his furniture. Other stories follow scholars into the Louvre or listen in on men’s conversations with futuristic computers. Scholz co-authored Kafka Americana with Jonathan Lethem, and it shows: these tales are always alert, and their knowledge extends well beyond the predictable mayhem and pyrotechnics of science fiction. The old is always as important as the new or the yet to be invented, and human emotion, rather than firefights or contact with aliens, is always the goal.

Probably not for anyone on this planet or any other, but a successful cross-genre experiment, and a welcome addition to what stories can do.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-26901-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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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