A collection of playful stories that often have a dark undercurrent. Far out, man.

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STORIES

Science fiction goes postmodern in this story collection from Yu (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, 2010, etc.).

Using various narrative strategies (though all but one of these 13 stories is written in the first person), Yu explores provisional identities (including those of a character named Charles Yu) in multiple universes, typically employing a conversational style that makes for easy reading even when the themes are troubling or the formalistic elements challenging. In one story, “Note to Self,” a writer begins writing “Dear Alternate Self,” before the response he receives suggests that his alternate self may simply be another dimension of himself, and then, later, that the person to whom he’s actually writing is the reader: “We are correspondents corresponding in our corresponding universes. Is that what writing is? A collaboration between selves across the multiverse?” Where some stories just seem like gamesmanship, literary parlor tricks, one of the shorter and best ones, “Open,” strikes an existential chord in its meditation on words and what they signify, in its epiphany that “It was like we were actors in a play with no audience.” A couple stories offer heroic epics for the video game generation, while the longest, “Human For Beginners,” begins as a chapter in a self-help book on dynamics within extended families, proceeds into an inquiry on the identity of Charles Yu, and culminates in unanswerable questions such as “What is possible? What is conceivable? Do all worlds have rules? Do dreams?”

A collection of playful stories that often have a dark undercurrent. Far out, man.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-90717-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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EXHALATION

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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