Short, enjoyable and absurd—a pleasant Halloween treat.

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AFTER THE COCK CROWS

This collection of three short stories ranges from hillbilly humor to playful horror à la Tales from the Crypt or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

First-time author Campbell opens with “Michelle’s Ghost,” an amusing little tale about a big spider problem. More an extended anecdote than a short story, it refuses to take itself seriously—an endearing quality that pervades the tales. The far more substantial Duncan’s Passion is a novella with solid, empathetic characters and replete with chapters and even an epilogue. There are two characters named Duncan: One is the son of the main protagonists, Tom and Tammy; the other is Tammy’s distant ancestor, one of a number of ghosts haunting the farmhouse the family has inherited. This brief narrative involves pictures falling of their own volition, pirate treasure, the ground opening up, an evil lawyer, mojo, and feuding, cutlass-wielding ghosts. It’s all told with carefree good humor and filled with snarky wisecracks—“Something tells me I ain’t in Kansas no more”—and Halloween imagery: “O’Connor was lying under a large metal shelf with only his head sticking out. His tongue was swollen and his eyes were popped out and resting on his cheeks.” The final story, “Fiddling Blue Billy and His Bigfoot Wife,” has nothing to do with ghosts, but it’s a rollicking bit of good ol’ hillbilly funnin’ reminiscent of Vance Randolph’s Pissing in the Snow and Other Ozark Folktales (1976). This first-person tale tells of a 6-year-old’s visit to his gigantic relatives Billy and Em. It’s filled with Appalachian flavor: “She’s just dumber’n a hoe handle.” Billy is blue from methemoglobinemia, a disorder that actually exists, while Em is from a different race of humans, hidden in the woods and covered with hair, that probably doesn’t exist. The nonsense mounts until Em takes an unnatural shine to the 6-year-old narrator, then all hell breaks loose.

Short, enjoyable and absurd—a pleasant Halloween treat.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500422608

Page Count: 96

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2014

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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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