Abrasive, accusatory, despairing and, more than often enough, quite unforgettable fiction.

A BETTER ANGEL

STORIES

Illness, loss and grief assume ingeniously arresting forms in this short-story collection from a uniquely gifted author who is also a practicing pediatrician and divinity-school student.

Adrian (The Children’s Hospital, 2006, etc.) once again voices the preoccupation with denying death that was so prominent in his sui generis debut novel, Gob’s Grief (2001). Nine often harrowing tales explore the darkness within children rendered older than their years with an intensity reminiscent of Ambrose Bierce and a penchant for fablelike indirection that echoes Angela Carter, with an occasional whiff of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s insistent symbolism. The obsessiveness of Adrian’s fiction reveals itself in recurrent narrative patterns. This method emerges clearly in “High Speeds,” which depicts an intellectually precocious boy coping with his father’s death in a plane crash (during a drug run), his nowhere mother and his deeply disturbed younger brother by concealing himself inside a rebellious fantasy world inspired by the loopy Martian adventure novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Similarly outré protagonists crop up frequently. “The Vision of Peter Damien” shows a boy who seems immune to illnesses afflicted by omens derived from the incidents of 9/11 (repeatedly channeled in several stories) that promise a cleansing apocalypse. In the title story, a grown man caring for his dying father is visited and abused by a quarrelsome angel. And in “Why Antichrist?” a boy hoping to commune with his dead father accidentally summons Satan instead. An overload of suffering little ones who develop similar otherworldly traits, plus numerous sets of twins and doppelgängers, edge the collection perilously close to risibility. But Adrian’s best pieces will haunt you unmercifully: “The Sum of Our Parts” (disembodied spirit of a suicide prowls the hospital ward); “Stab” (separated Siamese twin represses the loss of his brother by joining a deranged girl’s killing spree); and “A Child’s Book of Sickness and Death” (stories compiled by the surviving bearer of horrific birth defects).

Abrasive, accusatory, despairing and, more than often enough, quite unforgettable fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-28990-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2008

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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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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