Precisely written, deeply human stories.


A debut collection of stories that are both challenging and compelling, with narrative perspectives that suggest how difficult it is to know oneself (let alone anyone else).

Though the protagonists of some of these stories go unnamed and some narratives address the reader directly (as “you”), Orozco isn’t indulging in postmodern wordplay or academic exercises. A creative-writing teacher (formerly at Stanford, now at the University of Idaho) and much-anthologized writer, he shows a keen sense of the processes and limits of social interaction, particularly in the workplace. The short title story that opens the collection takes the reader on a new hire’s tour of the office, as the supervisor’s account makes various employees’ relationships seem increasingly pathological. “Officers Weep” relates a romance in the form of a police blotter, as entries detailing the beat of a male and female partner become amplified, surreal and/or absurd. In “Only Connect,” robbery, murder and their complications take E.M. Forster’s aphorism into territory he never anticipated. The weakest and longest story, “Somoza’s Dream,” doesn’t seem to fit with the rest, as it relates the life, fate and offhand brutality of a deposed Latin American dictator and his “chain of disappointment in this life of exile.” “The Bridge” gives the perspective of bridge painters on suicidal “jumpers.” “Hunger Tales” offers four vignettes with unnamed characters whose very specific hungers will never be satisfied.  A workout fanatic in “I Run Every Day” has the illusion that he has transformed himself into “another person,” yet it’s plain that he lacks any reflective understanding of who he was or is. Perhaps the most moving is “Temporary Stories,” about an in-demand temp who is both part of the office and apart from it, who knows less and more than her fellow workers, and who loves her trip home because “no one is alone on a bus.”

Precisely written, deeply human stories.

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-86547-853-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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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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