A stimulating, if intermittently opaque, collection of discursive stories and even less fully fictionalized humorous pieces from the savvy-surrealistic author of Infinite Jest (1996), etc. Though few of the tales here contain conventionally developed characters or narrative situations, most feature instantly recognizable generic figures. Embattled parents and siblings dominate such eerie concoctions as “Signifying Nothing,” in which a primal scene perhaps expressing male dominance has a lasting effect on a son’s relationship with his father; and a powerfully imaginative torrent of Oedipal rivalry spoken “On his Deathbed . . . [by] the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father . . . ,” “The Depressed Person” blandly skewers the culture of self-absorption and psychotherapy (while neatly mocking the latter’s passion for clinical precision), and “Datum Centurio” gets impressive comic mileage out of its brief parody of an etymological dictionary entry. Sex rears its comely, come-hither head in the chronicling (in “Forever Overhead—) of the perplexing sensations of adolescence in full eruption, and particularly in “Adult World,” a deliriously expanding Robert Coover—like fantasy spun from a young wife’s fretful confusion about pleasing-vs.- offending her docile husband. Most interesting are the title “stories,” divided into four installments scattered throughout, and variously delineating men’s alienation from, and misunderstanding of, women: the amputee who considers his mutilated arm a “Sexual Asset”; the self-consciousness of a hotel men’s-room attendant (wreathed in “The ghastly metastasized odors of continental breakfasts and business dinners”); the loves of Tristan and Isolde and Narcissus and Echo reshaped for the cable-TV audience by network executive “Agon M. Nar.” Postadolescent whimsy mingled with postmodernist horseplay: this isn’t a book that can be consumed in sizable chunks. Still, Wallace is a witty guide to the fragmented, paranoid Way We Live Now, someone perhaps poised to become the 21st-century’s Robert Benchley or James Thurber—both a frightening and a beguiling prospect.

Pub Date: May 28, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-92541-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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