So it goes—a quip here, a chilling remark there, but the depictions are uniformly of life on the edge, where meaning...

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ROMANCER ERECTOR

SHORT STORIES AND A NOVELLA

At first glance something between a child’s primer and a collection of tales from the asylum, Williams’s latest (The Stupefaction, 1996, etc.) builds on her reputation as the foremost advocate of “flash fiction” with 39 quick and nimble stories and 3 novellas, offering everything from body parts to loaded questions. “May I please rape you?” ends the story “Tony,” although it’s not quite clear who’s asking. In “Is It Possible to Imagine a More Perfect Thing,” the setting is more familial, but no less strange: “My hat is better than my mother’s shoes, yet her shoes are better than these socks. My hands are better than her wristwatch.” The endless possibilities of love and copulation occupy considerable space throughout, from the quietly domestic “The missus at the foot of my chair reclines and she opens her legs so I will pet her,” in “It Can Take Years to Remain,” to a more sustained view of illicit engagement in the title novella, where, in a city by the River Urine, the Musgrave family hosts a rather randy guest who covets the boys and services the father, but not without a splash of wit: “He passes himself to me, under my gown, internally and so forth, and when my bladder’s neck is unavoidably compressed, I feel desire.”

So it goes—a quip here, a chilling remark there, but the depictions are uniformly of life on the edge, where meaning crumbles and angels fear to tread.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2001

ISBN: 1-56478-312-X

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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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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