WESTERN ELECTRIC

Selected by Oscar Hijuelos, this 1996 winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award brings together eight stories set in the West, predominantly in Wyoming. As unadorned as the western plains, these tales feature some distinctive characters described in functional, no-frills prose. Originally published in literary magazines, Zancanella's tales move back and forth in time, summoning both the wild days of the 19th century and the present age of corporate ranching. They also explore the days between these eras, including the Cold War period, when Wyoming was first dotted by missile silos. Those edgy times are recalled in ``Disarmament,'' the story of a teacher in remote Wyoming who strikes up a friendship with a military man in charge of maintaining the now-empty silos. The '60s also meant the dawn of TV on the range, an event celebrated in ``Television Lies,'' tracing the excitement evoked in isolated homes by the first transmissions from Cheyenne. ``Cynthia Rising'' explores an uneasy cross-cultural friendship between an Indian boy, living in a small western town, and several of his white classmates. ``Thomas Edison by Moonlight'' views the famous man from the perspective of a 16- year-old aspiring inventor who seeks Edison out, only to discover that the Wizard of Menlo Park is as much a huckster as a genius, traveling in the West in search of pliable investors, not kindred spirits; the 19th-century journal-writer of ``The Chimpanzees of Wyoming'' records his affection for the two apes he displays in saloons across the West. Zancanella's interest in the eccentric figures attracted to the frontier is also in evidence in the contemporary tale of a waitress in Montana who invents an alternate self—an astronomer who predicts the end of the world, to be signalled by a solar eclipse. ``The Electric Evangelist'' chronicles the spiritual conversion of a telephone lineman after he survives being struck by lightning. An earnest debut—Zancanella could develop into a regional writer of interest.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 1996

ISBN: 0-87745-567-8

Page Count: 130

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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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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