A seventh collection of nine stories and a novella from the National Book Awardwinner (The Age of Miracles, 1995, etc.) offers an indomitable cast of characters, including the return of a favorite, the unsinkable Nora Jane. Now married to Freddy Harwood and mother to ten-year-old twin girls, Nora Jane figures in several pieces here, including the novella ``Nora Jane and Company.'' Freddy, Nora Jane, and their devoted shadow Nieman Gluuk are such endearing, gentle, happy souls that some pretty severe external forces are needed to punch up the plot. But for this Berkeley bunch, not the assassination by fanatics of a visiting poet, the bombing of Freddy's bookstore by pro-life extremists, or a visitation by the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci can puncture their charmed perspective on life. Following the novella is a story tracing Nora Jane's hectic childhood in New Orleans that throws light on the origins of her exuberant personality. There's also Dan the Golden Retriever, the title character in ``The Dog Who Delivered Papers to the Stars,'' who's caught in a domestic dispute and shot in the neck by a disgruntled husband. Miraculously, he survives, is taken in by a young man with AIDS, and serves as the catalyst for a variety of domestic rearrangements and reprisals. The best of the tales, ``A Man Who Looked Like Me,'' portrays a woman, now in midlife, reveling in the memory of her high school sweetheart. Reflections on the man she should have married, ``a young man who would never be mean, never fail at anything, never be cruel, never stop knowing life was funny,'' are nourishing but not bittersweet, for all of Gilchrist's characters have an admirable zest for life. A winning collection, filled with humor, love, and just enough human meanness to make things interesting. Gilchrist knows how to tell a story.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 1996

ISBN: 0-316-31478-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1996

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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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