There are so many of these brief, unspectacular stories by the Panamanian Levi that eventually their very number overwhelms. Many of the tales involve male-female relationships, usually with a heavy dose of machismo. In ``The Husband,'' a man spots a woman, apparently a former lover, with her new husband and punches him in the face. In ``While He Lay Sleeping,'' Carlos fantasizes about his first girlfriend, who used to sit and watch while he lifted weights: ``How beautiful her tits look from that angle, so tightly fit into her sweater''). In ``As If There Were Nothing the Matter,'' a woman ponders her sleeping, unfaithful husband, who has slapped her. ``On the Afternoon of the Encounter'' follows a man who fears that his lover is ignoring him and implores friends to find out what is the matter. Other types of sexuality abound here as well, but they are posited as unnatural curiosities. The narrator of ``I'm in Love With You, Sylvia'' watches a neighbor undressing every night, then reveals herself to be a woman. In ``The Spectacle,'' a story that reads like a synopsis of a Penthouse Forum letter, a man takes three female lovers and the four of them eventually begin sleeping together (mainly because the man desires two women at once but is too polite to leave the third out in the cold). When he dies, the three women remain in his home with the three sons they have borne him. There are also tales that manage to render surreal transformation mundane: The narrator of ``The Glasses'' turns into an owl after donning a new pair of spectacles. Although the stories are divided into vaguely titled sections such as ``Alienations,'' ``Incidents,'' and ``Re- Incidents,'' they come at the reader one after the other, never staying long enough to build up any impact. The translation is occasionally jerky, but generally serviceable. Forgettable.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-935480-65-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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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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