A country-hopping collection of engaging, high-stakes tales by Europe watchers.

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FRACTUS EUROPA

An anthology of short stories chronicles the splintering face of contemporary Europe.

This collection of tales, set in the backrooms and alleys of Europe, presents a continent that has never been more interconnected—and perhaps never in so much danger of coming apart. In Constantine Bouchagiar’s “Shifting Syrian Sands,” a Syrian in Germany sets out to help his fellow refugees, though as he grows more successful, his actions become less altruistic. Preston Smith offers “The Promised Land,” a spy thriller set in Latvia’s border with Russia, where a former Riga police officer investigating a human trafficking syndicate finds more trouble than he bargained for. In Graham Thomas’ “Beaches and Banks,” two expatriate bankers living in Cyprus find themselves working for the same firm. It should be great—they are drinking buddies, after all—until Tom Graham discovers some suspicious practices being carried out by his friend Bob Anastasi. In “Prose and Politics,” Nick Eaden imagines a Scottish politician who thinks he’s finally found an economic solution to his country’s independence from England: previously undiscovered fuel reserves in the North Sea. Unless, of course, the information is just a trick of Russian hackers. The collection’s authors, by and large, are not known for their fiction. Instead, they are journalists, academics, and other experts from the world of international affairs. This gives the book, edited by Anderson and Dunn, a different feel from your average thriller: The details are exact, the structures surprising, and the pacing a bit slower than readers might expect. Even the lengths of the tales—often 30 pages or more—vary from normal short fiction fare. Some are better than others—Thomas’ and Smith’s stories are the standouts—but all provide a provocative window into some corner of contemporary European life that Americans, in particular, are unlikely to have spent much time considering. The foreword and the afterword are both concerned with threats to democracy across the continent, and many of the tales hint darkly at future problems. Whether readers share similar fears or are just looking for stories full of international intrigue, they will find much to enjoy in this wide-ranging anthology.

A country-hopping collection of engaging, high-stakes tales by Europe watchers.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9985742-8-8

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2020

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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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