These stories reaffirm Busch’s familiar vision of good deeds counting for little in a dangerous world.




The missions of the title give a thematic unity to this dark collection of 15 stories from Busch (North, 2005, etc.), who died last February.

Death haunts this collection. In “I Am the News,” two brothers, one thriving, the other facing ruin, meet after the death of their father, a proud former Marine. Though the successful brother and his father were ideological foes, he respects the Marine ethos and looks out for his kid brother. Another veteran figures in the far more effective “Good to Go.” Patrick, back from Iraq, has just bought a surplus army gun. Can his frantic parents wrest it away from this hard young man they no longer know? “Metal Fatigue” is another small gem. Harold is visiting daughter Linda in a mental hospital after her suicide attempt. Deranged, yet shockingly lucid, she uses another family tragedy, her grandfather’s death, to browbeat her loving dad. That tight focus is missing from the off-key “The Bottom of the Glass,” in which an obese, interracial married couple travels to France to console a distant relative after her second husband’s death. Passionate sex as an antidote to death (the point of “One Last Time for Old Times’ Sake”) is tiresomely delayed by talk about death during a lovers’ final tryst, while in “The Small Salvation,” a middle-aged man’s liberating sexual encounter with a kindergarten teacher is clouded by memories of his wife’s death. In the title story, Edward is a staffer at a Rescue Mission. He knows all about abuse (his mother was killed by an abusive boyfriend) yet his attempt to help a doomed young woman is unavailing. And when, in “The Hay Behind the House,” compassionate Cara travels upstate from New York to save her parents from old age, it’s her mother who saves her from rape.

These stories reaffirm Busch’s familiar vision of good deeds counting for little in a dangerous world.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-393-06252-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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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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