Consistently fine, with a few flashes of greatness.




The male mind in all manners of disarray takes center stage in Amdahl’s solid collection.

The title story opens with a hockey player’s memory of having his teeth knocked out—the sort of thing that happens fairly often to Amdahl’s characters. Violence pervades these stories, from the struggles of a schizophrenic wrestler in “The Flyweight” to the brutal union battles of “The Free Fall” to a murderous Green Beret in “Narrow Road to the Deep North.” It’s less a subject, though, than a symptom. At root, these are rages born of impotence, the frustrated, furious flailings of men who have come to realize—sometimes consciously, sometimes not—that what they’ve long suspected is true: The world is at best an indifferent place, and they have little dominion over it. “The Barber-Chair” details the collapse of a relationship in the aftermath of a tragic sledding accident. In “The Volunteer,” a man finds himself setting fire to a pair of $50 bills he can scarcely spare in a desperate, doomed attempt at asserting himself after a physical humiliation. “Flight From California” follows a man as he drives cross-country with a dying dog in a flagging Escort, fleeing the state’s strange energy and the vague cloud of anxiety that has troubled him there. These are characters in transition, men forced, often suddenly, to contend with the gap between their delicate illusions of self and the realities at hand. Amdahl captures these battles in precise, gorgeous language, conjuring up in his best stories imagery that, with its beauty and physicality and violence, stays with the reader

Consistently fine, with a few flashes of greatness.

Pub Date: April 20, 2006

ISBN: 1-57131-051-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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