Hapless young men from Pittsburgh and environs confront life's grim realities in ten stories by Fincke (The Double Negatives of Living, 1992, etc.—not reviewed), many of which first appeared in quarterlies. Seven are set in the late 60's and early 70's in Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, where characters' primary concern is to avoid the draft; the other three, set in current times, look backward with a bleak brand of nostalgia. In the opening story, ``The Nazi on the Phone,'' a Kent State graduate student, trying to hang on to his deferment in the autumn after the National Guard shootings, reluctantly goes hunting for a town-based group of Nazis with his somewhat paranoid friend Dick. In the title story, a 19-year-old bakery worker discusses politics and air pollution with the bigoted, drunken, or half-informed people around him, all of whom seem headed for disaster—a condition symbolized by the town's two bridges, one rotted away, the other leading nowhere. In the ambitious ``Tinderbox,'' the loudmouthed Blevins, housemate of the protagonist in an Oxford, Ohio, fleabag, unwisely chooses the afternoon before the assassination of Martin Luther King to jeer and bait the neighborhood's black mailman; only by the unlikely intervention of their histrionic, gun-toting landlord are the two tenants later saved from immolation by a crowd of black people. These are not pleasant stories, mostly because the main characters tend to remain neutral in the face of crudely depicted evil. The nostalgic pieces—including ``The Man Who Played for the Skyliners,'' ``My Father Told Me,'' and ``Story Stories''—are subtler: in the last, and perhaps most accomplished here, a fortysomething father's moral indifference when implicated in an old high-school classmate's nervous breakdown—having something to do with his stint in Vietnam—finally shades off into empathy and kindness. For the most part, though, Fincke's stories are somewhat gritty and unpolished—a kind of lesser Bobbie Ann Mason for men.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-56689-013-6

Page Count: 185

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1993

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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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