A punchy array of ruminations that perfectly mirrors its title.


A short story collection that’ll get you thinking about New York grit, sex, and punk.

In these 14 new and selected stories and one novella, an expansive cast of characters navigates through aging and sexuality. Indiana’s (Last Seen Entering the Biltmore, 2010, etc.) work plunges its reader right into the middle of the action. For example, in “Romanian Conversation,” two American men discuss vices and promiscuity, but the conversation occurs without any context. Readers have no idea who these characters are, nor are they ever really told what the background is. This is the common denominator throughout the work. Indiana moves through language like he moves through his topics, though he stays sharp and pithy. A sentence, however stripped of context it may be, encapsulates a certain comforting wholeness: “The air conditioning would freeze whatever idee fixe was keeping me awake into a solid cube of thought.” Indiana uses these self-reflexive moments to play with genre as well. In “One Size Fits All,” Indiana opens with “This is fiction,” and continues a few pages later with, “Now for another fiction.” Constantly, the author is cheekily aware that he is writing, and this is precisely what keeps the reader hooked: “Whatever it is you are thinking, that’s not what’s going on. Listen: to be alive...to finish this page: if it had all been to forget you, you’d have been forgotten long ago.” But the book climaxes in its novella, Rent Boy, in which Indiana sheds an illuminating light on male escorts and the intricacies of the relationships they build with their clients.

A punchy array of ruminations that perfectly mirrors its title.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9912196-6-7

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Itna Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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