More tales of Orkney, told in the rhythms of an ancient oral history and infused with primordial magic and generational plotting, from the late (1921—96) Scottish poet, novelist, and playwright (Winter Tales, 1996, etc.). Like a certain blind bard of Greece, Brown in his later years felt it was his duty to give future generations of his countrymen a record of their origins and fate. Of the six stories here, the strongest, —The Fortress,— spans what seems like a hundred generations as it tells how the people of Gurness came by the conical stone tower that protects them. The steely guardian watcher, Jandreck, keeps himself aloof from petty diversions, waiting for the raiders who always arrive, eventually. Peace falls upon the oft-ravaged islands, yet Jandreck keeps on watching: a bard has predicted that his failure will one day lead to the death of them all. In his dotage, Jandreck falls for a plain girl he spies collecting whelks by the seashore; bitter over the waste of his life, he invites her in . . . . The title story of uncanny and tragic love between seal and woman shows how nature can supply islanders with a language for their unexpressed inner life. Sometimes, though, Brown wanders well off the track, though it’s a tendency he himself seems to defend: —If I were to relate them all, this story . . . would lose all proportion and meaning.— Even so, there’s frequently a trick hidden in his discursiveness. In that title piece and —The Wanderer’s Tale,— Brown spins a yarn in a voice as old as time, then pulls back to reveal an —author——in the former case, a skeptical monk; in the latter, a laird isolated from village life. Many are the pleasures to be had from surrendering to the voice and guidance of a master. Lovers of Scotland (and of language) won—t be disappointed.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 1998

ISBN: 0-7195-5869-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: John Murray/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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