CHANGES AND DREAMS

A second collection (after The Medlar Tree—not reviewed) of 13 carefully crafted stories from Beagan, a Welsh poet and writer, offers gentle evocations of time and place but seems finally rather bland. Set mostly in Wales, the pieces here are contemporary in their concerns and struggles—divorced women, children stalked by a molester—but are also often suffused with a sense of an older time, a time when druids kept the sacred shrines, life was lived close to the land, and children spent their lives largely out of doors, exploring the countryside. Two of the more notable tales are ``Glut,'' in which a no-nonsense wife and mother, learning of her husband's infidelity with a wealthy neighbor (whose bumper plum crop the wife has frugally made into jam), must struggle to rebuild her domestic kingdom; and ``Snatches of Guilty Time,'' in which a woman recently widowed attends a creative-writing course on the island of Anglesey (``the last bastion of the druids'') and finds that her imaginative appreciation of the island's old powers to heal and evoke love allow her finally to accept her husband's death. Other notables concern a child's increasingly violent encounters with a molester (``Green Eggs and Larches''); the life of a divorced woman, ``old enough now not to want winter,'' who teaches literature in a small town, an activity she describes while ruefully recalling the past and anticipating her evening meeting with a new lover, a very correct middle-aged man who quotes Donne (``Women of a Certain Age''); and a young woman who discovers the truth about her dead father when she attends her mother's second wedding (``The Gingerbread House''). In the title story, a grandmother, seeing her first lover and childhood playmate again, recalls the past, her disastrous marriage, and fantasizes about what might have been. Tales of loss and desperation unfortunately too pallid to resonate fully.

Pub Date: May 22, 1997

ISBN: 1-85411-173-6

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Dufour

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

THE HIDDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

Science fiction author (The Wall of Storms, 2016) and translator (The Redemption of Time, Baoshu, 2019) Liu’s short stories explore the nature of identity, consciousness, and autonomy in hostile and chaotic worlds.

Liu deftly and compassionately draws connections between a genetically altered girl struggling to reconcile her human and alien sides and 20th-century Chinese young men who admire aspects of Western culture even as they confront its xenophobia (“Ghost Days”). A poor salvager on a distant planet learns to channel a revolutionary spirit through her alter ego of a rabbit (“Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard”). In “Byzantine Empathy,” a passionate hacktivist attempts to upend charitable giving through blockchain and VR technology even as her college roommate, an executive at a major nonprofit, fights to co-opt the process, a struggle which asks the question of whether pure empathy is possible—or even desired—in our complex geopolitical structure. Much of the collection is taken up by a series of overlapping and somewhat repetitive stories about the singularity, in which human minds are scanned and uploaded to servers, establishing an immortal existence in virtuality, a concept which many previous SF authors have already explored exhaustively. (Liu also never explains how an Earth that is rapidly becoming depleted of vital resources somehow manages to indefinitely power servers capable of supporting 300 billion digital lives.) However, one of those stories exhibits undoubted poignance in its depiction of a father who stubbornly clings to a flesh-and-blood existence for himself and his loved ones in the rotting remains of human society years after most people have uploaded themselves (“Staying Behind”). There is also some charm in the title tale, a fantasy stand-alone concerning a young woman snatched from her home and trained as a supernaturally powered assassin who retains a stubborn desire to seek her own path in life.

A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982134-03-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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