Surprisingly moving bits on wounded love and disrespected friendship flesh out a thoroughly frightening and foreign...

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SMOKING POPPY

Paternal love grapples with opium dreams in a sharp, short, and terrifying adventure: the latest from this four-time winner of the British Fantasy Award (Indigo, 2000, etc.).

The only things going well in the life of fearfully smart but unlettered London electrician Dan Innes are the wiring, at which he’s very good, and the pub quizzes, at which he and his teammates are nearly unbeatable. Dan’s wife Sheila has left him, his son Phil has become rabidly evangelical, and now comes word that Charlie, his multiply pierced Oxford graduate daughter, from whom he has not heard in two years, has been locked up for drug smuggling in Thailand. It’s a horrible fate, but not surprising. Once the light of his life, Charlie had a spectacularly rebellious adolescence, and her fights with her old dad were killers, but who cares about old quarrels now? She’s in the worst possible trouble, and Dan will do anything to get her out. Anything, in this case, means flying to a country he knows nothing about to do battle with a government that could not care less how much he loved the child Charlie once was. Oddly enough, Dan’s quiz teammate Mick, a gregarious bachelor whose friendship has been lightly regarded, insists on coming along. He bulls his way into the action, in fact, bringing all his savings with him. And Phil, the mopey joylessly Christian son, comes too. The Chiang Mai jail is but the first stop in a hair-raising search that takes the discordant trio miles and miles into the Thai-Burmese borderland—where opium flows like water, where the law is a laugh, and where Charlie lies in a hallucinatory cell, possibly mad, definitely addicted. The Londoners find themselves de facto prisoners of the local druglord, and the possibility of a quick and safe escape seems more remote by the minute. Blood will flow, and inner resources will be tested.

Surprisingly moving bits on wounded love and disrespected friendship flesh out a thoroughly frightening and foreign adventure.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2002

ISBN: 0-671-03939-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2001

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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EXHALATION

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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