Given its uneven mix of offerings, this latest collection from Masterton (Petrified, 2011, etc.) ultimately confirms a...

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FESTIVAL OF FEAR

A collection of a dozen new horror stories ranging from the clever to the tired, all with an undercurrent of graphic violence, some steeped in gore.

The very best of the batch may be the first. “The Press” is a fast-paced anecdote about an author who deals just revenge to savage reviewers. Other tales that borrow from childhood fables, like “Anka,” which owes a debt to the folklore villain Baba Yaga, add too little to their sources to be wholly successful. “The Burgers of Calais” is a predictable story that’s been told before; in fact, its title may give away its surprise about the secret behind the mystery meat in a local restaurant. Others, like “Camelot” and “Reflection of Evil,” seem to be incompletely separated twins circling around the same theme. “Sepsis” may please true gross-out fans, although readers less attuned to the physically macabre may wonder what motivates the lead character, and who’s likely to enjoy the lovingly described details of deviance. Still others depend more on their nonhorrifying details for whatever interest they generate, like the strange emotional quirks of characters in “Dog Days” and “The Scrawler.” With the final tale, “Sarcophagus,” and a fair number of others, readers will either get the point or not.

Given its uneven mix of offerings, this latest collection from Masterton (Petrified, 2011, etc.) ultimately confirms a hallowed rule of storytelling: the shorter, the better.

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7278-6408-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Severn House

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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