A welcome arrival from Canada, Hollingshead (in his first US publication) points out a new direction to readers tired of the nihilistic banalities of postmodernism. Immediately striking about Hollingshead (author of three story collections and a novel in Canada) is the gravity of his voice, which is authorial and strong even in its comic mode. The narration is unambiguous and sharp throughout this collection, even when the narrator—as is often the case—hasn't the first clue as to what's really going on around him. Thus, the homeowner protagonist of ``The Side of the Elements'' who sublets his house for a year and returns to find strangers holding a wake in his living room, can manage to be poised and philosophical in the midst of his confusion. The writer-in-residence of ``Rose Cottage'' is even more unflappable: After trying to come to the aid of a wealthy elderly lady whom he suspects of being beaten by her nurse, he finds himself passively succumbing to the advances of her middle-aged son. There is a tendency toward bizarre revelations among many of Hollingshead's characters. The real estate man of ``The Appraisal'' who comes to look at a house, take pictures and check the plumbing, talks like a character out of the Book of Revelations (``Maybe last year you could get more. Now nothing is selling. The West has entered a long economic as well as moral decline''). And the sleazy landlord of ``How Happy They Were,'' who guts his buildings, exploits his tenants, and blithely steals an exchange student's girlfriend, turns out to be a member of an exotic cult. Wild, weird, and wonderful: Hollingshead has perfectly fitted his voice to his subject and crafted these tales with astonishing skill.

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-399-14222-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1997

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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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