An ebulliently realistic collection from savvy British screenwriter and novelist Kureishi (The Black Album, 1995, etc.). It's refreshing to read a writer of such alert and unaffected skill. Unlike American minimalists, Kureishi looks outward and into the lives of others, coming back with fiction that is large, rugged, and true. And his canny imagination avoids sentimental missteps. In ``The Flies,'' for instance, chronicling an infestation of insects in the life of a young couple, he writes with a mordant flair for the parable and grotesque that recalls Kafka: ``At night he begins to dream of ragged bullet-shaped holes chewed in fetid fabric, and of creamy white eggs hatching in darkness. In his mind he hears the amplified rustle of gnawing, chewing, devouring.'' Kureishi is above all a social observer, offering shrewd reports on a generation of urban Brits who've survived their youth and don't know what's supposed to happen next: career, money, marriage, or the more vertiginous and splendid pleasures of liberty prolonged. Avoiding moral judgment, he can sympathize with all concerned—while sporadically tweaking them, as he does particularly well in ``The Tale of the Turd,'' in which a 44-year-old ne'er-do-well goes to dinner at the home of his 18- year-old girlfriend's all too respectable parents. Existentially uneasy, he winds up in the loo, mid-supper, with one big problem to face: ``I glance at the turd and notice little teeth in its velvet head, and a little mouth opening.'' After semi-mortal combat with this unwanted guest, he throws it out the window: ``On, on, one goes, despite everything, not knowing why or how.'' Kureishi's characters do mostly choose to go on, even when they've run out of drugs, money, lodging, and friends. The charm of their jaunty style of perseverance is not small. Some find a moment's redemption or two in Kureishi's ever more apt evocations of sex, earthily unromantic and serenely accurate. Roguish intelligence is everywhere here.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-83794-3

Page Count: 217

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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