The stories are dated, true, but even Welsh’s leftovers still have enough whiplash to leave a mark.

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REHEATED CABBAGE

A blast from the past: eight doses of Scotsploitation and ultraviolence from Welsh’s poisonous pen (Crime, 2008, etc.).

While the characters who populate his novels are aging far from gracefully, fans will still likely be happy to see their familiar faces in this collection of 1990s work rescued from various anthologies and now-defunct magazines. Welsh also contributes a new story, “I Am Miami,” the most substantive and best-written of the lot. It demonstrates several of the author’s strengths, simultaneously drawing an unkindly, realistic portrait of an aging, widowed schoolteacher, Albert Black, and disrupting his elegiac reflections with the sudden appearance of two riotous characters from Glue (2001), “Juice” Terry Lawson and Carl Ewart, now a world-famous DJ known as N-Sign. Though Black beat the boys mercilessly in school, they remember him quite differently. In a profane, hilarious exclamation, Lawson declares he always thought he’d want to give his former schoolmaster a right good kicking, but with a heroic dose of Ecstasy kicking in, he just wants to hug the old man. Drugs also figure prominently in “The State of the Party,” which combines Welsh’s gift for depicting the ravages of heroin use with gleefully black humor as two baked junkies play an Edinburgh-flavored version of Weekend at Bernie’s with their late comrade. Another recurring cast member, psychotic Francis Begbie from Trainspotting, narrates the blasphemous “Elspeth’s Boyfriend,” during which Franco can’t resist ruining Christmas by assaulting the titular offender. Another standout is the notorious “Catholic Guilt (You Know You Love It),” an uncomfortable parable about a homophobic street thug who gets his just desserts. For something completely different, there’s “The Rosewell Incident,” a rare venture into science fiction during which aliens who adopt an Edinburgh brogue have trouble getting their point across.

The stories are dated, true, but even Welsh’s leftovers still have enough whiplash to leave a mark.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-33802-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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