Unlike Old Love (1979), which offered a perfectly balanced mixture of Singer's Old World (passionate, mystical) and his autobiographical New World (comic, whimsical), this new story collection is weighted heavily—and a little monotonically—toward Old World tales of wayward lust, doomed triangles, and tortured sinners. And the zestiest of these wry yet feverish morality plays is the brief "On the Way to the Poorhouse," which plays a sly game with reader expectations: the story's opening pages churn up more than a little sympathy for paralyzed prostitute Tsilka, who's about to be deported to the Lublin poorhouse by the townsfolk Of Janow, but Tsilka—a veritable embodiment of lust itself, perhaps even "she-demon"—proves to be more than capable of looking out for her own interests. Elsewhere, too, Singer's familiar ambivalence about sin—sometimes recoiling in horror from its power, sometimes surrendering with a shrug—can add ironic texture to rather flat studies in disastrous passion. But quite often here the stories of temptation and reception are un-attractively reminiscent of Singer's most recent, most moralizing novel, The Penitent—while only a few of the Old World tales go beyond the lust-and-greed formula: the intriguing "Why Heisherik Was Born," with its portrait of compulsive martyrdom; a mini-satire of Jewish-leftist politics in 1936 Poland; an effective account of an encounter with "astral" nemesis. And the modestly amusing "Confused" is the only piece this time in Singer's up-to-date confessional vein—with the famous writer farcically pursued by at least two disturbed women. ("I am in need of a psychiatrist myself, but since I believe neither in Freud nor in Adler or Jung, who could be my healer?") Less comic, varied, and compelling than the best Singer collections, then, with only fleeting glimpses of the Writers' Club and the "literary cafeteria"—but a generous, vigorous gathering nonetheless.

Pub Date: June 1, 1985

ISBN: 0374520798

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1985

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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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