Entertaining, well-written stories that carry a deeper message.

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The Masters Workshop Collection

Diverse, stimulating assortment of nine short stories by a veteran short story writer and English professor at Texas A&M University.

This brief collection features a variety of themes and plotlines, but most of the stories share some commonalities: settings in the southwestern United States (mainly in the author’s own state of Texas) and characters who either drink too much themselves or are affected by the drinking habits of others. In the opening story, “Atonement Circle,” Roger, a priest currently without a flock, is camping out at his mother’s pristine, white-colored ranch while dealing with the aftermath of his divorce; ostensibly, he’s writing his book, but primarily, he’s drinking scotch from a coffee mug. His peaceful retreat, not to mention his mother’s virginal decor, is destroyed by two housebreaking ex-cons. In “Playa Conchal,” Danny is called to a nursing home where his father, Donald, suffering from a rare form of dementia, believes he is vacationing in Costa Rica. Cornelius takes a familiar enough theme—the heartbreaking effects of dementia—and twists it into a story of hope and living one’s last days to the fullest. Even “Black Stag,” despite a dubious beginning featuring a stag as the protagonist and narrator, emerges as another inspiring tale of two species caring for one another. “The Art of Brunch” is an enjoyable, if slightly predictable, cautionary tale illustrating the old saying “you can’t buy class.” Most unique, and perhaps least successful, of the nine stories is the eponymous and final offering, “Masters Workshop,” about three afflicted children who gather at the behest of Logan Stane. In this story, Cornelius tries too hard to build suspense, constructing unnecessary back stories that detract from the simple tale of a miracle. Cornelius excels at creating memorable and generally likable (despite some flaws) characters. His writing is clean and free of errors, as one would expect from an English professor.

Entertaining, well-written stories that carry a deeper message.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500881108

Page Count: 140

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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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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