A new collection of 15 stories from Australian-born Hospital (Borderline, 1985; Dislocations, 1988), sometimes uneven in quality but all with a distinctive voice. Taking her theme from the title story, in which ``particular isobars (imaginary lines connecting parts of equal pressure on a map) connect lines where the pressure of memory exerts an equivalent force,'' Hospital moves back and forth across time and continents as she explores these points of recall. In the most accomplished piece (``The Last of the Habsburgs''), a schoolteacher, because of some past scandal, can teach only in the wilds of Australia, where she relieves the tedium by keeping scrapbooks in which she records past travels and the progress of promising students—like Hazel and Rebecca, who with her once witnessed a crude act of violation by local boys, which taught her that ``the acts of men, even when they are boys, are shouts that rip open the signs that try to contain them.'' Other notables are: ``The Second Coming of Come-by-Chance,'' in which a drought foments apocalyptic fervor and threatens to reveal a community's long- hidden secret; ``The Loss of Faith,'' in which an Australian professor, now teaching in the US, believes he sees his first wife in a crowd and, recalling that time, realizes how much has been lost; and ``Queen of Pentacles, Nine of Swords,'' in which a Canadian woman observes the downward spiral of a doomed Indian woman friend, whose life has been ruined by an arranged marriage. At times the memory-connections theme becomes an irritating constraint, but for the most part these are richly evocative stories, especially of Australia and people defined forever by their past. A subtle and intelligent writer.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 1991

ISBN: 0-8071-1710-2

Page Count: 177

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1991

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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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