This is the ideal book to pop into a bag or keep in the car and carry to pass the time, since the stories are short, easy to...

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AND THEREBY HANGS A TALE

A collection of O. Henry–esque stories from British author Archer (Sons of Fortune, 2003, etc.).

The prolific author of novels, plays and screenplays returns to the story format with this book of whimsical, sometimes ironic pieces. Some work, some don't, but even the least of these is entertaining. The title, taken from a line penned by Shakespeare, sets up the premise of the book, which opens with the tale of a young man betrothed to a beautiful woman who is clearly above his station. After he successfully proposes, she in turn proposes an endeavor that tests their relationship, as well as his mettle. This story, like the others, is designed to give the reader a bit of an O. Henry moment and hinges on the idea that nothing is as it seems. "Better the Devil You Know" is a particularly satisfying tale in which an evil, ailing corporate mogul is given a second chance at life, while an innocent pays the price. In the end, though, true to Archer’s theme, someone gets an unexpected and unpalatable comeuppance. There is nothing in this collection that will stick with readers once the covers close. It’s not great art, but it is great, slightly old-fashioned entertainment, marked by simplicity and unpretentiousness—that’s good enough to turn someone who doesn’t normally read short stories into a fan of the genre.

This is the ideal book to pop into a bag or keep in the car and carry to pass the time, since the stories are short, easy to read and simple.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-53953-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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