Perhaps “flash fiction” is the name for these stories, but Heynen has been writing them since before that term came into...



A collection of very short pieces—some less than one page, none longer than two—that find inspiration in character sketches written by the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus.

Heynen (The One-room Schoolhouse: Stories About the Boys, 1993, etc.) suggests in his introduction that the “brief verbal snapshots” of his classic model provided the genesis of this collection; the title and the gentle humor throughout attest to his own generosity of spirit. Only one character has a name—the protagonist of the final story, “John Doe” (and he moves through pseudonyms in a “pursuit of anonymity” that draws more unwanted attention to him). Every other protagonist (and the majority of these stories have only one character) is an Everyman or -woman characterized by some eccentricity that may seem odd but isn’t evil and makes for some sort of common bond with the rest of the human menagerie. The author suggests that he might even be “mocking himself” in some of these pieces, “several of which are thinly disguised self-portraits.” You might not want to invite him home if he’s the hero of “Keeping One’s Secret,” whose “secret was that he urinated wherever he pleased.” Many of the stories, like that one, are essentially character description without the sort of chronological progression that could be termed plot, but those with some action read more like parables or fables. “The Girl and the Cherry Tree” is about a girl who's warned that “if you don’t stop eating so many cherries, cherries will start growing out of your ears.” And they do! As a pre-emptive strike, “The Book Reviewer” suggests the sort of disdain that the author of such a collection might feel toward those who will try to categorize it, concluding that it’s “all a matter of taste, anyhow.”

Perhaps “flash fiction” is the name for these stories, but Heynen has been writing them since before that term came into vogue.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-57131-090-3

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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