With four fine novels (Kiss of the Wolf, 1994, etc.) to his credit, Shepard seems to be something of a writer's writer—he's rightly admired by critics and his peers, but a wider readership has yet to develop. This first collection of 14 expert tales could easily be the work to gain Shepard greater visibility—it's smart, economical, and each story displays that most elusive quality: integrity. The volume is divided into two sections, one on ``strangers,'' the other on ``family.'' The first group impresses with its wide array of distinctive, convincing voices. In the title story, a former major-league ballplayer takes a job in pre-revolutionary Cuba, where the championship series prefigures the Cold War. Another jock, the narrator of ``Messiah,'' unsparingly describes his maniacal teammate, a female-abusing, violent superstar. A short piece, ``Reach for the Sky,'' unerringly brings to life an animal- shelter worker who thanklessly deals with the erstwhile owners of abandoned dogs; another captures the self-defining lingo of fighter pilots (``Who We Are, What We're Doing''). Other voices Shepard channels include a clueless adolescent girl on a mission to uplift a poor friend (``Spending the Night with the Poor''), and in a memoiristic tale, German director F.W. Murnau during the making of his epochal film Nosferatu. The stories in the family section explore such things as the nature and particulars of growing up ethnic and Catholic, the struggles to communicate within a family, and the painful loss of loved ones. The effect of an Italian grandmother's death is traced in ``Touch of the Dead''; ``Eustace'' is nothing less than a Catholic version of Philip Roth's great story ``Conversion of the Jews'': A parochial schoolboy infuriates nuns with his persistent, troubling questions. And ``Mars Attacks,'' one of several wrenching pieces about brothers, uses a wrangle over that infamous trading-card series to chronicle the difficult relations of two siblings. A virtuoso collection.

Pub Date: June 6, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44668-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1996

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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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