Stylistically, these stories are very much from another era (two of them were originally published under the pseudonym...

THE MONKEY'S WEDDING AND OTHER STORIES

Darkly whimsical stories, most of them from the 1950s and six of them previously unpublished, by the late author best known for the fanciful Wolves of Willoughby Chase series and Jane Austen sequels.

Aiken, who died in 2004, was a kind of modern folklorist whose stories (many of which were featured in Argosy) include a repressed English vicar reincarnated as a brazen cat, a mini-mermaid no one wants except the seaman who found her (but can't keep her), a forlorn 4-year-old boy summoned from the past by the sound of music, an ad writer haunted by octopuses and the chain-smoking devil himself. Then there's Midsummer Village, which is targeted by a millionaire developer blind to its legendary beauty, which is so great that it exists for only three days a year. Even in her more realistic stories, there's a sense of people getting pulled by unexplained or unseen forces, most affectingly in "The Monkey's Wedding," in which an elderly artist goes to reclaim his celebrated painting of a German-occupied Eastern European town, 50 years after the work fell into Nazi hands, and his crusty aged mother who discovers the grandson she never knew she had. Whatever the outcome of these tales, however deep the themes, Aiken writes with surpassing spirit and alertness, never ceasing to find interest or amazement in the traps people set for themselves. Some of the stories are slight, but Aiken's elegant restraint and dry wit never fail to leave their mark.

Stylistically, these stories are very much from another era (two of them were originally published under the pseudonym Nicholas Dee), but the moral insights in them are timeless.

Pub Date: April 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-931520-74-4

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Small Beer Press

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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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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