A few of these gritty tales about military men have appeared in literary magazines, but they deserve a wider audience. Miller's characters have more in common than simply being members of the armed forces; they all have trouble making decisions. For people whose profession is war, they are surprisingly averse to conflict and often try to back away from it. In ``The Rifle,'' a lieutenant delivering an officer's remains to his family becomes embroiled in a disagreement between the dead man's wife and parents over who will keep the flag to be draped over the coffin, even though all he wants to do is leave town. Women are particularly suspect and mysterious to these protagonists. ``Bethune, South Carolina'' shows a soldier dating a Duke freshman who, though Catholic, has a pretty advanced vocabulary for 1965 (``I didn't find out what ejaculate meant until the next day, when I borrowed the first sergeant's dictionary and looked it up''). When she becomes pregnant and asks for $500, he arranges a cheaper abortion through a tough comrade. A mother staying with her son at a rented vacation cabin in ``Blackstone'' (Virginia) gets involved with a hard-drinking man named Billy Murdoch—who turns out to be AWOL—and begins neglecting her boy for long stretches. In the title story, a future enlistee watches from afar while his blackguard cousin seduces a prim piano teacher. Some stories fall short. ``Vancouver,'' which intersperses the saga of a man returning home from Vietnam with wartime scenes written in the style of a film script, rambles on too long, and a few too many pieces end on a note of quiet puzzlement that eventually becomes monotonous. But in the aggregate, this is an honest collection that successfully develops such recurring themes as guns and their misuse. An impressively serious and professional debut from a man who served in Vietnam himself and obviously knows whereof he writes.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 1995

ISBN: 0-9642949-3-1

Page Count: 178

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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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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