LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE

No American writer under forty is as lavishly admired as John Barth. His two major novels, The Sot-Weed Factor, a parody of the historical romance, and Giles Goat-Boy, comic variations on technology and scientific myth, are extraordinary displays of linguistic invention, bubbly ideas, and compelling evocations of classic and contemporary absurdity. Barth can do everything except create characters or a psychological terrain capable of truly drawing the reader into his intricate designs. He is a gold mine of erudition and elliptical symbols, both used to generate a sort of nihilistic laughter which is best understood or enjoyed over a long span, virtuoso arias requiring a far-ranging ritualistic atmosphere to succeed. Thus he is not at his best in this uneven and randomly connected collection of short stories. A number of the pieces seem to be failed excursions on philosophical themes which have perhaps been excised from longer works, while others are modishly experimental, such as the cacophonous "Glossolalia," or "Frame-Tale," which "is one-, two-, or three-dimensional, whichever one regards a Moebius strip as being." "Menelaiad" and "Anonymiad," presenting Trojan War hi-jinks in mock-heroic detail are imaginative and witty stylistic advertisements which tend, nevertheless, to become slighter and emptier with each passing page. The title-story, a surprisingly fairly conventional memory of the adolescent id. is quite fine, even moving in its sprightly way, and should, unlike the others, stand the lest of time.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1968

ISBN: 0385240872

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1968

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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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