Red-hot at the start, but the story-within-a-story has a different pace and mood, and ultimately takes the upper hand—a...



Smart though uneven noirish confection from poet, nonfiction author, and novelist Di Prisco (Confessions of Brother Eli, not reviewed): a tale of two gamblers, one an ace at blackjack and too sharp for his own good, the other a loser who gets lucky—but both unlucky in love.

Dolly is a man with a dilemma: He owes a bunch of money to his bookie that he can’t repay, and has his face smashed as a way of reminding him that he must. On his way into hiding, Dolly stumbles across a manuscript given him years ago by Valentino Comfort, the most brilliant member of a team assembled to beat casino banks at blackjack. Dolly, who, as a member of the same team, suggested Val write the story, holes up with his part-time pit bull Ranger in his almost ex-wife’s house to read it, believing that he can sell Val’s work as his own, making a movie deal and a million in the bargain. But the story proves to be other than he remembers. For one thing, Dolly barely exists in it, except as the butt of everyone’s jokes. For another, Val writes too much about the action away from the blackjack tables, such as mysterious encounters with his father, the episode of another bookie’s mysterious murder (which Dolly knows more about than he cares to admit), and, above all, Val’s growing entanglement with The Teaser, the beautiful, mysterious creator of the device the team will use to beat the casinos. In fact, Val’s account turns into a love story, even after he finally turns to the team’s greatest caper: a successful assault on the Sun City casino in South Africa. But something in the way Val tells it finally lets Dolly know he’s holding a winner.

Red-hot at the start, but the story-within-a-story has a different pace and mood, and ultimately takes the upper hand—a change not entirely welcome.

Pub Date: June 30, 2002

ISBN: 1-931561-08-7

Page Count: 258

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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