ONLY HUMAN

AND OTHER STORIES

A second collection of stories, mostly set among the Catholics of Northern Ireland, by the Irish author of 1996’s Booing the Bishop (not reviewed). If things move along at the present rate, and Belfast succeeds in mutating from a political to a literary hot spot, Collins will probably be regarded as a single eminence in a worthy company. Which would be something of a shame, since he is worth attending to on his own. The characters in Collins’s stories are all recognizably Irish in both their origins and concerns, but—lacking the sentimental resentments of the brothers McCourt—they—ll appeal to more subtle tastes. Sickness and injury are the dominant motifs: “The Lump” tells of an infected wound, while the aptly entitled “Shame and Pain” describes a middle-aged husband’s humiliating efforts to keep his hemorrhoid surgeries secret from his wife, only to be presented by her with a far more momentous surprise in the end. The rapid collapse of domestic life becomes a metaphor of modern social decay in “Breaking the News,” about an elderly widower’s physical and emotional decline. “Unwinding in France” is a seriocomic account of a Winnebago holiday that nearly breaks up a family. The best piece, however, is the title story, about a divorced husband’s attempt to keep his daughter’s affection in the face of his ex-wife’s hatred—and the crisis that ensues when he is frustrated. Understated and strikingly narrated (“Not even a woman could get inside your body the way booze could”), it sets the pattern of quiet melancholy that the other tales elaborate on. Refreshing and unique: Collins provides a new take on familiar territory.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 1998

ISBN: 0-85640-622-8

Page Count: 140

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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