The title is apt; this nimble debut collection of 23 stories takes a variety of chances, impressing by its audacity and originality. Budnitz, a Village Voice cartoonist whose fiction has appeared in literary quarterlies, seems a kind of homegrown surrealist, launching expeditions into strange terrain from such disarmingly mundane settings as back porches, hospital waiting rooms, and crowded city streets. ``Dog Days'' has to do with a man in a dog suit who takes up residence on the porch of a Middle American family, this after an unexplained disaster that has led to the gradual dissolution of society. In weird yet convincing fashion, the family—and particularly the young daughter—begin to treat the man, who offers a remarkable impersonation of a canine, as a dog. This leads to a ghastly ending when, pressed by hunger, the other members of the family suddenly realize that, in some parts of the world, people view dog as a delectable dish. ``Guilt'' offers a grimly funny take on family guilt, carrying filial neurosis to new levels of absurdity as a healthy young man is browbeaten by his two harridan aunts into donating his heart to his dying mother—having been assured by the doctors that he can live some time without one. In ``Directions,'' a variety of figures—a middle-aged couple going to the theater, a man who's been told that he has a fatal disease, a young woman apparently haunted by a collapsed affair, two tough- talking hustlers planning a score—get lost in the city and end up seeking guidance in a dusty shop where maps are sold and, apparently, the deity works behind the counter. Each of the characters gets the help he or she deserves. In ``Burned,'' a young couple are, quite literally, consumed by their passion. Throughout, Budnitz's wry, conversational tone is nicely leavened by precise lyrical passages. A good mix, overall, of the fantastic and mordantly funny.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18097-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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