Quite interesting for sociological reasons, and for impressions of these many locations, but ultimately the collection...




A hodge-podge of short fiction by young English writers, gathered “from every corner of the country” to show what Bell and Gay call “a picture of England at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”

The editors rightly point to contemporary English fiction’s London bias; it seems that “a novel set in, say, Bradford or Exeter is seen as necessarily provincial and limited.” Their remedy is to provide 24 stories that vividly evoke their settings—from Suffolk to York, Bradford to Brighton, Coventry to Cornwall. But the collection’s diversity is strictly regional; the characters and the subject matter are so similar that the pieces can blur into each other. In David Almond’s “Bleeding Statues,” daft South Shields women get enthused about a Jesus statue that they think is moving, while the detached young narrator knows better. In Joolz Denby’s “The Quick and the Dead 2,” a group of women discuss a murder while a detached young narrator eavesdrops. In Peter Ho Davies’s “Coventry,” a heavy-drinking working-class man gets befriended by an educated but—yes—detached young narrator. The authors’ extreme youth (a glance at the contributors’ list yields birth dates as recent as 1977) may be the cause of such uniformity; it is almost certainly the cause of many of the stories’ contrived use of phonetically rendered dialogue. The clunkiness of a phrase like “Zee ahl right yu reckon?” (in Harland Miller’s “Castle Early”) reveals an almost embarrassing eagerness to be influenced by Irvine Welsh. Yet there's a solid handful of standouts here, including Davies’s aforementioned “Coventry”; Kevin Sampson’s “Black Diamond,” narrated by a foggy-headed Birkendhead barfly; and Julie Burchill’s “By the Sea We Flourish,” depicting a misguided trip to Brighton.

Quite interesting for sociological reasons, and for impressions of these many locations, but ultimately the collection inadvertently paints small-city England as an unvaried and rather grim place.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-575-07127-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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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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