Precise, shrewd tales by a prodigiously talented but still too-little-known writer. Nelson (Language in the Blood, 1991, etc.) offers an enthralling refresher course in the exploration of character. Each of the 13 tales here use a character’s dedication (or addiction) to a sport to plumb hesitations and hopes. In “A False Encounter,” a grieving son is driven to investigate why his seemingly happy father committed suicide. The quest eventually leads him back to a group of his father’s college friends, all of them accomplished amateur boxers. The key to his father’s behavior, it turns out, is hidden in a moment of triumph in his youth when, against all expectations, he was able to rise from the canvas after devastating blow. Such exhilarating, defining moments, Nelson suggests, both shape and haunt us. What happens when one discovers that these moments are singular and unsurpassable? The appropriately named “Death Valley— offers quite a different view of sports: a wealthy and accomplished, diffident young professional golfer visits her lover, a groundskeeper at a golf course in the California desert. Golf has helped to insulate her from the world, and her self-absorption and life of privilege are both called into question when she collides with the hard, sad lives of a group of migrant laborers camped close to the links.”Every Day a Promise” perfectly catches the unwillingness of a track champ to give up his dream of the Olympics. “The Invisible— offers a droll, somewhat mystical celebration of the way in which a star college quarterback wins back his soul from the coaches, boosters, and agents. And “The Squash Player” works out an artful variation on the theme of the aging athlete, as a man struggles to find his place in a world in which he’s no longer physically dominant. Moving, fresh, perceptive work, and further evidence of Nelson’s considerable skills.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-891369-05-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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