A book of provocative, gripping tales, replete with elaborative imagery, despite occasional hiccups.


The Game & the Challenge

Ekemar (El Reino Del Terror, 2015, etc.) provides 13 riveting short stories of suspense and intrigue.

A commute to work in overcrowded Mexico City turns out to be a journey of many twists and turns. A Chinese and a Russian general decide who will win a battle by having a contest that includes Russian roulette and a chess game using prisoners of war as live pieces. A man who has the power to have anything he wants discovers the deeper meaning and implications of having wishes come true. A con artist who thinks he hit the jackpot winds up in prison, but that’s just the beginning of a tale of one-upmanship. These are just some of the plots, places, and characters in these stories, which can all be aptly be described as page-turners. Ekemar enhances his engrossing plots with a finely honed gift for description and metaphor, whether he’s presenting his characters or the vast array of worldwide locations and historical settings they inhabit. In “Mad Captain Boccaccio and the Ship in the Desert,” for instance, the desert fire and the man beside it are palpable: “The boulders cast long shadows across the space that separated them, thumb-nosed by the dancing flames that interrupted the serenity of the place. The man wore a cape….It covered him completely from head to feet, and barely allowed one to imagine the bearded features of a weathered face well past fifty.” Occasionally, some details or historical settings seem more like mere stylistic devices, rather than elements that smoothly advance the story. In “Gift of a Golden Wish,” for example, the narrator’s innumerable wishes go on for pages and distract from the storyline. Fair warning to readers who may be sensitive to eerie images: a few stories may not be best before bedtime.

A book of provocative, gripping tales, replete with elaborative imagery, despite occasional hiccups.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5031-5908-2

Page Count: 236

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2016

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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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