Nine stories in a first collection that won 1995's First Series Award for short fiction. ``Wicked'' is about a middle-aged librarian who has a brief, wild affair, breaks it off, and then begins corresponding with a prisoner who turns out to be the same man. It ends inconclusively, but is remarkable for the lies the woman tells herself and, not least, because it fails to invoke even one stereotype about librarians. In the title piece, an old man whose wife has Alzheimer's tries to piece together the story of his small-town life for a local historian. He revisits old sorrows and makes a minor mess of things before fate hands him a tiny gift. In ``What We Have Here,'' a woman comes to a western lodge to sort out her problems, which, as in all of Becker's stories, center around the lies she tells herself. During a power outage, guests sit drinking and swapping tales, all of them lies; when the woman offers to tell the truth, no one wants to hear it. Then there's ``Signs and Wonders,'' about a troubled woman who goes to a garage sale in order to buy an exercise bike. Someone is dying in the household she enters, and she is so moved by what she witnesses that her own troubles fall away. The final story, ``The Excitement Begins,'' concerns a lonely Wyoming rancher, about to turn 50, who strikes up a conversation with a woman fleeing her old life in Iowa. The lies these two seemingly unremarkable people have told themselves over the years dissolve as a future for them both is revealed— resulting, daringly but believably, in a happy ending. An entertaining debut collection, often quite reminiscent of Raymond Carver's work, about quiet, decent people undercut by their faulty images of themselves.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1996

ISBN: 0-922811-28-8

Page Count: 184

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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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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