An adroit experiment that marries linguistic restraint to literary cool.




Eclectic, vivid moments in time, delivered in the exacting limits of social media.

Well, this is one hell of a way to mitigate the boredom of those monotonous Facebook updates. Celebrated illustrator Beach, better known for designing album covers for Weird Al Yankovich and The Flying Burrito Brothers, here turns his uncommon sensibilities to the written word, composing a small fortune in vignettes that originally appeared as Facebook updates. There are a few recurring themes and characters, but most stories exist as such gems on their own that it’s easy to gobble them up like popcorn. An early standout finds an elderly narrator staring at a picture he (or she) painted long ago, struggling to excavate its original meaning. A miner reflects on the closing of his workplace for 27 years: “Where am I going to go every day, what am I going to do with all that sunshine?” Some are completely nonsensical: “I don’t have to listen. I own the ocean,” is just a couplet in one preposterous paragraph. Others are simply, evilly dark: “My hands are bound, and I am pressed against the spare tire. If there was a God, I would believe in him. The lid comes down and I am in darkness. It smells of oil and gas and rubber.” Certainly some will argue that this is just another folly of the blogs-to-books phenomenon exemplified by Stuff White People Like and other humorous texts, but this book has more in common with bold, impulsive flash fiction than it does with the featherweight detritus of the Internet. These moments, even if not all of them are universal to the human experience, are theatrical, instantly recognizable and slide off the tongue with the cacophony of a Tom Waits riff. Don’t miss the bonus section on the author’s website, where celebrity narrators Ian McShane, Dave Alvin and Jeff Bridges lend their unique cadences to Beach’s miniature snapshots. 

An adroit experiment that marries linguistic restraint to literary cool.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-61793-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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