NIGHTLAND

A Native American Richard Condon might have conjured up this neatly plotted thriller, a wonderful companion to Owens's two previous novels, The Sharpest Sight (1992) and Bone Game (1994). The story begins with a very real bang when part-Cherokee ranchers and lifelong friends Billy Keene and Will Striker come upon a dead body and a suitcase containing a million dollars. It looks as if the body has literally fallen from the sky. ``It's a gift from the Great Spirit,'' Billy insists, but a hail of gunfire from a helicopter makes it seem likely that the Spirit's bounty won't be easy to hold onto. Outwitting their pursuers and hiding their windfall, the two try to settle inconspicuously back into the routines of their hard lives, scraping by in a New Mexico backwater. Events, however, rapidly turn deeply weird. Billy's grandfather Siquani, a believer in the power of the ancestral forces surrounding them, is visited by a ghost (possibly the ghost of the man with the suitcase) who plays checkers with the old man and teaches him how to drive, precipitating one of the plot's many delicious twists and turns. Equally memorable appearances are made by: Will's estranged wife Jace, now a big-city lawyer; Odessa Nighthawk, a steely half-breed Ph.D. whose amorous appropriation of Billy is just a mite suspicious (there's evidence she may be a shape-shifter); and Paco Ortega, a thoughtful drug smuggler who, accompanied by a hilariously foulmouthed gunsel, comes to claim all that belongs to him. Owens skillfully braids together deadpan comedy, Indian legend and superstition, and stringent criticism of White American injustice (``everything in the psyche of this country tells people that they can just put the past behind them, that they aren't responsible for yesterday'') in a swiftly paced tale that's as thoughtful and provocative as it is irresistibly entertaining. Tony Hillerman, take notice. This is how it's done.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-94073-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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EXHALATION

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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