Cleverness is the hook with this little fable—those delighting in wordplay will be duly rewarded by seeing language...

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ELLA MINNOW PEA

A PROGRESSIVELY LIPOGRAMMATIC EPISTOLARY FABLE

A mostly lighthearted tweaking of literary sensibilities, playwright Dunn’s first novel gets good mileage from a simple notion: People can carry hero worship way too far.

The hero in question is Nevin Nollop, “inventor” of the well-known pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” The tiny island of Nollop, off the South Carolina coast, is an independent nation devoted to the preservation of his memory and achievement—devoted, that is, until the letters start falling from the sentence on the man’s monument, one by one. A series of notes and letters from citizens of this highly literate nation, particularly Ella and Tassie, two young cousins who are members of the Minnow Pea family, records the actions of the island’s ruling council, which decides that the fallen letters (and the words that contain them) are meant to be removed from Nollop’s vocabulary. “Z” goes first, followed by “Q” and a quick succession of others; each of the fallen is treated as were its predecessors, with a “three strikes and you’re out” penalty imposed on any Nollopians who fail to make the required adjustments. This creates severe hardship for the islanders, who begin to leave voluntarily or by penalty; life comes to a virtual standstill for those who remain. A young journalist from the mainland arrives in secret to appeal to the reason of the sole council member who still seems to have any, and before he’s unmasked and deported he both plants a seed of hope and steals Tassie’s heart. But it’s on the shoulders of Ella, brave Ella, that the burden of rescuing the island from its madness ultimately falls.

Cleverness is the hook with this little fable—those delighting in wordplay will be duly rewarded by seeing language stretched to its limits.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-9673701-6-7

Page Count: 220

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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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