A collection of very short stories by Australian author Brooks (Mary Lives—A Story of Anorexia Nervosa & Bipolar Disorder, 2014).
This assortment of 21 short stories—almost vignettes, ranging in length from two to five pages—covers a wide range of topics, but all share Australian settings. Many focus on characters on the brink of a change, such as marriage, death or some other life-altering transition. Although not all the stories have unhappy endings, most do; even the happier tales have a rather melancholy tone, and readers may be surprised when tragedy doesn’t befall a protagonist. In two stories, “Little Cottage in the Wood” and “Going Home,” Brooks creates such evocative, frightening settings, such as a protagonist’s ruined, ghostly hometown, that it seems she may have missed her true calling as a horror author; the former does have horrific elements, but the second story progresses harmlessly. The few romances, including “The Wedding” and “Homeward Bound,” seem too pat, almost trite, with no real conflict. In contrast, the aptly named “Malevolence,” effectively tells the story of a romance gone horribly wrong, and “Full” tells a story of a woman in her 60s who has struggled with bipolar disorder. Many stories, however, are marred by abrupt, unconvincing resolutions, and often include irrelevant details that seem like red herrings; readers may stash these facts away for future reference, only to discover their ultimate insignificance. In “Training Camp,” for example, when characters list their food insensitivities, readers will likely brace for a tragic mishap, but it never comes. On an individual basis, the stories lack profound significance, but taken as a whole, they acquire a haunting quality. Overall, they may inspire readers to evaluate the qualities of their own interpersonal relationships.
Unusual short stories, notable for their more disturbing aspects.

Pub Date: June 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499006735

Page Count: 70

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2014

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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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