In some ways a sequel to his well-researched Jefferson (1993), Byrd's latest is a superior novel to that earlier effort—lusty and lively in its view of the American political scene, circa 1828, yet also keenly aware of the underlying issues gripping the nation as it expanded westward. As Andrew Jackson squares off against incumbent President John Quincy Adams, having won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote in 1824, the split between eastern elitism and western democracy seems more pronounced than ever. David Chase, a young expatriate writer, has been lured from Paris to Boston with a tempting commission to do an ``honest'' biography of Jackson, although the anti-Jackson sentiments of his patron are no secret. Chase visits Washington to seek sources for his book and to meet Hogwood, his predecessor, whose infirmity has cost him the project Chase now pursues. Sucked into the whirl of life in the capital, befriended by the president's dissolute son Charles, smitten with Hogwood's lovely daughter Emma, Chase can't seem to put pen to paper before his patron comes to town and puts him on the stage to Nashville: Jackson country. There, he meets Old Hickory, whose right-hand man allows him to become part of Jackson's entourage, until a long-kept secret about certain youthful, adulterous indiscretions by the candidate's wife threatens to come to the surface. Since the indiscretions involve the brother of Chase's patron, the writer instantly becomes persona non grata; but, left to his own devices, he tracks down the letters that will undo Jackson—and then has to make the painful decision about whether to use them. Jackson proves less a figure than a figurehead here, while fictional characters are given the run of the story, which may disappoint historical purists. But the zeitgeist is embodied to perfection, and the result is a truly, and substantially, entertaining tale.

Pub Date: March 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-553-09632-X

Page Count: 421

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1997

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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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