Readers willing to give themselves over to some mystery will be rewarded.


These stories from a Canadian writer feature characters at odds with their surroundings—and each other.

In her debut collection, Cooper proves that she can do just about anything. She's as comfortable telling a story from the perspective of a hip young record-label employee—which she actually is, in her day job—whose hand is blown off by a mail bomb (“Ryan & Irene, Irene & Ryan”) as she is telling the story of a mounted police officer who lives on the edge of loss and violence (“The Emperor”). Her settings are equally wide-ranging. A Vietnam War veteran lives out his retirement in the same country he once fought against in “Spiderhole.” In "Pre-Occupants," husband-and-wife scientists arrive on Mars and must adjust to their new environment—and their new neighbors. This isn’t the only story with sci-fi leanings. Cooper moves as fluidly through genre as she does through character and setting, recounting the tale of a nuclear reactor attempting to replace the sun in “Record of Working” and a woman who built a time machine when she was a child in “Thanatos.” What unites these eclectic stories is Cooper’s style—sharp-edged and oblique, these are not narratives that move in usual ways. Like a poet, Cooper is relentlessly original in every sentence: a drunk’s hand “is waving tentacular over his private cemetery of beer bottles”; mountains are “imbricate rows of corroded teeth.” The logic of the stories seems poetic, too; what would be traditional narrative context is often jettisoned in favor of a resonant image or associational logic. Occasionally, plots and subplots have obscure relationships to each other. In short, these are not stories whose meanings unfold cleanly.

Readers willing to give themselves over to some mystery will be rewarded.

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77196-217-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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