A new talent in need of some honing.




Debut collection delineating the tribulations of boyhood, and how they define a man.

Set in Wisconsin, these ten stories feature an upper-Midwestern landscape’s deep snow drifts, acres of farmland and encroaching suburbs, which play a defining role in the characters’ lives. “Puberty” shows an adolescent finding both sexual enlightenment and retributive justice in a strategically planted climbing tree. In “Black Earth, Early Winter Morning,” a 16-year-old boy must reconsider all the advice his older cousin has given him about the value of country living when a tower of improperly stacked hay bales falls on his mentor. Dan Oxford, protagonist of “The Future, the Future, the Future,” has a wife, a good job, a child on the way and a 30-year mortgage locked in at a good rate; now that he’s achieved all the goals he set for himself in college, he decides to mark his accomplishment by skiing an expert slope he can’t handle. The collection features many action scenes, most of them well-written: a boy with his hands in his pockets cannot save himself from a disfiguring fall (“So Long, Anyway”); a drowning student disrupts a swimming class (“Crow Moon”); a widower on an emotional rampage caroms down a ski slope on a stolen sled (“The Cold War”). But sometimes the author pushes action to comic-book extremes, as in “English Cousin,” which shows a bully goading a boy to climb down a chimney and surprise two lovers (he gets stuck), or “Trouble and the Shadowy Deathblow,” narrated by a snack-food specialist who attends a convention in San Francisco, where a homeless man teaches him a killing maneuver. The most powerful stories here are more quietly observed. “The Train” is a vignette about a group of boys who visit an abandoned granary at midnight on Halloween. “The Whales” features the same characters walking at night to a park by a lonesome county highway.

A new talent in need of some honing.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-307-27535-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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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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