The newest Flannery O'Connor Award winner consists of 11 mostly compelling stories, many of which appeared previously in literary magazines. Comfortable with a variety of voices, Rawlins unifies his debut collection thematically: Men facing change is the larger subject, handled here with great subtlety. Farthest afield are two stories set in South Africa: ``The Matter of These Hours'' is a haunting tale of two teens who seek out a faith healer because one of them is HIV-positive; in ``Slangfontein,'' a young man of Afrikaner descent decides to revive the family farm after his father's rejection of life on the veldt. The title piece also involves rejection of one type of life for another—a college-bound kid in Washington State has no plans to return to the family farm (as his father hopes), to his podunk town, or to his childhood girlfriend. Rawlins's middle-aged men are on the downside of their dreams. The self-important financier in the hyperbolic ``Big Where I Come From'' condescends to the local Iowans in his hometown until he finds himself suddenly bankrupt. ``Big Texas,'' a fine story reminiscent of the novels of Dan Jenkins, concerns two buddies recovering from their vanished glories, one a former pro football player with a blown-out knee, the other his college drinking pal crippled in a ski accident. The search for psychic and spiritual renewal takes two friends out into the Utah desert after they are fired from their jobs as machinists (``Good for What Ails You''). In ``Kokopelli,'' a Stanford prof, suffering from a debilitating and mysterious illness, is comforted by his former student who steers him towards Native American spirits. The most dramatic, visceral piece is ``August—Staying Cool,'' a junkie's memoir of kicking his habit during a long, hot summer. A strong debut, but with plenty of room to grow.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1996

ISBN: 0-8203-1868-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996

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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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