A solid representation of this writer’s mature work, notable for its detached intensity, but his stories’ brevity and...




Curiously dry, unsympathetic short stories by Utah novelist Rock (The Bewildered, 2005, etc.).

Nameless, untamed landscapes form the backdrop for most of these 13 tales featuring random collisions between regular people. “Do I know you?” is a perennial refrain here. “Disappeared Girls” depicts a chance meeting on a train between 15-year-old Miranda, headed for a visit to her grandmother in New Jersey, and 31-year-old Edward, sporting braces and a see-through backpack, who is traveling back to his childhood neighborhood. “Are you trying to have sex with me?” Miranda boldly asks Edward, but the poor guy turns out to be a harmless naïf, an artist more engaged with his dreams than with the girl. Meanwhile, the strangely disembodied tale “Disentangling” shows Dr. Ralston Bender, a Philadelphia medical examiner steeped in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, conducting a series of quasi-sexual experiments involving strangers in a hotel room. The experiments bring together a motley group, including a feral street boy, a sad legal secretary and a sympathetic black man named Sylvester, all gathered to fulfill Bender’s creepy aim of “spreading hope.” In “Gold Firebird,” the aged owner of a highway gas station finds the visit of a sad young wife in a fabulous old car so resonant of his own emotional history—she is fleeing an unfaithful husband—that he doesn’t mind when she can’t pay for the gas and steals his stuff. Rock seems to take perverse delight in bringing his characters close to the louche and seedy.

A solid representation of this writer’s mature work, notable for its detached intensity, but his stories’ brevity and randomness will leave many dissatisfied.

Pub Date: March 15, 2006

ISBN: 1-59692-171-4

Page Count: 329

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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