A flat, emotionless style deadens the impact of this debut collection of short stories and a novella. Nasty and neutral men (and boys) people these stories, but a good one is hard to find. In ``Starkweather's Eyes,'' the narrator remembers the time shortly after his father left him and his mother in Nebraska, where a serial killer roamed. Carroll is ``Babyman,'' a con artist who impregnates women in order to sell the resulting children. The narrator of ``What Hurts the Fish,'' a boy spending his days with a woman named Evelyn—who wears a special prosthetic shoe because she was dropped and crippled as a baby—starts out sentimentally (``I love Evelyn, but I'm afraid of her shoe''), but soon shoots another boy in the eye with a BB gun and hides what he has done. Condon's female characters are equally unfeeling. In ``Coffee,'' a woman whose father called her ``sex-sick'' when she got pregnant at 18 coolly has sex with a man her now 11-year-old son met at the beach. ``The Velvet Shelf'' shows Natalie responding to her boyfriend being brought to her door by the police (he buried her puppy after it was run over by a car, then went back to dig it up, fearing that he'd buried it alive) by taking it as an opportunity to break up with him. There is plenty of violence too. In ``The Emptyheart Boy'' a recently divorced man listens to his female neighbor being abused by three low-lifes without doing anything, even when his girlfriend urges him to, because ``down deep I was afraid of people, period.'' The short novella ``River Street'' follows a drifter to a sleazy motel where he is attacked and raped. Too macho for its own good.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 1994

ISBN: 0-87074-372-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1994

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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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