Bradbury on autopilot, mostly, mixing dashes of beautiful whimsy with gold-tinged nostalgia and the occasional sharp stab of...

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THE CAT’S PAJAMAS

STORIES

Forgotten or mislaid short fictions from a master who’s given us better, but also much worse.

Bradbury (Let’s All Kill Constance, 2002, etc.) says here that after the death of his wife, Maggie, he lost, for the first time in decades, the will or ability to write: a shocking statement from this almost comically prolific writer. Fortunately, the spell passed, and Bradbury continues to pounce on every little germ of an idea he sees. This is a collection like many of Bradbury’s recent ones, a hodgepodge of mostly realistic stories that occasionally dabble in magic, though there are more of the everyday kind, with precious little of the highly adventurous and moralistic science fiction that put Bradbury in the literary firmament. Happily, though, while several pieces are new, a good part of the book is made up of long-forgotten and unpublished selections from the author’s most fecund period, the late 1940s and early 1950s. Some entries are overwrought racial allegories, like “Chrysalis,” where a white boy finds he’s discriminated against just as much as his black friend when he gets a serious suntan. A more successful attempt is “The Transformation,” about a southern man who’s kidnapped in the middle of the night by some circus people out to avenge his complicity in a disgusting crime (hint: one of them is a tattooist). One newer story, a fling of media-addled satire, “The John Wilkes Booth/Warner Brothers/MGM/NBC Funeral Train,” makes an earnest leap at the modern world’s penchant for regurgitating the past for commercial ends, although it falls apart in a ramshackle fashion. A genuine a work of art, however, is “The Island,” a perfect bit of shadowy horror about a paranoid family in a remote house, each member fully armed in his own locked room, and what happens when an intruder enters: truly haunting, lit with a dark insight.

Bradbury on autopilot, mostly, mixing dashes of beautiful whimsy with gold-tinged nostalgia and the occasional sharp stab of pain.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-058565-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2004

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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EXHALATION

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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