What would be an accomplishment for a beginner is simply workmanlike from Bass. Civilization never seemed so far away.




More tales on life lived at the cusp of wilderness from the prolific animal lover (Brown Dog of the Yaak, 1999, etc.).

Bass’s characters are never quite happy with the civilization they leave behind, or the wilds that ultimately threaten them when they enter it. They are never at home, always longing for a perfection imagined or simply impossible. The title story recounts a woman’s experience beneath the ice ceiling of a lake that froze before it drained, and becomes a meditation on the stillness of solitude in the unlikeliest of greenhouses; in “Swans,” the narrator’s neighbors live a love story about the joys and dangers of life lived in the near wild; “The Prisoners” concerns three men whose encounter with a prison bus on their way to a weekend fishing trip reveals that they’ve outgrown neither their adolescence nor their testosterone; “The Fireman” is a lyric excursion in which every apocryphal tale of firefighting is recycled in an effort to make firefighters seem even more brave and heroic; “The Cave” introduces Russell and Sissy, an unlikely couple who discover their primal selves in a descent into an abandoned coal mine, and who reappear in “Eating”; “President’s Day” sees the occasion of a friend’s eye surgery become the opportunity for a young narrator to reflect on his accumulation of youthful wisdom; Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello becomes an expression of civilization in “The Distance,” its ambiguous grandeur forcing a young man to question what our gadgetry has done to our social conscience; and “Two Deer” recycles more apocryphal stories of deer accidents as a nature novice reflects on both the lives and habits of ungulates and his wife, and, of course, failed love.

What would be an accomplishment for a beginner is simply workmanlike from Bass. Civilization never seemed so far away.

Pub Date: July 23, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-13932-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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