Bass makes his impassioned points through fiction that rarely resorts to polemics.




Geography forges character within the literary naturalist’s compelling rite-of-passage stories.

As an essayist, activist and writer of both short and long fiction, the prolific Bass (The Hermit’s Story, 2002, etc.) has long explored the interplay of mankind and the environment. Many of these stories concern young people on the cusp of finding themselves and discovering their place in nature’s big picture. In the opener, “Pagans,” the setting of a river despoiled by urban sludge becomes Paradise Lost for two high-school friends and the younger girl loved by at least one of them. “Her First Elk” has a similar geometry, as two older brothers help a girl dismember (related in graphic detail) the elk she has hunted. In “Titan,” the narrator remembers when he was 12, a budding conservationist, and the bonds of difference he had with his older brother, a conspicuous consumer. (Their parents are geologists, an occupation featured frequently in Bass’s stories.) “Fiber” pushes the identification between author and first-person narrator even farther, as the protagonist is a writer, activist and geologist who conjures an alternative life for himself as a criminal, while pondering the limits and possibilities of fiction and the necessity for radical action. In what could stand as Bass’s artistic credo, the narrator says, “I am trying to let the land tell me who and what I am—trying to let it pace and direct me, until it is as if I have become part of it.” The title story is the longest and richest, an almost magical tale of a woman—the now-grownup girl in “Her First Elk”—struggling with cancer and the unlikely friendship she establishes with two children from a hardworking, fundamentalist-Christian family. It reads like a spiritual parable and proceeds to a resolution so bleak it could break the reader’s heart.

Bass makes his impassioned points through fiction that rarely resorts to polemics.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-59674-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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