THE BIG EAR

In a second collection, Hemley picks up where he left off in All You Can Eat (1988): lots of disaffected folks, in stories that try too hard to be quirky. The title piece sets the tone for much that follows. Peter is an eavesdropper and a prankster, struggling to receive some attention from a mother who can't focus beyond her boyfriend du jour. While the story has its funny moments, it (like too many here) leaves you feeling that life is just too disconnected to mean much of anything. Ditto ``The Last Customer,'' where a man and woman haggle over their food order—as the world outside is literally ``crumbling to pieces'': at the close, a piece of land rips free and the two hagglers are propelled up into space. Stories like ``A Printer's Tale'' and ``The Perfect World'' offer some sharp digs over the state of contemporary poetry but have trouble moving beyond the single joke. In ``The Holocaust Party,'' however, Hemley deals with more weighty matters. Here, the disaffected character is firmly in place, wondering at all the strangeness around him, but he does get a glimpse into the complicated nature of people whose brittle surfaces mask deeper hurts. Human frailty is the subject of ``My Father's Bawdy Song,'' an appealing tale of a man trying to know his long-dead father, even as he fears he might have inherited his legacy of failure. Of the 16 pieces here, though, ``Sleeping Over'' is by far the best. In it, a young boy makes friends with a local misfit, then is pushed away for reasons he can't comprehend. The reader understands, though, and is chilled by the knowledge. A few of Hemley's stories linger, disturb, and enlighten, but they make the bulk of the collection that much more problematic- -and, by comparison, very thin.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-89587-128-9

Page Count: 194

Publisher: John F. Blair

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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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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