An energetic if uneven debut collection focusing mostly on the lives of Hispanics in modern California. As a keynot, each of Mendoza's stories uses a card from the Mexican game of Loteria and a line from the poem accompanying that that image. The conceit is sometimes very effective. The keynote of ``El Mundo'' is a man struggling to bear the weight of the globe. The story's wealthy, self-satisfied protagonist, by contrast, has a short, unpleasant encounter with two derelicts who ask for his help and are blithely rebuffed—so that card and narrative make a nicely ironic whole. ``Entrepreneur'' features the card ``La Muerte,'' Death, and concerns the increasingly fantastic efforts of a rich businessman to outwit mortality, culminating with his takeover of a monastery. Here, Mendoza's portrait is refreshingly angry and acidic. Other stories, however, seem unsurprising and rather labored. ``Rum Cake,'' for instance, a two-page story about a woman increasingly obsessed with the saxophonist who lives across the hall, turns largely on the last line, in which the narrator, who believes that the musician fancies her, is revealed to be delusional and immensely obese. The lengthy title story, while it sketches with great care the dynamics of a deeply disturbed family, turns on a revelation of sexual abuse that is far less surprising than the author seems to intend. ``9th of October,'' tracing the conversation of two friends the night before one of them is leaving to join the Armed Forces, demonstrates a nice grasp of the nature of intimacy between friends but lacks resonance or apparent purpose. A mixed collection, then, featuring some original work (Mendoza, like many young writers, is best when angry and on the attack) but also some pieces that read more like novice exercises than art. Still, craft and energy enough to suggest that Mendoza is a writer to watch.

Pub Date: March 16, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18129-9

Page Count: 128

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1998

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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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