That forcing and a tendency to pile on are the only things preventing the dark vision of this smart, hip, supertalented...

THE FUN PARTS

STORIES

Freaks, misfits and addicts crowd this second collection from Lipsyte (The Ask, 2010, etc.); his stories are beyond mordant.

An older man abandons his dying wife for his girlfriend in "The Worm in Philly." Lipsyte’s characters inhabit a cold, hard world, but Tovah Gold is desperate to fit somewhere, somehow in "The Climber Room." The preschool teacher, still single at 36, wants a baby. Her fantasy of marriage to the school’s richest donor crumbles when the old goat starts out by masturbating. (If you’re wondering about the collection’s title, check your body.) The situation of Mandy, in "Deniers," is even more dire. A recovering addict, she has just extricated herself from a destructive relationship with a fellow addict when she becomes involved with her stalker. Cal, with his violently anti-Semitic past, is hardly an appropriate mate for a nice Jewish girl. That stalker seems tame compared to the prize freak in "The Wisdom of the Doulas." Mitch is an overweight, potty-mouthed “lactation consultant” who assists postpartum mothers. Problem is, Mitch wants some of that mother’s milk for himself. It gets physical between him and the outraged father; violence is a constant in Lipsyte’s world. "The Republic of Empathy" ends with an inoffensive young father being burned to a crisp in a drone attack; yes, folks, drones are coming to an American neighborhood near you. What Gunderson fears, in "The Real-Ass Jumbo," is that the whole world may end. The newly minted prophet gives us about five years, “time enough to sample all the yearning young hippie tang.” This scintillating black comedy ends (surprise) violently. There are times, though, when the violent ending seems willed and gratuitous. The high school coach in "Ode to Oldcorn" is a fervent admirer of the champion shot putter. Was it really necessary for their reunion to end in broken bones?

That forcing and a tendency to pile on are the only things preventing the dark vision of this smart, hip, supertalented writer from being truly memorable.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-29890-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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