An uneven set of tales in which too many fall flat.



Phillips (Quigsnip, 2014) offers a collection of mostly dark and often supernaturally tinged short stories, many inspired by urban legends or classic literature.

The kids checking out the haunted house in the lengthy tale “A Horror of a Different Color” find a beast taken from H.P. Lovecraft’s tales of tentacled horrors. “The Napoleon of Crime” is a Sherlock Holmes story that explores the idea of whether his nemesis, professor James Moriarty, was real or a figment of Holmes’ imagination. The narrator of “The Forsaken Ones” finds the “Black-Eyed Kids” of an urban legend on his doorstep one Halloween, which makes him question the nature of the Christian God. “The Tasmanian Pet” similarly draws inspiration from such legends—specifically, the story of “The Mexican Pet”; here, a woman on vacation in Tasmania finds what she thinks is a puppy, only to find out, too late, that she’s very wrong. Others feature trick endings, similar to what one might find in a Twilight Zone episode; in “Independence Day,” for instance, two British kids visiting family in America for July Fourth celebrations find themselves at the center of a dark ceremony; it all seems like a dream until they see a shocking news report. The best and most original work, though is the titular “Snap-Dragon,” a well-structured ghost story that draws on the Twelfth Night tradition of telling supernatural tales, which Phillips executes wonderfully. Many of the others are lacking, however; “Just Like Jeremy,” a tale about a boy granted a wish by a genie, has an utterly predictable conclusion. Rosillia and Ishmael, the star-crossed teens in “Blackberry Wine,” run into a little difficulty when Rosillia’s disapproving relative plans a trap, but the resolution is too quick and unsatisfying. “The Inimitable,” a fictional conversation with Charles Dickens, doesn’t offer much insight into the author’s history or creative process.

An uneven set of tales in which too many fall flat.   

Pub Date: Dec. 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-981250-91-2

Page Count: 532

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2019

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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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