A keen-eyed depiction of the rock netherworld’s denizens is sabotaged by too many over-the-top scenarios.



A practiced observer offers frantic fictions of rock ’n’ roll madness.

Simmons has been plying her trade as a music journalist since the ’70s, in Mojo, Rolling Stone, Q, and a host of British dailies and weeklies and has penned biographies of the off-center pop figures Serge Gainsbourg and Neil Young. Here, however, she turns her hand to that most difficult form: rock fiction. The format is a loosely interlocking collection of stories featuring a handful of recurring characters: megalomaniac metal star Frame, oft-married country luminary LeeAnn Starmountain, Jim Morrison tribute performer Reeve, addled punk-pop vocalist Pussy, and damaged classic-rock songwriter Cal West. Some of the characters are familiar types, others veiled simulacra of real performers (Pussy is Debbie Harry, Cal West is Brian Wilson, etc.). These figures and others are involved in 18 tales set in a musical cosmos that is, as one character puts it, “like one of those parallel universes they had in the old sci-fi comics, where things look the same but have completely different functions.” In this domain, a cult devoted to the late Karen Carpenter springs up, a televised séance to raise a dead music legend is held on an LA beach, and a rocker urinates on his fans off a hotel balcony. Inevitably, stalkers stalk, groupies grope, and superstars suffer colossal breakdowns. Simmons has all the details of record-company politicking, rock-biz noblesse oblige, and backstage ritual down pat. But her plots suffer from the same excess that plagues so many works set in the milieu. Since everything in rock is drawn in larger-than-life proportions, fiction writers feel they must push the envelope and stoke the outrageous at every turn. In the case of Simmons, when she goes in for affecting character studies, the pieces work brilliantly, but she pushes most of the action in preposterous directions, often to the point of burlesque.

A keen-eyed depiction of the rock netherworld’s denizens is sabotaged by too many over-the-top scenarios.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-8021-4156-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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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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