Stories for those who wish to enter enigmatic and uncomfortable spaces.




Arthur C. Clarke meets Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka in these dark, dense stories.

Holt is a crafter of words as well as a believer in the magical potency of The Word, for many of his stories have as their theme the power of a single word. In “? ????s,” for example, a five-year-old girl is brought to an emergency room with bruises on her hands, cheeks, forehead and arms, bruises that form a mysterious word she utters just before she dies. The physical transference of this word (also in bruises) to others forms first an epidemic and then a plague. In “My Father’s Heart,” the nameless narrator literally keeps his father’s heart in a glass jar, but by allegorical extension this artifact becomes an image of his love, guilt and pain. The chilling “Charybdis” introduces us to a mission to Jupiter gone awry. Two of the three astronauts on board go insane and leave the ship, with predictably fatal results, while the third, the narrator, has harrowing conversations with mission control that make it clear he is also struggling with issues of psychological autonomy. The title piece is more of a novella than a short story. Here a scholar of Egyptian antiquities has participated in uncovering the tomb of Nur-Mar, but he has also contracted a fatal disease borne by an unknown pathogen. His quest is to discover the meaning of a cryptic papyrus he has stolen from the tomb, a papyrus that he hopes will lead him to a mysterious “‘word of hidden meaning.’” The “dangerous madness” he attributes to the silence of Nur-Mar’s dynasty mirrors his own obsession and paranoia.

Stories for those who wish to enter enigmatic and uncomfortable spaces.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-07121-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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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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