These 11 mostly hard-luck stories, with their mean and nutty existential heroes and their punch-drunk visions of hell, place Jones right among the literary heavyweights. In many of these gritty tales, first-timer Jones displays the peculiar genius of the autodidact—someone who contemplates the great ideas on his own, and tests them against the rawest of everyday experiences. And rawness is all for the Vietnam vet at the center of three tales here. The title piece, a masterpiece of the form, taps the ``reservoir of malice and vicious sadism'' in its narrator's soul: in country, this madman brawler thrives on the rush of violence and the pure adrenalin of survival. In ``Break on Through,'' a psycho in the narrator's recon team finds redemption inches from death. But in Jones's dark world, it's only temporary: ``human an abomination.'' ``The Black Lights,'' set in a vet neuropsych ward, is a harrowing tale worthy of Chekhov, as the narrator chronicles his unmanning by grand mal seizures, depressions, and drugs. Just when you think Jones might strike a lighter note in ``Wipeout'' or ``Mosquitos,'' he reveals his funny, bleak view. One narrator seduces women with his ``irresistible sort of psychopathic charisma,'' the other grudgingly seduces his brother's haughty wife. Equally edgy and disorienting, ``Unchain My Heart'' pokes fun at pantywaist editors while it explores, from a woman's view, the appeal of strong and courageous men. The only nice guy in ``Silhouettes'' is a retarded janitor; he's a ``noble innocent,'' and of course exploited by everyone. Life is ``the trip, the only trip'' for an insane, suicidal boxer (``as of July 6th...''); a cancer patient on her deathbed (``I Want to Live!''); and an advertising genius wandering Bombay in an epileptic fugue (``A White Horse''). ``Rocket Man,'' with its Nietzchean splendors, takes you down for the count. Dizzying combinations of prose punches with abstract bobs and weaves: a knockout.

Pub Date: June 7, 1993

ISBN: 0-316-47302-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1993

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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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