A debut collection of tough, angry tales about American arrogance and the world’s woes. While the plots of some of the stories feel forced, the anger never does. “Will You Say Something, Monsieur Elliot?” traces the moral education of a wealthy American, lost at sea when his sailboat goes down. Half dead, he’s fished from the water by a boatload of Haitians attempting to flee to Florida. Packed on a sinking ship, without food and or much water, the Haitians are convinced they will be saved because the Americans will surely search for their countryman. As they begin to die, Elliot is exposed to a world far more harsh and unforgiving than he had previously imagined. “The Hotel on Monkey Forest Road” unravels the different fates of two men sent to Bali to build a luxury hotel. One plunges forward with the job, despite local protest. The other becomes fascinated, then almost unhinged, by the Balinese reverence for nature and their belief in a simpler lifestyle. His efforts to retard Western inroads are, of course, unsuccessful. Most of these pieces depict the Americans'aside from the few who side with the hard-pressed locals'as crude and violent, yet blithely innocent. In “Ceau'escu’s Cat,” a freethinking Romanian journalist barely eludes the dictator’s thugs, gets stranded in Nevada, and is offended by the ignorance of the Americans he meets, who are baffled by his appetite for opposition and ideas. “The Mayor of Saint John” portrays a Virgin Islands mayor trying vainly to oppose the affluent Americans displacing his people to construct grand homes, convinced that their seizure of land will inevitably bring a “better” life to the locals. In the process the intruders guiltlessly destroy the old communal culture. Anger sometimes overcomes art in these tales, but they're genuine and persuasive enough to signal the presence of something uncommon among today’s writers: an old-fashioned social critic and moralist.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-15-100489-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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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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