Imaginative and competently written, the stories deliver a well-developed sermon for the Christian reader.




In this collection of inspirational short stories, ordinary people and one extraordinary flock of ducks search for peace of mind in rural America and the Swiss Alps.

The titular tale features a duck named Johannsen guiding his flock south during hunting season as he meditates on love, beauty and the meaning of life. Ratliff’s ducks seem ridiculous until they earn their wings, in this case through a dramatic showdown with a Labrador retriever. The rest of the collection features human characters. “High-Level Love” is a chaste story in which an unrequited love leaves a romantic ideal untested as a small-town reporter’s friendships with the patrons at a local diner help him uncover the town librarian’s secret passion, which leads him to writing the best piece of his career. “December Encounter” and “An Alpine Happening” echo the folk wisdom of Chicken Soup for the Soul as two families of ailing children pray for a miracle. A religious work, the book’s plot and characters are secondary to the spiritual message, which We Fly at Dawn delivers in brief chapters enhanced with illustrations, photographs and poetry that help keep the pace. Ratcliff’s characters are humble people with surprisingly lofty thoughts—they even express their philosophical unrest in verse. As a mysterious old man explains in “December Encounter,” “Poetry…is the mirror of the soul, and it is your soul and its association with the infinite intelligence of the universe that will make or break your happiness.” This soul-searching forms the arc that ultimately leads to an affirmation of Christian faith. In “Sunday-Morning Christmas” a preacher quotes the books of John, Romans and Revelations to convert Billy Joe; a sawmill worker, husband and father who feels an emptiness he can’t explain. In a suspenseful but heavy-handed conclusion, Billy Joe comes home from work to discover that his family is missing and learns the true meaning of Christmas.

Imaginative and competently written, the stories deliver a well-developed sermon for the Christian reader.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-1441551535

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2010

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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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