Agreeably shocking, sharply perceptive, quite funny.

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THE PORTABLE PROMISED LAND

STORIES

Hip-hop culture gets both glorified and sent up, sometimes in the same sentence, in a debut collection by essayist and Rolling Stone contributing editor Touré.

Cruising between real New York and mythical Soul City, riffing on real stuff and craziness, Touré takes on bogus preachers, television, Black Panthers, Black American princesses, white idiocy, dreams of glory, prep schools, ebonics, clubs, cutting-edge chic, and hundreds of other bits and pieces of contemporary urban life and death in 24 mostly fast-moving pieces—pieces that are usually stories but sometimes just wild long lists. Perhaps writing about ghetto fabulousness demands excess, and most of the time it works. Opening with the lovely Steviewondermobile, Touré follows Huggy Bear Jackson as he smooths through downtown Soul City in his 1983 Cadillac Custom Supreme convertible with its $25,000 Harmon Kardon sound system, followed by his posse of four in their own cars, filling the air with Stevie Wonder. The superpowerful electronics of the sound system are more than the aged car can take, and the show grinds to a halt regularly until a fresh battery can take over. Huggy Bear is just one part of the parade that fills Freedom Avenue, taking music to the streets, but he’s a star. As is the Right Revren Daddy Love, pastor of the Church of Kentucky Fried Souls, oversized, oversexed and, when he starts flying, over the congregation. Equally stellar is the Black Widow, a DJ and black power queen who started off as just another Park Avenue preppie. William Safire disciples will revel in Afrolexicology Today’s Bi-Annual List of the Top 50 Words in African-America, and hipsters-in-training will find help in Blackmanwalkin and The African-American Aesthetics Hall of Fame, or 101 Elements of Blackness (Things That’ll Make You Say : Yes! That There’s Some Really Black Shit!). Progressive English teachers are sure to get mileage out of the thematic linkage provided by Satan, who shows up in various disguises.

Agreeably shocking, sharply perceptive, quite funny.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-66643-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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EXHALATION

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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