Varied, engaging, and often shocking.




A career-spanning collection of short stories that illustrates the writer’s preoccupation with animals, artists, and the fantastical.

The stories in this volume—split into sections called “Among the Animals,” “Among the Artists,” and “Metamorphoses”—were gathered from more than 30 years of Martin’s published work (The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, 2014, etc.). But one recurring question, which Martin voices in her introduction, is strung through them all: “Are we animals, or are we something else?” Whether they’re self-absorbed painters, deserted women, or even centaurs, Martin’s characters are torn between the facades they don and the baser, more animalistic impulses—the needs for power, attention, and revenge—that animate them. In "Spats," Lydia, who’s recently been abandoned by her husband, contemplates exacting revenge on his beloved dogs, which are still in her care. "The Freeze" finds a middle-aged teacher spurned by a young love interest at a party; in a resulting state of self-pity, she ignores an ominous noise outside her house during a thunderstorm. "Among the Artists" offers "The Unfinished Novel," the collection’s standout. Maxwell, a moderately successful novelist, is visiting his hometown of New Orleans when he encounters Rita Richard, a former lover from his graduate writing program who broke his heart long ago. Once golden-haired and blessed with a prose style that “made us all sick with envy,” Rita is now frumpy and still unpublished, so Maxwell assures himself of his superiority; but when, after her death, he finds himself in possession of her writing, he must decide between his curiosity and contempt. Here, the characters are sketched with such complexity that the reader’s sympathies are torn for the whole story. While the final section showcases Martin’s imagination—a brutal mermaid watches humans drown in the eponymous "Sea Lovers"; a centaur falls in love with the opera in "Et In Arcadiana Ego"—Martin doesn’t enter those characters’ minds quite as deeply as in her other stories, making them less emotionally appealing. But overall, this is an insightful look into the evolution of Martin’s writing and her talent for depicting our darker natures.

Varied, engaging, and often shocking.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53352-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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