A dense philosophical work that delivers striking moments and some hazy prose.




A debut philosophical book examines life in modern times.

Living explains at the outset of this short yet extensive work that readers have opened something with “nontraditional writing and a peculiar name.” While the latter part of the statement is immediately evident, the former becomes obvious the instant readers bear down on the content. This series opener is organized into “Paths,” marked “Philosophical,” “Psychological,” “Political,” and “Lyrical”; each features musings, dialogues, and allusions to everything from World War II and Vatican City to human cloning. While the views of others are incorporated, the volume focuses on the author’s meandering thought process. On the topic of gay marriage (in the “Psychological Path”), Living asserts: “I hope it would be a share of thoughts why today’s idea about male marriage works like a magnet to moot concepts.” On the subject of the death of one’s parents (part of the “Philosophical Path”), there is the revelation that “even if you are a hot believer in God, today like a first time in life you show zealous protest by differing this death.” Understanding what the author means by such comments can prove a challenge. Although context clues provide some clarity, the writing style creates a host of difficulties. For example, the line “It’s like people’s millennium tradition: when the important novelty gets closer, no one afraid” is a puzzle. What is the “people’s millennium tradition”? What is an “important novelty” and is it true that no one is afraid when it gets closer? This is not to say that the work lacks potency. Crime and punishment are deftly explored with the idea that “if somebody likes to see punitive actions, there may be many reasons, but he would never agree that he does it for emotional balance.” A rendition of one man’s experience working in a cleanup operation following the 9/11 attacks in New York City is quite touching, particularly with the image of an area “blanket-covered by the black glass up to the fifty-fourth floor facing Towers Place.” The great hurdle for readers will be to separate such astuteness from more confounding commentary. Doing so provides plenty of remarkable takeaways, though this sifting is far from an easy task.

A dense philosophical work that delivers striking moments and some hazy prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-975982-71-3

Page Count: 241

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2018

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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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