Spencer is a heck of a storyteller and has an undeniable way with words. A very readable collection of oddities from a pro,...



Spencer (The Ocean and All Its Devices, 2005, etc.), best known for his Lovecraft-ian tales, offers an intriguing collection of nine stories and one poem.

In “The Tenth Muse,” an author, Marshall Harrison, is invited to interview the famously reclusive Morton Sky, whose only novel became an instant classic when it was published. Marshall’s family lived next door to Sky when he was a child, and he’s excited to speak with someone he so admired, but Marshall must confront the darkness in his own past, and Sky, desperate to write something new, will do anything for inspiration. The oddly sweet, fairy-tale flavored “Come Lurk With Me and Be My Love” features a man named Wally Bennett, who falls for a beautiful girl named Flower, and she’s not quite what she seems. Wally will follow her anywhere, even to her ancient father’s lair deep inside a mountain, bringing new meaning to “will do anything for love.” In the genuinely creepy “Penguins of the Apocalypse,” an alcoholic father is approached by Derrick Thorn, a “large pear-shaped man, smooth-faced, hairless as a cave salamander,” whose “face [is] oddly blurred.” Thorn offers up a bargain, setting off a chain of catastrophic events. Is he real or imagined? That’s for readers to decide. “Stone and the Librarian” is a fever dream that will delight fans of classic lit. A being called the Librarian, a shadowy figure from the future, insists society has been brought down because of a lack of empathy and the “absence of humanity” and that salvation lies only in works of great literature. A world of zeppelins and old-fashioned adventure awaits readers in “The Dappled Thing," and Spencer gets back to his Lovecraft-ian roots in “How the Gods Bargain,” “Usurped,” and the poem “The Love Song of A. Alhazred Azathoth.” The title story is a terrifying and poignant tale of an unconventional therapist whose new patient awakens something in him, resulting in salvation for them both.

Spencer is a heck of a storyteller and has an undeniable way with words. A very readable collection of oddities from a pro, sure to please old fans and new readers alike.

Pub Date: July 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59606-831-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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