``I coulda married Joe Morgan, who owns three Tastee Freezes,'' a wife tells her husband—not unkindly—in Hoffman's third collection (after By Land, By Sea, 1988). It's just this sort of low ambition that runs like a fault line through these competent but commonplace stories. ``Home'' is the mid-South, by turns genteel, grotesque and seedy. Hoffman's range is broad, but the track is well worn: Feisty widows drink ``tonic'' and bemoan their faded beauty; horses are noble and bird dogs soft of mouth; great-great-grandaddy was a Confederate colonel and a US senator. At their best, these stories relate with great tenderness the small kindnesses people share: Celeste, the black maid in ``Coals,'' antagonizes but ultimately comforts her grieving white employer; the retired and embittered preacher in ``Sweet Armageddon'' prays for doomsday but is solicitous toward his wife, regretful of the poverty to which his principled stubbornness has reduced them. At their worst, the pre-fab familiarity of character and situation dulls the intended effect. ``Abide With Me,'' meant to be a raucous tall tale about a man who sees God and raises a statue in tribute, degenerates instead into a catalogue of tired bumpkin caricatures and cute southern colloquialisms. Like the anglophile fox hunter in ``Points,'' for whom the chase is ``choosing to reach back into the best epochs the centuries had to offer, as well as a statement of where one stood in respect to a world becoming increasingly common, disordered, and hateful,'' many of these characters—aging, fighting irrelevance, confronted with evidence of their own deterioration as well as that of society—seek refuge from the inhospitable present in the past. In the best southern literary tradition, they are more often haunted than comforted by their heritage. Well-crafted, but oh so familiar.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8071-1835-4

Page Count: 213

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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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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