These 15 minuscule, deceptively casual stories (by an author previously published in small literary journals) might not be great literature, but many have deep, and sometimes haunting, echoes. Born in Polynesia, raised in Hawaii, Perry paints an exotic portrait of island life that few outsiders see: fishermen, farmers, the poor, the crazed. Modern (or merchandising) elements coexist alongside tradition. Squaring off for a cockfight, one of the trainers muses about his opponent being angry because he got the man's granddaughter pregnant (she had an abortion). A pig farmer travels from Iowa to perform the ritual pig slaughter that attracts crowds of tourists. Continually, readers are reminded of the intense love-hate relationship humans have with nature, beasts, and other humans. Metamorphoses so natural to mythology (and its lasting heritage in superstition) occur often, though they seem contrived in the weaker stories. Take the case of a farm woman who discovers a mongoose stealing chicken eggs and later attacking the bird; she waits for his return with her husband's rifle cocked and ready, wonders what her husband's doing out all night, sees him drive up, shoots: ``The mongoose was back.'' At times condescendingly aware of her readership, Perry weaves in explanations for unfamiliar words, making lesser stories read like translations. Some of the finest pieces are written from a child's point of view: the girl no one wants taken to an old woman's house, another girl covering her ears as her mother is raped, an orphan being led away by her stepfather, one boy challenging another to dive from a deadly cliff. With simple gestures, Perry captures a child's complex vulnerability, sensitivity, and stubbornness. With illustrations by LouAnne Kromschroeder-Davis. Here you have it: a meeting of Jorge Luis Borges and Joseph Campbell, set against a backdrop of lais and luaus.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-880284-06-5

Page Count: 112

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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