A fanciful take on life, love, tragedy, and human connection that draws its strength from insight instead of artifice.

GRAVITY CHANGES

Flying children, lovely light bulbs, and unusually expressive faces are just some of the wonders that populate the world of Powers’ debut short story collection.

While each of Powers' brief tales is a treasure trove of whimsical surrealism, it's his uncompromising and often melancholy view of human nature that holds this collection together. The stories, which range in length from brief vignettes to longer narratives, bring the reader closer to the emotional reality of life by distorting the mundane reality of our world. What do leftover characters do with themselves when their action movie is over and the hero is dead? Can a woman single-handedly shrink the universe? Can a moon be in love with a girl? What is it like to be married to the devil? Each story presents a different twist; sometimes it is magical, like a man who becomes one with his couch, and sometimes it is more dreamlike, like a morbid children’s game. Sometimes the difference between the magic and the dreams is not quite clear. It takes a few pages to find secure footing in this uncanny universe, but Powers’ clean, no-frills prose keeps what could otherwise be a disorienting roller coaster grounded and clear. If some of the stories require a second reading, it's not because Powers strays too far down the rabbit hole but because they're too provocative to release their hold on the reader all at once. And if any of the glimpses into this world, a place wholly different and yet somehow recognizable as our own, are too peculiar to evoke their roots in truth, the next one is never too far away.

A fanciful take on life, love, tragedy, and human connection that draws its strength from insight instead of artifice.

Pub Date: May 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942683-37-7

Page Count: 232

Publisher: BOA Editions

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

THE HIDDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

Science fiction author (The Wall of Storms, 2016) and translator (The Redemption of Time, Baoshu, 2019) Liu’s short stories explore the nature of identity, consciousness, and autonomy in hostile and chaotic worlds.

Liu deftly and compassionately draws connections between a genetically altered girl struggling to reconcile her human and alien sides and 20th-century Chinese young men who admire aspects of Western culture even as they confront its xenophobia (“Ghost Days”). A poor salvager on a distant planet learns to channel a revolutionary spirit through her alter ego of a rabbit (“Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard”). In “Byzantine Empathy,” a passionate hacktivist attempts to upend charitable giving through blockchain and VR technology even as her college roommate, an executive at a major nonprofit, fights to co-opt the process, a struggle which asks the question of whether pure empathy is possible—or even desired—in our complex geopolitical structure. Much of the collection is taken up by a series of overlapping and somewhat repetitive stories about the singularity, in which human minds are scanned and uploaded to servers, establishing an immortal existence in virtuality, a concept which many previous SF authors have already explored exhaustively. (Liu also never explains how an Earth that is rapidly becoming depleted of vital resources somehow manages to indefinitely power servers capable of supporting 300 billion digital lives.) However, one of those stories exhibits undoubted poignance in its depiction of a father who stubbornly clings to a flesh-and-blood existence for himself and his loved ones in the rotting remains of human society years after most people have uploaded themselves (“Staying Behind”). There is also some charm in the title tale, a fantasy stand-alone concerning a young woman snatched from her home and trained as a supernaturally powered assassin who retains a stubborn desire to seek her own path in life.

A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982134-03-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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