A rich haul from a well of talent.


Gathered from six earlier collections, spanning more than three decades, 28 stories from the redoubtable English writer.

A youngish mother on a faraway beach. Staring into the water, a stranger with a familiar back. It’s Heneker! Ten years before, in London, Hetty had been his art student and mistress. Now she’s happily married and Heneker is a famous painter. Together they explore a painful paradox, leavened with humor: They’re soul mates but incompatible ("Hetty Sleeping"). Nancy and Clancy are soul mates, too, but there’s no humor attending these childhood sweethearts, for their future is darkened by heartbreak ("The Boy who Turned into a Bike"). Gardam’s stories range widely. She’s as good with the very old ("Old Filth," a postscript to her same-titled novel) as the very young ("Swan"). The upper classes, observed with a beady eye, come off unattractively: mean-spirited, oblivious to suffering ("The Tribute" and "Miss Mistletoe"). Gardam doesn't fare as well with the deeply depressed: "Rode by all with Pride" and "Damage" are uncharacteristically labored. She writes ghost stories with flair ("A Spot of Gothic," "Soul Mates") but is less successful with fantasy ("The Green Man," "The Zoo at Christmas"). One exception is her delightfully mischievous sequel to Hans Christian Andersen’s classic, in which the Little Mermaid’s littlest sister decides to check out the prince for herself. Her verdict? “Men aren’t worth it” ("The Pangs of Love"). In somewhat different territory there’s "Grace," about a man with a diamond under his skin; it’s a tall tale that’s markedly less tall by the end. The most attention-getting story is "The Sidmouth Letters": A hustling American academic is hot to buy correspondence which may provide a peek into Jane Austen’s private life, but a relative of the woman who owns the letters beats him to the punch. What happens next will thrill some Janeites and appall others.

A rich haul from a well of talent.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60945-199-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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