This book will take you to places you never dreamed of going and aren't quite sure you want to stay, but you won't regret...

THE WILDS

Robots may search for love, but there’s nothing wilder than human nature in this genre-bending short story collection from debut writer Elliott.

Elliott (English and Women and Gender Studies/Univ. of South Carolina) takes the definition of "wild" and runs with it in stories which leap from Southern gothic to dystopian science fiction and sometimes blend both together. A robot with silicone lips explores permutations of love; an Alzheimer’s patient regains her memory in a futuristic nursing home; and a woman goes on a Neanderthal retreat to lose weight. Sharp and funny, the stories are dark satires on the fad diets and self-absorption of modern life. Elliott shines when it comes to worldbuilding; her details are so dense and vivid the sticky heat of the deep South rises off the page, blending with the hipster neurosis of one of her Zen-crazed protagonists. She cartwheels from the sublime—“the sky in pink turmoil”—to the grotesque—“hormones spiked his blood...and fed the zits that festered on his sullen face"—but prefers to spend most of her time on the grotesque. At times it's hard to follow the lush twisting vines of Elliott’s plots because they're so entangled in the worlds she creates. But no matter: Even if the stories end abruptly, without enough of a road map to let you know where you are and why you're there, there's always a delicate image or an emotional jolt that leaves you wanting more.

This book will take you to places you never dreamed of going and aren't quite sure you want to stay, but you won't regret the journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-935639-92-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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EXHALATION

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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