Appealing and surprising takes on a subject prone to cliché.


Couples find surprising, if not downright strange ways to come together in a second romance-centered collection by Van Booy (The Secret Lives of People in Love, 2007).

The author has a pitch-perfect tone for writing about the tender passion. Instead of florid, melodramatic prose, the five tales feature hushed, patient storytelling that’s deliberately abstracted; Van Booy’s goal is to capture the ineffable nature of falling in love. The title story is a braided narrative involving Bruno, a famous concert cellist prone to musing on the death of his sister years ago, and Hannah, who similarly mourns the untimely loss of her young brother. Restrained without being icy, it recalls a Bergman film as it returns to such curious, ghostly characters as the nun Bruno sees writing on a frosted window, or the homeless man Hannah watches in a Los Angeles park. Van Booy has a taste for merging such gentle imagery with more violent moments, as when Hannah’s father chops off his hand after the death of his son. “The Coming and Going of Strangers” opens with a gypsy man risking his life to save a child from drowning. Two decades later, the man’s son seems to have inherited his father’s nobility, which helps readers understand that he’s more than a Peeping Tom as he obsessively spies on the girl he adores. Van Booy’s gauzy characterizations can be maddening: Is the narrator of “Tiger, Tiger” unhealthily fixated on a pediatrician who had an affair with her mother-in-law, or is he truly amazingly wise, as she seems to believe? In this particular universe, emotion counts for more than motivation, so the hero of “The City of Windy Trees” doesn’t seem especially odd for being so absurdly concerned with Raisinets and David Bowie songs. His journey from New York to Sweden to meet his daughter comes to such a sweet, sensible resolution that it convincingly shows how love rights the world.

Appealing and surprising takes on a subject prone to cliché.

Pub Date: May 12, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-166147-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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


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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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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