Could have benefited from more fictionalizing.

CAT O’ NINE TALES

AND OTHER STORIES

Archer (False Impression, 2006, etc.) presents a dozen stranger-than-fiction stories.

All 12 of these stories, the author insists, are based on actual incidents, nine of them anecdotes he picked up during his two years as a guest of Her Majesty. Many of the tales involve scams. A thief manipulates two acquisitive brothers to run up the price of a fabled chess piece. A middle-class couple plunders the post office in which they’ve invested when its status is downgraded. A lorry driver agrees to so many smuggling schemes that they become his life’s work. An accountant and an events arranger conspire to upgrade her salary and launder the proceeds at the roulette table, and a Florentine restaurateur takes a more literal approach to laundering his income. Even criminals aiming higher, or lower, are equally ingenious and unsuccessful. A man poisons his inconvenient wife during a visit to St. Petersburg by hiding the “Don’t Drink the Water” signs. A prisoner breaks out of a minimum-security jail to kill his girlfriend and her current lover. A retiring Bombay police commissioner gives an incorrigible swindler a second chance by hiring him as a file clerk. Any of these stories would make a terrific anecdote in a crowded bar, but none of them is heartfelt or ingenious enough to stand on its own as an offering to strangers asked to invest serious time and money. The same goes for the items that didn’t originate in prison dialogues: a Greek paterfamilias accidentally killed at a wedding he’s graced with his presence; a second marriage that reveals exactly why an old friend was drawn to his wealthy behemoth of a wife; and a judge’s stratagem for dealing with a wife determined to bankrupt the husband she’s divorcing.

Could have benefited from more fictionalizing.

Pub Date: March 20, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-36264-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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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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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