Archer aptly cites O. Henry, along with Saki and John Buchan, as his masters, but the real model for these tales is the...


Despite the title, none of the 14 stories megaselling Archer (The Eleventh Commandment, 1998, etc.) exhibits here are abridgements of potential novels; practically all of them are expansions of paragraph-length anecdotes.

The tendency to embroider pat morals is clearest from the titles of the nine stories based on actual incidents. A champion of apartheid receives a tolerance transplant along with the heart of the African his automobile killed in “A Change of Heart.” A house built on the troubled border of the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland comes under attack in “Both Sides Against the Middle.” The brief “Love at First Sight” could easily have been boiled down further to an anniversary toast, or still further to “boy meets girl.” Even when Archer’s detailing the confidence schemes that give shape to so many of these tales—the hoary deception in “Something for Nothing,” the more elaborate moneymaking plot in “Crime Pays,” the plausible suitor who lays siege to a wealthy wife in “Too Many Coincidences”—their cleverness takes a backseat to the image of the conscientious recorder jotting down notes from a daily newspaper. The stories Archer makes up himself are just as foursquare and functional in their moralizing. A wealthy widower tests the affections of his heirs by pretending to be bankrupt in “The Endgame.” A self-regarding artist who spends a lifetime sponging off his brother gets his comeuppance in “Chalk and Cheese.” Everybody at Critchley’s Bank wishes he were somebody else in “The Grass is Always Greener . . . ,” a theme treated just as effectively a hundred years ago, and at a third the length, in O. Henry’s “The Social Triangle.”

Archer aptly cites O. Henry, along with Saki and John Buchan, as his masters, but the real model for these tales is the after-dinner speaker who wouldn’t dream of taxing your brain after the long day you’ve had.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-018552-X

Page Count: 272

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2000

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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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