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

THE HIDDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

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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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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