Exhalation
From an award-winning science fiction writer (whose short story "The Story of Your Life" was the basis for the Academy Award-nominated movie Arrival), the long-awaited new collection of stunningly original, humane, and already celebrated short storiesThis much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary "Exhalation," an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," a woman cares for an artificial intelligence over twenty years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: "Omphalos" and "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom."In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth—What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?—and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.

Exhalation Details

TitleExhalation
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 7th, 2019
PublisherKnopf
Rating
GenreShort Stories, Science Fiction, Fiction

Exhalation Review

  • Manuel Antão
    January 1, 1970
    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.Nothing Erases the Past: "Exhalation: Stories" by Ted Chiang“Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.”In “The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate” by Ted ChiangI could write a review for each one of the stories in this collection, but my favourite is the “The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate”.If I had a Time Machine, I would save my time machine journey If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.Nothing Erases the Past: "Exhalation: Stories" by Ted Chiang“Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.”In “The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate” by Ted ChiangI could write a review for each one of the stories in this collection, but my favourite is the “The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate”.If I had a Time Machine, I would save my time machine journey time (just in case it breaks down after too much use) until I had paid someone to type out the whole Harry Potter series for me and would travel back to just before J.K. Rowling started writing them and start negotiations with publishers...
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  • Jessica Woodbury
    January 1, 1970
    There's a lot to love about Ted Chiang's short stories and that's all here to love in this collection. He creates amazing worlds, sometimes close to the ones we know and sometimes drastically different. Once he's transported the reader into that world he isn't content to just let you look around and enjoy the novelty, he's going to dive into the deepest moral and philosophical questions that world presents. And, in a collection of Chiang stories, you get to move from world to world, question to There's a lot to love about Ted Chiang's short stories and that's all here to love in this collection. He creates amazing worlds, sometimes close to the ones we know and sometimes drastically different. Once he's transported the reader into that world he isn't content to just let you look around and enjoy the novelty, he's going to dive into the deepest moral and philosophical questions that world presents. And, in a collection of Chiang stories, you get to move from world to world, question to question, so that the depth and breadth of the worlds and questions presented is its own pleasure.I don't want to say much about these stories because the surprise is part of the joy. There is time travel, parallel universes, artificial intelligence, and even religion. But ultimately there is the human condition, although in Chiang's worlds it can extend well beyond just the human element. I sailed through this, savoring the stories. There are a couple shorter ones that grabbed me a little less and that mostly just fill out the collection, but otherwise this is a strong and absorbing collection that will stay in your mind for a long time after you finish it.
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  • Marcheto
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 starsA must for any Ted Chiang's fan. Only two new stories, but really strong ones, and, of course, it's always a pleasure to reread Chiang's "old" stories.
  • Blair
    January 1, 1970
    (3.5) An excellent, varied collection, one that made me think I should read more short science fiction.'Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom' was definitely my favourite. It imagines a world not much different from our own, except for the ubiquity of 'prisms'. These are devices which allow a person to communicate with their parallel self (or paraself) in an alternate dimension (or branch), which is seemingly created by the activation of the prism itself. There's a lot going on, from a prism store (3.5) An excellent, varied collection, one that made me think I should read more short science fiction.'Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom' was definitely my favourite. It imagines a world not much different from our own, except for the ubiquity of 'prisms'. These are devices which allow a person to communicate with their parallel self (or paraself) in an alternate dimension (or branch), which is seemingly created by the activation of the prism itself. There's a lot going on, from a prism store manager scamming customers out of their savings (with the help of his paraselves) to the addition of Dana, a therapist who helps those with prism-use problems, and who is troubled by a misstep from her own past – but it works. The protagonist, Nat, might be the most complex character in the whole book, and the story isn't even all about her. I loved the scenes with Dana and her clients, and the prism support group; so perfectly sketched.'The Lifecycle of Software Objects' is a novella in itself, and was previously published as a standalone book. It follows Ana, a former zookeeper, as she accepts a friend's offer to work on the development of AIs known as 'digients'. Initially designed as cute, pet-like creatures with animal and robot avatars, the digients gradually evolve and learn until they possess intelligence comparable to that of humans. But as the company that creates them is shuttered and changing technology leaves them behind, Ana and her friend Derek – who are among the few to have formed strong emotional attachments to their digients – are faced with difficult choices. As I read, I found myself being drawn into Ana's maternal relationship to her digient, Jax. The fate of the digients is both heartbreaking and disturbing, making the title of the story bitterly apposite.The stories in Exhalation are often strong on plot and weak on character: the idea that Derek has feelings for Ana, for example, is repeatedly mentioned, but I never really felt it. 'Omphalos' diverges from that, creating a sense of connection to its characters. It depicts a world in which primordial artefacts offer physical evidence of God's creation. The narrator, Dorothea, is a devout believer, but finding stolen artefacts for sale in a museum shop leads her down a path that brings her faith into question. The story is told as a series of prayers, an effective device which does a lot to bring Dorothea to life, communicating her faith in both God and science, and the pain caused by her increasing doubt.'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate' is a delightfully engaging time-travel tale. 'The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling' weaves together past and future narratives, both of which suggest that the ability to recall events perfectly – whether via a written record or video-logging software – is not necessarily a suitable replacement for human memory, subjective and unreliable as it may be. 'Exhalation' is one of those sci-fi stories that throws up more questions than it answers, and I couldn't stop being distracted by all the unknowns. I didn't care how the robots (or whatever) worked, I wanted to know how they had come to be, whether they were supposed to exist within a future version of our world or in an alien society, etc. Similarly, 'What's Expected of Us' centres on a brilliant idea – simple devices known as 'Predictors' cause a widespread breakdown of belief in free will – but doesn't do as much with it as I would've liked.I enjoyed reading the author's notes at the end; they offer small but important clues to the stories' backgrounds. When I learned that 'The Great Silence' was originally part of an art installation, I understood better why it didn't really work for me. And while I did enjoy 'Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny' in its own right, the fact that it was written as part of an anthology – structured around the bizarre devices in a collector's 'cabinet of curiosities' – gives important context.If you like Chiang's stories, I would recommend Alexander Weinstein's Children of the New World. I wish I could wipe that book from my memory and read it for the first time all over again; there's just nothing else that compares.I received an advance review copy of Exhalation from the publisher through Edelweiss.TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
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  • Claudia
    January 1, 1970
    Ted Chiang is a master of short fiction, no doubt about it. He may not be the most empathic writer, but his ideas and topics are absolutely brilliant.This collection has 9 stories, from which only 3 were new for me. Here they are: Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny – what would be like if our children would be raised by robotic nannies. A bit unnerving… Omphalos – how will your perception of Earth history will change if you’ll learn that the Earth does not have 8912 years and humanity is not the Ted Chiang is a master of short fiction, no doubt about it. He may not be the most empathic writer, but his ideas and topics are absolutely brilliant.This collection has 9 stories, from which only 3 were new for me. Here they are: Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny – what would be like if our children would be raised by robotic nannies. A bit unnerving… Omphalos – how will your perception of Earth history will change if you’ll learn that the Earth does not have 8912 years and humanity is not the reason for which the universe was created, as you thought? Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom – the most stunning of all; how does he gets his ideas, beats me… The others, which I already read, are below. Three of them can be read online, if you care to get a glimpse on Chiang's writing, before enjoying this collection: The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate – One can't change the past no matter what, but... you'll see what by reading it - a delightful time travel story in the style of Arabian tales One Thousand and One Nights. Exhalation - An exquisite philosophical introspection of the surrounding universe, meaning of life and what makes us who we are. High-class tech sci-fi; if you loved Stories of Your Life and Others, you'll love this one too. Can be read here: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fic... What’s Expected of Us - He really is the High Master of sci-fi short stories. It can be read here: https://www.nature.com/articles/43615... The Lifecycle of Software Objects - The interaction between humans and AIs in a unique approach. The virtual world created seems even more plausible by the almost journal-like style of the story. Also reading Chiang's afterword makes one realize that even if AIs seems to be a tomorrow achievement, it will be a while until we’ll have Ava amongst us. But in the mean time, you can try see what it’s like interacting with... it/her? You choose ;) The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling - A brilliant story about truth, weaved from two parallel plans, one about memories (true vs fabricated), the other about words (written vs spoken). Again Chiang manages to produce a brilliant piece. Not at all a light reading but well worthy of your time. The Great Silence - I read here that Ted Chiang collaborated with artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla to create a story based on their video called “The Great Silence.”I didn't find on the internet the video but I did find the story, which is more than heart-breaking. It's a cry out loud against the extinction of species. All facts in it are true, the only fiction part is the narrator, which is a parrot; afterall, it's the story of their species.It approaches the same issue as Liu Cixin in The Three-Body Problem: why human beings are looking for intelligent life in space, when we have it right here:The humans use Arecibo to look for extraterrestrial intelligence. Their desire to make a connection is so strong that they’ve created an ear capable of hearing across the universe.But I and my fellow parrots are right here. Why aren’t they interested in listening to our voices?We’re a non-human species capable of communicating with them. Aren’t we exactly what humans are looking for?The extinction of parrots, especially of African Grey ones is really a major problem. I read some time ago another story on the same subject: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Kathleen Ann Goonan. More and more authors are raising the alarm in hope they'll make a change. Ted Chiang' story can be read here: http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/text... And the story of Alex can be found at: http://alexfoundation.org/the-birds/a... ----More details on African Grey parrots:http://news.nationalgeographic.com/20... http://www.parrotsdailynews.com/afric... At the end, there are some notes on each story, how it was developed and what inspired it. Really interesting to see how he extrapolated on those ideas.Bottom line, a great collection if you like SF of ideas.
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  • Aerin
    January 1, 1970
    This collection is just as good as Stories of Your Life and Others, with "Exhalation," "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," and "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom" as particular standouts.Also "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," "The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling," and "Omphalos."Oh, all of them.
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  • Marianna Neal
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 out of 5 starsTed Chiang's "what if" scenarios through which he tells his stories just work for me. I loved his previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, and this one did not disappoint. Here, the overarching theme that stood out most to me was growth through acceptance—acceptance of self, of change, of differences, of mistakes, of lack of control. This is not the most comfortable thought for those of us who believe in our power to shape our lives and our reality, and in certain 4.5 out of 5 starsTed Chiang's "what if" scenarios through which he tells his stories just work for me. I loved his previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, and this one did not disappoint. Here, the overarching theme that stood out most to me was growth through acceptance—acceptance of self, of change, of differences, of mistakes, of lack of control. This is not the most comfortable thought for those of us who believe in our power to shape our lives and our reality, and in certain stories I found the message a bit frustrating, but Ted Chiang presents his point of view masterfully, whether I agree with it or not. My favorite stories were the first one, The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, and the sixth, The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling. If I had to pick a least favorite, it would probably be the eighth, Omphalos—I didn't dislike it per se, but it was the one I was interested in the least. Funny, now that I think of it, it kind of reminds me of Tower of Babylon—my least favorite from Chiang's other collection. Absolutely 100% recommend this book to any science fiction fan!
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    (4.5 stars.) Chiang fans have read most of these over the past decade, but it’s definitely nice to have all the stories in one place. I’d say Exhalation is a slight improvement over his first collection, which is really saying something.Chiang remains the best speculative sci-fi writer out there. As ever, his prose is unobtrusive and deceptively simple, but actually very carefully crafted. Characterization is serviceable rather than amazing, but for short stories it’s not a problem. (With that s (4.5 stars.) Chiang fans have read most of these over the past decade, but it’s definitely nice to have all the stories in one place. I’d say Exhalation is a slight improvement over his first collection, which is really saying something.Chiang remains the best speculative sci-fi writer out there. As ever, his prose is unobtrusive and deceptively simple, but actually very carefully crafted. Characterization is serviceable rather than amazing, but for short stories it’s not a problem. (With that said, let’s hope Chiang doesn’t attempt a novel with these barely-functional-archetype characters.)
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  • Tanya
    January 1, 1970
    Exhalation: Stories was my most anticipated book release of the year, the long-awaited second collection by the perhaps most highly decorated SFF writer ever (seriously—on average, Chiang releases a short story every two years, and is seemingly incapable of publishing one without it being nominated for the genre's top awards), a full seventeen years after his first one, Stories of Your Life and Others.This book collects nine stories, two of which (Omphalos and Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom Exhalation: Stories was my most anticipated book release of the year, the long-awaited second collection by the perhaps most highly decorated SFF writer ever (seriously—on average, Chiang releases a short story every two years, and is seemingly incapable of publishing one without it being nominated for the genre's top awards), a full seventeen years after his first one, Stories of Your Life and Others.This book collects nine stories, two of which (Omphalos and Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom) are previously unpublished works. As any other short story collection, it's a bit of a mixed bag, but the overall quality of Chiang's work rises high above the merely mediocre; even the one that didn't work for me (The Lifecycle of Software Objects) ended up winning the Hugo Award, so if you're into any sort of speculative fiction at all, whether with a hard or soft sci-fi touch, there'll likely be something to suit your taste in here; the science is really just a fancy front to delve into the human (and sometimes beyond) condition with his unmatched delicacy. I'd say that the stories in this collection show a wider thematic range than the ones included in his first one; he usually has a very matter-of-fact way of writing, but he seems more confident in experimenting with both his prose and narrative style, and I have no doubt that he will rise to prominence in literary circles in defiance of being firmly rooted in a genre that's often looked down on. He has a real gift for crafting compact stories—poignant and thought-provoking in their premise and scope, in spite of their brevity. All of them are unique and visionary, and exhibit his signature compassionate, empathic touch—his stories make me glad to be a flawed human in this imperfect world.The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate · ★★★★★Arabian Nights meets time travel in this Hugo and Nebula Award winning tale. Quite different from Chiang's usual technical, hard sci-fi, it mimics the Persian storytelling style very well, and is thus unlike any story of his I've read so far. Instead of focusing on the possible paradoxical consequences of time travel, he instead explores philosophical concerns in stories within stories, making this a moral fable about the immutability of fate and the lure of second chances, with more of a fantasy than sci-fi touch. It's the first of his work that has left me stunned not only because of the story itself, but also because of the beauty of the writing.Exhalation · ★★★An argon-breathing creature made of aluminum and gold studies its own brain and makes a discovery with high-stakes consequences for its whole universe. I really liked the ending of this, it was bittersweet and affirming, and the story as a whole held up a mirror to humanity and our own strive for knowledge and self-discovery—and implies that perhaps all science is limited by us being human, with all its implications—in a really original way. There were just so many things left untold though, the story brought up more questions than it answered: Where are we? When are we? How did it all come to be? Who are they? Who built them?—unimportant details for the intention and scope of this short story, but I found them distracting omissions.What's Expected of Us · ★★★★While the first story in the collection explored the idea of unshakeable destiny in an ultimately uplifting tale, this brilliant and very short thought experiment, first published in the esteemed scientific journal Nature, is decidedly more pessimistic and goes one step further, showing as a device—a toy, really—which provides irrefutable proof that free will is an illusion. But rather than playing with the tired free will VS determinism concepts, it centers on the consequences of such a complete loss of belief, and the different ways in which people will react to it. As perfect as such a short story can possibly be, it really got in my head and made it spin.The Lifecycle of Software Objects · ★½Chiang has a unique gift of condensing the most incredible ideas laden with so many possibilities into short stories—what he apparently can't do is write long form. The longest story in his first collection was by far my least favorite, and this novella-length offering, his longest to-date, confirms that trend. It's the only story of his I have ever actively disliked, it was much too technical, meandering, cold, and I felt that it went off the rails towards the end. The story raises interesting moral considerations about AI as conscious software deserving of the same respect that's due to any living being, and serves as an allegory for the responsibilities and sacrifices one makes as a parent, but for all it tried, it didn't manage to make me care about the digients (digital entities) originally created as virtual pets. Maybe I lack the maternal instinct required to empathize, but I guess it's a good thing my parents never got me a Tamagochi.Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny · ★★Set up as a catalog description of an artifact in a museum exhibition on “attitudes toward children” throughout history, this story explores one Victorian inventor’s approach to “rational” and “scientific” child rearing in a short, steampunky story about the consequences of machines (instead of irrational and untrustworthy women) raising children from infancy. I’m not a fan of steampunk at all, but this was short enough for me not to mind, but it just wasn't that memorable. It makes more sense when viewed in the context of its original publication, which was as an entry in an anthology collecting stories about “curiosities” accumulated by fictional Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead—it reminded me of something you might find in a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not! museum.The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling · ★★★★This thought-provoking story follows two separate but parallel narratives: In one, a journalist in the future explores the pros and cons of a new wetware that records your life and would bring up unaltered video of referenced events in the corner of your field of vision in an easy and immediate way, ultimately replacing organic memory. The other takes place in the past, and follows a child in a West African tribe who is taught how to write by a missionary, and explores the impact of literacy and the difference in cultures that use oral VS written records. I was intrigued enough by the two alternating, complementing narratives which explore whether there can (and should) be such a thing as reliable memory and ultimate truth, but the unexpected twist is what really sold me and put this story firmly in classic philosophical Chiang territory. He takes a look at how our often imperfect or even fabricated memories impact our personality, and how such technology could affect people and their relationships, and even entire societies.The Great Silence · ★★★★A short, profound, and bittersweet story which ponders the Fermi Paradox through scientific facts: Alex was a real grey parrot and the subject of a thirty-year-long experiment, by the end of which he showed signs of an intelligence level similar to that of a five year old child, and Puerto Rico's Arecibo is home to both his endangered species and an observatory from which a message meant to communicate with potential extraterrestrial life was transmitted into the universe in the 70's. This story is told by one of these endangered parrots, and it points out the irony of looking up into the stars for signs of intelligent life when we can't even understand or coexist with the intelligent life that shares our planet. A gentle nudge to cherish what's closer to home before it's too late, an ending that made me shed a tear or two, and my favorite passage in the whole collection:"According to Hindu mythology, the universe was created with a sound: “Om.” It’s a syllable that contains within it everything that ever was and everything that will be. When the Arecibo telescope is pointed at the space between stars, it hears a faint hum. Astronomers call that the “cosmic microwave background.” It’s the residual radiation of the Big Bang, the explosion that created the universe fourteen billion years ago. But you can also think of it as a barely audible reverberation of that original “Om.” That syllable was so resonant that the night sky will keep vibrating for as long as the universe exists. When Arecibo is not listening to anything else, it hears the voice of creation."Omphalos · ★★★½Imagine a world in which we have tangible proof of God's Creation some eight thousand years ago; science doesn't disprove the existence of God, but provides hard evidence that strengthens people's faith. Because of this, everyone has a sense of purpose and belonging, because there must be a bigger plan that we are a part of—this knowledge helps us deal with grief and hardships. But what happens when a new scientific discovery questions the existence of a divine Masterplan and starts sowing seeds of doubt? Told as a series of prayers by a devout scientist, the idea at its root is unique enough as it is, but the detail that really sold it to me was the ending; I found it touching in that peculiar Chiang-way—heart-warming, even. Because of its theme of conciliating science with faith, it reminded me a bit of Tower of Babylon from Chiang's first collection, the first story of his I ever read and loved.Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom · ★★★★★What an incredibly fascinating premise, so perfectly suited to book-end the collection with. The first story was about the immutability of fate, while in this one, the activation of new devices called "prisms" create a separate "branch" of reality, and people can communicate with their parallel self in this alternate dimension, where their life may or may not turn out completely different. As such, envy, regret, morality, guilt and the very human question of "what if?" are the biggest themes, examined with the help of way more interweaving storylines than I'm used to in Chiang's stories—he usually explores abstract ideas, and his characters are little more than a vehicle to reach that end, but the two protagonists in this story were complex and real. I was most excited to read this one based on the intriguing title alone (borrowed from philosopher Kierkegaard, who so described the paralyzing effect of free will and its boundless possibilities), and I'm so glad it didn't disappoint!—————All my book reviews can be found here · Buy on BookDepository
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  • Jamie
    January 1, 1970
    Very solid collection. As with most of Chiang's writing these are "idea" pieces. He asks big picture questions, using the stories as vehicles for him to explore the ramifications of either some groundbreaking new technology (time travel, AI, etc) or discovery/revelation that has the power to reshape humanity and our perceptions.The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (4.5) - Wonderful, novel time travel tale told with more richness, and deeper characterizations than Chiang's typical storytelling.E Very solid collection. As with most of Chiang's writing these are "idea" pieces. He asks big picture questions, using the stories as vehicles for him to explore the ramifications of either some groundbreaking new technology (time travel, AI, etc) or discovery/revelation that has the power to reshape humanity and our perceptions.The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (4.5) - Wonderful, novel time travel tale told with more richness, and deeper characterizations than Chiang's typical storytelling.Exhalation (4.0) - This brilliant introspective story about life and the nature of the universe seems to take a page from Asimov's classic The Gods Themselves.What's Expected of Us (4.0)The Lifecycle of Software Objects (5.0) - An amazing story examining so many fascinating issues surrounding the formation and evolution of true, multi-dimensional AI in the near future. Chiang's vision of the future feels real, and close to home, not your stereotypical chilling tale of megalomaniac AI bent on destroying or subjugating humanity.Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny (3.0) - Short, creepy, steampunk inspired story.The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling (3.0) - Super interesting concept, but only moderately entertaining story.The Great Silence (3.0)Omphalos (3.5) - An interesting, philosophical examination of science and creationism, questioning the role of the divine in humanity's place and purpose in the universe.Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom (4.0) - Fascinating look at the ramifications of being able to communicate with versions of yourself (paraselves) in divergent alternate realities, exploring the question of free will, decision making paths, the resulting outcomes and ultimately how those affect how you perceive yourself.
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  • matthew
    January 1, 1970
    More like 3 and a half stars. I remember loving his first collection but perhaps my memory has gilded over the rough edges - the clumsy dialogue and clumsy characterization and clumsy moralizing, which are all in evidence here. The grasps toward poignancy end up cold and aloof, a common problem with “hard” science fiction. Clumsy is the best description which is a shame. Still, worth reading.EDIT: my initial thoughts expanded:I read Ted Chiang's first collection of stories before this blog, when More like 3 and a half stars. I remember loving his first collection but perhaps my memory has gilded over the rough edges - the clumsy dialogue and clumsy characterization and clumsy moralizing, which are all in evidence here. The grasps toward poignancy end up cold and aloof, a common problem with “hard” science fiction. Clumsy is the best description which is a shame. Still, worth reading.EDIT: my initial thoughts expanded:I read Ted Chiang's first collection of stories before this blog, when I was in university the first time, and I found it a mind-blowing experience: poignant, intriguing, beautiful, delicate, thoughtful. My memory must have gilded the rough edges, because how else to explain how disappointing I found Chiang's second collection? The most cutting edge SF concepts are still present, but I don't remember the older stories being so clumsy with the execution of said concepts, or even worse, the stentorious "philosophizing" around them. Imagine, if you can, a first year philosophy seminar, run by a teacher's assistant and attended entirely by 18 year olds. That's the kind of earnest, wide-eyed navel-gazing you can expect from the stories and their rooting around in the dirt for some nugget of wisdom at the level of "having a child changes your perception."Hold up. I sound much grumpier about these stories than I actually am. I found the exposition clumsy, the characterization clumsy, the reaches toward poignancy clumsy, but clumsy isn't necessarily a failure. That Chiang doesn't have the grace or lightness of touch other (moralizing) science fiction writers have doesn't mean these stories aren't worth your time. There are positive aspects. Firstly, they're all immediately readable. I ploughed through all nine stories in two days, never once finding myself impatient or restless. Even the less plot-focused of stories, such as the title story, about a mechanical man performing brain surgery on himself to discover the secrets of the universe, were alluring and compelling. Chiang is probably the most readable of the "hard" science fiction writers (Greg Egan I've found completely unreadable) thanks to his general storytelling skills. He spins a good yarn, overall. It's just the smaller things pricked at me, a frustration built of a thousand tiny cuts. Clumsy, as I've repeated, is the most appropriate descriptor.The final story is about prisms which allow communication between parallel universes, and in true Heisenberg principle fashion, the act of communication itself causes the divergence. This is perhaps the best story in the entire collection, or maybe second best to the multiple award-winning "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate." Both feature Chiang at his emotional best, using the science fictional concept for emotional truth instead of whiz bang theatrics. The final story, "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom," is anchored by an emotionally complex focal character, and by grounded ethical stakes. Take away all the science fictional aspects and the story still functions as a narrative: the lead character must face her own past ethical choices and forge ahead to make new choices, in an effort to be a better person. The integration of the fantastical isn't quite as smooth as in the aforementioned "Merchant" story (presented à la Arabian Nights-style nested stories), but it's emotional genuine, which makes it all the better for it.  "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" might be the worst story in this collection and I'm truly baffled it won so much praise and so many awards. It's a completely inert, cold, lifeless tale of raising AI as if children. It's classic hard science fiction: emotionless, suffused with technical writing, and human characters functioning only as mouthpieces for oration. Only a parent, smug with the delusion that parenthood is the only meaningful pursuit in life, could come up with something so teeth-rottingly sweet and pablum-like. I find reading about the quiet nobility of child-rearing especially difficult in the years after reading James' What Maisie Knew (here), a face-melting excoriation of the selfishness of parents.  The collection, Exhalation, comes out in May 2019, and I'm grateful to the publisher for an advanced reading copy (especially so far in advance of publication!!)
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  • Leo Robertson
    January 1, 1970
    The title story is very cool, and many others are similarly thought-provoking.Those stories that run to novelette/novella-length, I had to skip. Though Chiang's extensive research and imagination are evident, I wasn't that invested in the concepts he came up with. It was like, "Sure, if that concept existed, that's probably how that would all go down. Thank you for this comprehensive document, Mr Chiang."Russell Brand told a story in one of his stand-up sets about how he invented this weird bask The title story is very cool, and many others are similarly thought-provoking.Those stories that run to novelette/novella-length, I had to skip. Though Chiang's extensive research and imagination are evident, I wasn't that invested in the concepts he came up with. It was like, "Sure, if that concept existed, that's probably how that would all go down. Thank you for this comprehensive document, Mr Chiang."Russell Brand told a story in one of his stand-up sets about how he invented this weird basketball world cup game because he was bored in his trailer on the set of a film. He set up and wrote down matches between different countries while firing a ball of paper through a makeshift hoop he'd put on the wall. Reading some of these stories was like walking into that trailer. Seeing an obsessive person in the middle of an elaborate performance that is basically meaningless to you, hahaha.
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  • Константин Зарубин
    January 1, 1970
    The whole collection is good - really good - but two stories in particular are up there with the best sci-fi I have ever read: "Exhalation" (hands-down brilliant) and "Omphalos" (bordering on genius). Ever since I devoured Stanisław Lem's complete works (in Russian translations) a quarter of a century ago, reading science fiction has been tinged with something like routine disappointment. Very few things are as good as Lem at his finest (which is at least 30% of Lem). Chiang's "Exhalation" and " The whole collection is good - really good - but two stories in particular are up there with the best sci-fi I have ever read: "Exhalation" (hands-down brilliant) and "Omphalos" (bordering on genius). Ever since I devoured Stanisław Lem's complete works (in Russian translations) a quarter of a century ago, reading science fiction has been tinged with something like routine disappointment. Very few things are as good as Lem at his finest (which is at least 30% of Lem). Chiang's "Exhalation" and "Omphalos" are among those precious exceptions. In both stories, about a few pages in, there is a point when you realise where Chiang is going with this, and it suddenly makes you - OK, I don't know about you, but it definitely made me so ridiculously excited that I almost felt like I was 15 again, curled up on a sofa in my hometown and reading Lem's Observation on the Spot (Wizja lokalna) for the first time. Thanks, Ted Chiang.
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  • Jordan
    January 1, 1970
    Really thought-provoking collection, definitely ones I'll revisit. Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!Short stories collections are always hit or miss with me--more of the 'miss' than 'hit,' if we're being honest--so I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed these stories. Chiang tackles some sci-fi related quandaries that I've come across and considered myself many times before. Time travel, AI robots, parallel universes--Chiang explores all of it and does it with an eas Really thought-provoking collection, definitely ones I'll revisit. Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!Short stories collections are always hit or miss with me--more of the 'miss' than 'hit,' if we're being honest--so I was pleasantly surprised to find how much I enjoyed these stories. Chiang tackles some sci-fi related quandaries that I've come across and considered myself many times before. Time travel, AI robots, parallel universes--Chiang explores all of it and does it with an ease of storytelling that makes these stories a truly entertaining and thought-provoking experience. My preferred method of reviewing short story collections is to dive into a select few specific stories with some brief comments on each, so let's move onto that!"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate": This is the first story of the collection and also the one that felt the least "sci-fi" to me and had a much stronger fantasy fairy tale/child story sort of vibe. It's not at all a fairy tale and it's not for children, but the more matter-of-fact writing style that tells the story in a very simple manner has a 'moral story' sort of feel to it that I really enjoyed. I was excited with how it explored some time travel ideas that pop up a lot in sci-fi, which I found particularly worthwhile to read. 4/5"Exhalation": This one wasn't a favorite necessarily, but it still had an exceptionally thought-provoking basis that went in some really unexpected but fascinating direction. I enjoyed the ideas it explored about resources for breathing and how that was threatened. It was fun trying to figure out what the protagonist was. 3/5"The Lifecycle of Software Objects": This was easily one of my favorites. It had a super interesting AI robot concept that took its time in setting up and developing a really fascinating look at how AI 'pets' can become a part of people's lives, both those that last and those that only act as a fad. This was also one of the longest stories, almost novella-length, and it had a slower pace, but I never really found myself losing interest. 5/5"Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny": I didn't find this one to be quite as 'deep' as others, but I still found it rather amusing and entertaining. It did explore some interesting concepts regarding the possibility of robots raising children and the effect it can have on a child's upbringing, but it wasn't particularly groundbreaking. Still, a highly enjoyable read. 4/5"The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling": This story was one of the ones that felt unsettling and due to its plausibility (not fully plausible, but close) that explores ideas of truth and memory. It follows two separate but familiar storylines and 4/5"The Great Silence": A short, extremely bittersweet story told from the perspective of a parrot and that explores the Fermi Paradox. I don't really know what else to say about this one other than I loved it! It's one of the better really short works of fiction I've read in a while. Extremely thought-provoking. 5/5"Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom": A perfect conclusion for this conclusion, "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom" is one of the other longer stories in this collection. It features a story centered on the idea of parallel lives and what would happen if we were able to communicate with parallel versions of ourselves. I was particularly drawn to this one because parallel lives is something that pops up in my head weirdly often, so I found it interesting to see how similar this was to some of the things I think about--and how much more interesting and in-depth it was. I loved the different characters this followed and seeing how having a parallel self to talk to affected people's decisions in their various lives. 4/5Overall, I've given Exhalation 4.5 stars! This is a solid, highly interesting collection of sci-fi stories that I highly recommend. Whether you read much sci-fi or not, I guarantee there's something in here that will make you stop and think.
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  • LiN
    January 1, 1970
    เรืองของเผาจักรกลทีดำรงชีวิตดวยแกสอารกอน ทิงคำถามเยอะมากๆๆ ทังเจตจำนงเสรี หรือแพลตเทิรนทีทำใหชีวิตดำเนินไป ความสงสัยอยากรูตัวตน การดินรนมีชีวิต และยอนใหตระหนักถึงทรัพยากรทีอาจหมดลงในอนาคตอันใกลความเปนมาและเปนไปไมมีเลยอา คือมันเกิดขึนมายังไงจนศิวิไลซขนาดนี เปนสมช.ในเวิรสอืนสรางขึนหรือเปลา แตถาอานเรืองของ Ted Chiang มาสักหนอยมันกจะสไตลนี ทิงชองวางมหาศาลใหเติมลงไปเอง เรื่องของเผ่าจักรกลที่ดำรงชีวิตด้วยแก๊สอาร์กอน ทิ้งคำถามเยอะมากๆๆ ทั้งเจตจำนงเสรี หรือแพล็ตเทิร์นที่ทำให้ชีวิตดำเนินไป ความสงสัยอยากรู้ตัวตน การดิ้นรนมีชีวิต และย้อนให้ตระหนักถึงทรัพยากรที่อาจหมดลงในอนาคตอันใกล้ความเป็นมาและเป็นไปไม่มีเลยอ่า คือมันเกิดขึ้นมายังไงจนศิวิไลซ์ขนาดนี้ เป็นสมช.ในเวิร์สอื่นสร้างขึ้นหรือเปล่า แต่ถ้าอ่านเรื่องของ Ted Chiang มาสักหน่อยมันก็จะสไตล์นี้ ทิ้งช่องว่างมหาศาลให้เติมลงไปเอง
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  • Diana
    January 1, 1970
    There are few authors whose works I anticipate with bated breath the way I do Ted Chiang’s, and oh, this collection - his second - was entirely worth the wait.If you have never heard of Ted Chiang, you may perhaps be more familiar with the movie Arrival, adapted from his short story, The Story of Your Life. Ted Chiang doesn’t write novels, his works are usually novella length at best and each one released roughly two years apart. He is nevertheless most certainly no lightweight in the world of s There are few authors whose works I anticipate with bated breath the way I do Ted Chiang’s, and oh, this collection - his second - was entirely worth the wait.If you have never heard of Ted Chiang, you may perhaps be more familiar with the movie Arrival, adapted from his short story, The Story of Your Life. Ted Chiang doesn’t write novels, his works are usually novella length at best and each one released roughly two years apart. He is nevertheless most certainly no lightweight in the world of sci-fi: with four Hugo, three Locus and two Nebula awards, Chiang is a superstar in this genre. Exhalation is a collection of nine stories that explore the gamut from time travel to virtual pets to automaton nannies and multiverses. Don’t let the fact that there are some real hardcore science concepts here put you off, though: Ted Chiang’s specialty is in intertwining cerebral experimentation with deep philosophical thought. What price would you pay to travel back to the past and right a great wrong you caused? If it were immutably proven that free will did not exist, what would that bode for the human race? As we stare into the heavens, absorbed in our search for extraterrestrial life, what treasures do we neglectfully trample beneath our eager, unheeding feet? Like a box of chocolates, each story in this collection is it’s own delight and unique experience. It begins with “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, reminiscent of a tale straight out of the Arabian Nights, where a wondrous device allows those so inclined to step through a doorway and reach either forward or backward in time. Not all who enter, however, are bettered by the experience. “Exhalation”, the titular story, is a poignant paean to inevitable entropy and life’s impermanence. In “What’s Expected of Us” people play with a device called a Predictor which flashes a light one second before you push the button. This game has serious consequences for one’s peace of mind. “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” gave me much food for thought, dealing as it does with a futuristic society where virtual life has almost entirely superseded real life. Two people meet at work and then find themselves bound together in a unique relationship with their virtual pets. I still cannot shake the questions this story raised in me about the consequences of parenting and the complexity of the human heart.“Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny” put me in mind of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, echoing that classic’s gothic feel and evoking the same introspection into the meaning of monstrosity. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” juxtaposes the stories of a futuristic time where personal video recording devices threaten the formation of organic memories, and that of a missionary teaching reading and writing to an African youth. Two seemingly disparate narratives are pulled together incredibly masterfully in the awe-inspiring tradition of a Chiang story. This tale is painfully relevant and important in today’s world where we so often see only what we want to see, and reject fact in favor of feeling. “The Great Silence” is a simple narrative, barely fiction, so imbued with a heartfelt sorrow and loss. One of Chiang’s strengths is his thoughtful examination of religious faith, and in “Omphalos” he revisits this premise. In this society science confirms rather than denies divine existence, until a new discovery shakes prevailing social thought to the core. “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” is another one of the longest stories in the volume, and has as its premise a dive into the sociological and psychological consequences of being able to contact your self in a parallel universe. Chiang is at his best here, where he can demonstrate the pros and cons of a given scenario with emotional intelligence and deep foresight. Despite the sci-fi nature of these tales, Exhalation is at its core an exploration of what it means to be a human being, and what makes us what we are. With each story I felt a deep invitation into reflection and introspection, a opening of my mind to new questions, possibilities and suppositions. I’ll be thinking of these stories for a long time to come. Put yourself in Chiang’s capable, magical hands; you’ll be transformed by the experience.
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  • Topher
    January 1, 1970
    Every story Ted Chiang writes is a pearl, borne of a grain of supposition ("What if you could talk to your self from other quantum worlds?" "What purpose could there be in time traveling to the past if changing it is impossible?" "What if young-earth creationism was true?") ground relentlessly in the gears of his mind until it emerges, a complete universe with its own unique physics and metaphysics, and characters whose emotional and spiritual lives are bound up in the implications therein. It's Every story Ted Chiang writes is a pearl, borne of a grain of supposition ("What if you could talk to your self from other quantum worlds?" "What purpose could there be in time traveling to the past if changing it is impossible?" "What if young-earth creationism was true?") ground relentlessly in the gears of his mind until it emerges, a complete universe with its own unique physics and metaphysics, and characters whose emotional and spiritual lives are bound up in the implications therein. It's a rare feat, this seamless weaving of world and character, especially when the story world is taken so far afield from what we recognize as our own reality.I'd previously read "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" but its sharp insights on AI and its relationship to parenting remain as fresh as ever. "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom" is my other favorite in this collection: an examination of personality and identity within a many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. These are the two longest stories here, and while the shorter stories are in some ways tighter examinations of a single concept, I think Chiang really hits his stride when he gets to flesh out the manifold implications of a story's core "what if" through a larger cast's diverse desires—an animal caretaker, a recovering addict, a hardcore gamer, a porn peddler, a con man, a recently bereaved celebrity.A recurring theme in Chiang's stories is reaffirming the importance of choice and free will despite physical principles that all but render them meaningless (self-consistent time travel, a theistic universe in which God has set his sights elsewhere, a quantum multiverse in which all branches are taken). The repetition of these affirmations has the unfortunate effect of weakening each one's impact when you read each story one after another—when I got to the end of "Omphalos," I felt disappointed that the lesson was one Chiang had already taught.I think, though, that this existential optimism is why I and so many others find ourselves drawn to Chiang's work time and time again. Taking determinism seriously is generally a grim game that leads down cynical cul-de-sacs. Most of us would rather hide our heads in the sand. But he's gone there, and he's danced with the devil, and he's found a way out of the alleyway and into the stars.
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  • Will Chin
    January 1, 1970
    Space battles are fun. However, if you really want to dig your nails into how science and technology will change humanity as we know it, which is how I like my science fiction, this is where you want to be looking. Ted Chiang's previous short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, is exemplary of the kind of philosophical questions that science fiction poses and explores. And if you have read Stories of Your Life and Others and want more stories like that, his latest collection, Exha Space battles are fun. However, if you really want to dig your nails into how science and technology will change humanity as we know it, which is how I like my science fiction, this is where you want to be looking. Ted Chiang's previous short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, is exemplary of the kind of philosophical questions that science fiction poses and explores. And if you have read Stories of Your Life and Others and want more stories like that, his latest collection, Exhalation, is yet another tour de force. I mean, sure, like every other short story collection, there are stories that didn't work for me. However, Exhalation really only has one outright dud for me. 'The Lifecycle of Software Objects' is the longest story in the collection, but it doesn't have the same emotional resonance as many of Chiang's other stories. This one also takes a strange turn towards the last third, which just feels a little abrupt and unnecessary. The rest of the book, however, is great. My favourites are easily 'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate', 'What's Expected of Us', 'The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling', and 'The Great Silence'. 'Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom', one of two brand new stories, is good, but the premise did take a bit of getting use to, and it does also lean too heavily into the 'What If' rather than how the 'What If' impacts humanity as a whole. It's unfortunate that Chiang really only writes short stories, and he does take his own sweet time with it. Stories come first, of course, and quality is almost always over quantity. However, the fact that we even got a new collection of short stories from one of the masters of modern science fiction, I guess beggars really can't be choosers.
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  • Kara
    January 1, 1970
    I was pretty disappointed to discover I'd read what amounted to half the book before (my fault for not checking the contents before picking it up), but I'm still glad I read it. The two previously unpublished stories (particularly the last story in the collection) are excellent and made this a worthwhile purchase.The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate: previously published in 2007, read in 2018, 5 starsExhalation: previously published in 2008, read but can't remember when, 4 starsWhat's Expected I was pretty disappointed to discover I'd read what amounted to half the book before (my fault for not checking the contents before picking it up), but I'm still glad I read it. The two previously unpublished stories (particularly the last story in the collection) are excellent and made this a worthwhile purchase.The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate: previously published in 2007, read in 2018, 5 starsExhalation: previously published in 2008, read but can't remember when, 4 starsWhat's Expected of Us: previously published 2005, previously unread, 4 starsThe Lifecycle of Software Objects: Previously published 2010, read in 2012, 3 starsDacey's Patent Automatic Nanny: previously published in 2011, previously unread, 4 starsThe Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling: previously published in 2013, previously unread, 4 starsThe Great Silence: previously published 2015, previously unread, 4 starsOphalos: new story!, five starsAnxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom: new story!, ALL THE STARS
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  • Daniel Simmons
    January 1, 1970
    I found this to be fairly lackluster compared to the author's "Story of Your Life" collection. Conceptually most of these stories are great, but Chiang has failed to fully flesh them out with appealing or empathetic characters, and as a result they read more like thought experiments than real stories, delivered with clunky prose and wooden dialogue. The longest story in the bunch, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," was also the most anticlimactic; it continued to build and build and build and I found this to be fairly lackluster compared to the author's "Story of Your Life" collection. Conceptually most of these stories are great, but Chiang has failed to fully flesh them out with appealing or empathetic characters, and as a result they read more like thought experiments than real stories, delivered with clunky prose and wooden dialogue. The longest story in the bunch, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," was also the most anticlimactic; it continued to build and build and build and then... went nowhere satisfying. The last story in the collection, "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom", was the most appealing, largely due to the character arcs of its two main female characters Dana and Nat (though they still seemed largely like types rather than people).Overall: Not bad, but I was hoping for more emotional heft in the midst of the undeniably creative world-building.
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  • Claudia Piña
    January 1, 1970
    No es secreto que adoro a Ted Chiang y lo considero uno de los mejores autores de cuento en el mundo. Sus historias surgen de ideas originales que invitan a cuestionar, sus personajes muestran muchas facetas de maneras sutiles y son intensamente humanos (a menos, por supuesto, que no lo sean).Desde hace años noté que Ted es esa clase de autor que pone sobre la mesa algunos temas abiertamente, que invita a considerar elementos importantes de diferentes cuestiones y que a lo largo de sus cuentos l No es secreto que adoro a Ted Chiang y lo considero uno de los mejores autores de cuento en el mundo. Sus historias surgen de ideas originales que invitan a cuestionar, sus personajes muestran muchas facetas de maneras sutiles y son intensamente humanos (a menos, por supuesto, que no lo sean).Desde hace años noté que Ted es esa clase de autor que pone sobre la mesa algunos temas abiertamente, que invita a considerar elementos importantes de diferentes cuestiones y que a lo largo de sus cuentos llega a conclusiones interesantes pero no siempre definidas completamente. Sin embargo, también es cuidadoso en los detalles y su selección de palabras dice mucho de maneras menos obvias. Creo que es alguien que está perfectamente enterado de lo que la comunidad de literatura especulativa está haciendo y sin necesidad de dedicar toda una historia a temas del momento, escoge ciertos personajes, ciertos pronombres, ciertas expresiones, que dicen más que mil palabras. Aunque varias de estas historias ya existían en otros medios, siempre es un gusto leer algo nuevo de Ted. Algo que constantemente admiro en su obra es que incluso cuando habla de cosas como religión y ciencia, siempre da en el clavo en un punto primordial que otras obras no abordan directamente: cualquiera de estas discusiones solo pueden ser significativas para los seres humanos en tanto que son parte de nuestras vidas. La pregunta principal nunca es si existe o no existe una fuerza más allá de lo conocido si no lo que hace la humanidad al respecto. Ted rara vez habla solamente de un avance científico, de un suceso histórico, de una teoría. Siempre se trata de como lo viven los personajes, cómo afecta sus vidas, cómo influencia sus decisiones. Un plus son los comentarios que comparte acerca de los cuentos y el trasfondo de cada uno, que ayuda a contextualizar. Creo que todas sus historias valen la pena pero la información adicional me ayudó a apreciarlos mejor, incluso las que ya había leído anteriormente. Ojalá que tengamos mucho Chiang para rato. Aunque sea en pequeñas dosis y con considerables tiempos de espera, siempre es un absoluto deleite mantener una conversación mental con sus palabras.
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  • Queen
    January 1, 1970
    Another genius work! Ted Chiang is king of the short story. Intellectually, I'm riding high from these stories. Emotionally, I'm devastated in the absolute best sense.
  • Jason Fass
    January 1, 1970
    Read this book! It has some of the best short stories I’ve read!
  • Rich Kruse
    January 1, 1970
    Pretty much what Daniel said, but I just liked it more. B-
  • Amanda Sie
    January 1, 1970
    The number of times I can say “this reminds me of a Ted Chiang story” is infinite cuz he writes about everything that matters in life and he does it really really well.
  • Maya
    January 1, 1970
    Everything Ted Chiang writes is smart and magical.
  • Alex Sarll
    January 1, 1970
    Given Ted Chiang produces approximately one story every two years, I really shouldn't have devoured his second collection less than two years after finishing the first. But set against that, I did manage to blag an advance copy, which always whets the appetite to take advantage of the early start. Plus, as per the stereotype of my people, I am very greedy. Inevitably, one can only read Chiang for the first time once (though that's the sort of concept out of which he might well get a story), so t Given Ted Chiang produces approximately one story every two years, I really shouldn't have devoured his second collection less than two years after finishing the first. But set against that, I did manage to blag an advance copy, which always whets the appetite to take advantage of the early start. Plus, as per the stereotype of my people, I am very greedy. Inevitably, one can only read Chiang for the first time once (though that's the sort of concept out of which he might well get a story), so this doesn't have quite the same 'WHOA' effect as Stories Of Your Life And Others. On top of which, you know that ward against bad adaptations, the idea that they can't damage the book which still exists in its original form? I'm not so sure that's true. Hell, turns out a bad adaptation can even damage other books by the same author. Because there were definitely times here where stories told in Chiang's usual just-this-side-of-austere prose were marred for me by the portentous middlebrow bollocks in which the film adaptation Arrival draped him; I could practically hear the syrup-sombre orchestration swelling. And the cover and blurb on the promo copies make clear that, in the UK at least, this is getting a big push for crossover success, though at least it has the good grace to admit that science fiction short story fans have been getting the benefit of him for ages, rather than getting into any of that embarrassed 'transcending genre' nonsense. And for all that I'm not sure the stories here are quite as – complete? Total? – as those in the first collection, they are still, at the very least, all extremely interesting stuff. The title piece follows a society of unwitting robots, who not having to deal with the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, only slowly come to realise a fundamental universal law to which the softer among us are exposed sooner. The longest story, the novel-length The Lifecycle of Software Objects, takes us through that awkward middle bit AI stories usually skip, the stretch showing how you get from Tamagotchi to Westworld. The Truth Of Fact, The Truth Of Feeling is perhaps the closest to the jacket comparison of Black Mirror, addressing not the invention of ubiquitous lifelogging, but a sudden improvement in the technology for searching within the records thus produced. The kicker, though, is how it has the sense not to treat such a change as unprecedented, instead paralleling it with the previous and analogous shift from oral to written culture. Omphalos is kin to the first collection's Babel story, envisaging a world in which the rise of science didn't disprove young Earth creationism, precisely because the geological and astronomical record proved that the world had indeed been created in an instant a measurable few millennia back. It's also an excellent story to read on your way to pick up a dehumidifier your wife has bought off eBay, because when the vendor talks about how 55 is standard room humidity but you can set it drier if you so desire, you will naturally exclaim 'Like if you had some Chilean mummies you wanted to exhibit?', and sound like a serial killer. Yay! And the final piece envisages a strictly limited form of communication with divergent timelines, then uses it mainly to show how as with everything else we invent, humanity would seize upon this as yet another way to get on with its usual bullshit, from scamming the vulnerable to beating ourselves up over what might have been. A response of sorts to classics like Niven's All The Myriad Ways and Borges' Garden of Forking Paths, it withstands comparison to them. It's also perhaps the best illustration here of an important truth: certainly when it comes to SF, 'show, don't tell' is bullshit. Yeah, nobody needs pages of 'As you know, Bob' exposition – but that just means the author should drop it in as well-written info-dumps. It worked for Banks, it worked for Bester, and it works here. In summary, perhaps not quite the book Stories Of Your Life was – but given what a remarkable book that was, this is only to be expected.
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  • Philipp
    January 1, 1970
    Chiang is the undisputed king of the 'what-if' SF story - he takes a what-if question and really thinks it all the way through, then sets a story in that universe. That was already the main theme in his first collection (Stories of Your Life And Others), with one story in a world where angels, miracles, and hell are real and angelic visitations are absolutely terrifying (Hell is the absence of God), or one story where the geocentric model is the correct one (Tower of Babylon).The second collecti Chiang is the undisputed king of the 'what-if' SF story - he takes a what-if question and really thinks it all the way through, then sets a story in that universe. That was already the main theme in his first collection (Stories of Your Life And Others), with one story in a world where angels, miracles, and hell are real and angelic visitations are absolutely terrifying (Hell is the absence of God), or one story where the geocentric model is the correct one (Tower of Babylon).The second collection is very much like that, so no surprises there. What's really cool is a small 'making of' section at the end where Chiang explains his intentions and inspirations behind each story.Let's go through the stories, with some comments: The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate - Time travel is real, but only between specific gates. You can only travel to the time points in which the gate existed, so you can't go very far. The story itself is structured like One Thousand and One Nights, a few stories within one larger story, all concerning different 'users' of these gates in a Middle Eastern past setting. Exhalation - some-kind-of-robots are discovering that time is slowing down for them, but why? So a robo-scientist sets out to dissect his own brain to find an explanation, what are thoughts made of for robots? This one has a great twist/solution, I loved it What's Expected of Us - I've read this one in Nature first - a small machine is released which displays a light about a second before you press it. What sounds like a small gadget actually causes a crisis in mankind, as it shows that we have no free will! This one reminded me of an earlier story by Chiang, Division By Zero, where a mathematician has a crisis after proving mathematics to be inconsistent The Lifecycle of Software Objects - In some kind of online VR system people develop simple artificial intelligence in the form of cutesy creatures, but the company goes bankrupt, and only the hard core of fans keeps on looking after their creatures over decades. This was published before as a separate novella, and I still don't really like it; the basic idea is cool (if you want truly mature AI, be prepared that you will have to raise it like a human child for 20 years), but it's just very long for what it wants to say. There is, however, tech-melancholia which should have its own term - that feeling you get when you visit an IRC channel of your youth, and find it barren. Everyone has left. Is there a German word for this? Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny - Very short story about an automatic child-rearing robot in a Victorian/steampunky setting. Didn't leave much of an impression on me. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling - This one was my favorite. A new technology allows people to easily search through video recordings of their life. There's a parallel story of a tribe which is first introduced to writing. This is tightly constructed and has a point which I've never heard of before - we as mankind switched from a oral to a literal society with writing, which had profound impacts on our collective psyche. However, our internal monologue is still oral, we believe about ourselves what we want to believe. With the searchable self-video system that internal world also becomes literal, and people's (including the narrator's) self-perceptions shatter. Again, this was my favorite story, I find that switch from oral to literal absolutely fascinating. And I think I found the real benefit of digital memory. The point is not to prove you were right; the point is to admit you were wrong. The Great Silence - A parrot asks us why we are so interested in talking with aliens if there are animals on our earth that can already talk, and have shown signs of intelligence? This was apparently (thanks making-of at the end!) for an exhibition, which explains why it isn't as 'rich' as the other stories, it was intended to be projected in bits, so less of a chance to really flesh out this material? Omphalos - similar to the Tower of Babylon, what happens if the Copernican model of the world is real? In this case we follow an archeologist who digs up items supporting young earth creatonism, early humans without navels, early trees where the age-rings kind of start in the middle, and so on. There's another collective-psyche-shattering-event in this story which I'd rather not spoil! Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom - a new device is released, you press a button, and two time lines diverge. You are in one time line, and can (for a few gigs of data!) communicate with other humans in the other time line. They differ by just one atom but over time, this is enough to cause drastic changes, so older devices are worth more. Again, there's a kind of mental crisis: people can search for and interrogate timelines where their life-altering decisions turned out differently. Some people become incapable of making decisions, some can't get past their grief as long as they can talk with their still-living partner in another time-line, and so on. The story concerns two women who fell out with each other during high school, how their lives developed differently, and what they could have done differently. This is a beautiful story. Personally, The Truth Of Fact Omphalos, and Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom were the strongest stories in here (interestingly, two of these three stories weren't published before!). Like Borges used to, Chiang really understands how to build an alternative universe and then strictly think it to the end. Like the best writers of SF, Chiang understands that the machine, the technology is just a mirror for mankind, for its anxieties and obsessions: it's never about tech, it's always about the human.
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  • Gavin
    January 1, 1970
    Wonderful again, worth the wait - 9 stories (including 4 novellas) in 12 years. The defamiliarisation, the perceptual aid in these is the equal of great philosophical work.The best bit is his patience and magnanimity with folk psychology. He is much more empathetic with bad philosophy that I am; he builds people very different from himself or me (a worried father writing a moral-panic piece about perfect recall; a young-earth creationist tipped into despair by being god's practice shot), and the Wonderful again, worth the wait - 9 stories (including 4 novellas) in 12 years. The defamiliarisation, the perceptual aid in these is the equal of great philosophical work.The best bit is his patience and magnanimity with folk psychology. He is much more empathetic with bad philosophy that I am; he builds people very different from himself or me (a worried father writing a moral-panic piece about perfect recall; a young-earth creationist tipped into despair by being god's practice shot), and then around page 10 he flips their philosophy, showing how it unravels in the face of reality, and so makes me look like an idiot zealot for being irritated by them.many people became convinced that [alt-timeline creation devices] nullified the moral weight of their actions. Few acted so rashly as to commit murder or other felonies, but...In "What's Expected of Us" he has "one-third" of people driven mad by an intuitive demonstration of their lack of 'libertarian' free will. I don't doubt that they would be, but I would be tutting at them while they were, for letting bad philosophy confuse them to death.The title story is just perfect, the story of a robot dissecting itself and thereby learning of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and its emotional implications. (view spoiler)[It's powerful because it's us. Our waste air is waste heat. Our pressure gradient is a proton gradient. (hide spoiler)]Another distinctive thing: Half the stories have a pair of contrasting narrators, objective and subjective. One of these voices is merely expository, apparently styleless. But it just works. I was primed to dislike "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" from the title alone: despite popular usage, feelings are neither true or false, but instead grounded or ungrounded, helpful or unhelpful. (I was shocked to find this activist taxonomy very useful: valid / justified / effective.) But again it's larger than me: it links the great oral-to-literate transition to a near-future one from analogue-literate to digital-literate. God it's good, like Black Mirror if it wasn't relentlessly scaremongering and cheap.Ranked:1. "Exhalation".2. "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling"3. "Omphalos"4. "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate"5. "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom"6. "The Great Silence"7. "The Lifecycle of Software Objects"8. "What's Expected of Us"9. "Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny"Not as good as his first collection, but what is? (With Le Guin and Wolfe gone, he might be the reigning master.)
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  • Valfe
    January 1, 1970
    Ted Chiang is my favorite short story writer and having a new collection of his to read is awesome! I know he works very slowly, and only four of the nine stories in this are new to me, but I'm totally fine rereading the others. The notes about each story at the end are also pretty interesting. As ever, he delves deeply into fascinating science fictional "what ifs" about philosophy and human nature in clear, calm prose that doesn't have a single word out of place. Almost every story feels like a Ted Chiang is my favorite short story writer and having a new collection of his to read is awesome! I know he works very slowly, and only four of the nine stories in this are new to me, but I'm totally fine rereading the others. The notes about each story at the end are also pretty interesting. As ever, he delves deeply into fascinating science fictional "what ifs" about philosophy and human nature in clear, calm prose that doesn't have a single word out of place. Almost every story feels like a perfect version of itself, exactly the length and structure it needs to be.I'm hiding everything about the actual stories behind spoilers because I think Chiang's stories work best if you go into them the first time knowing nothing about them. (I'm going to cheat and leave out the very short ones because they're fine, but I don't have much to say about any of them.)(view spoiler)["The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate"A quiet Middle Eastern folkloric tale of nested stories and time loops, and about one's perspective on stories and life and the things one cannot change. "If our lives are tales Allah tells, then we are the audience as well as the players, and it is by living these tales that we receive their lessons." Good the first time I read it and good again."Exhalation"This was the first Ted Chiang story I ever read (it won the Hugo in 2009) and it blew me away. An intricate and detailed look into the workings of a very alien lifeform, as well as a different view on entropy and some quiet philosophy on its inevitability."The Lifecycle of Software Objects"A very deep look into AI, humans' relatonships with beings that are dependent on them, and humanity's relationship with software and technology in an era where things become obsolete almost as soon as they become popular. This one is interesting on an intellectual level, as all his stories are, but I couldn't get as emotionally invested in the characters as I felt like I should have for a full-length novella. This was my second time reading this one and I think I liked it much more on an intellectual level this time, but felt about the same on an emotional level."The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling"Second read of this one as well. A great look at memory and how it informs our personalities and conceptions of ourselves, as well as an examination on how technology changes society and personality, for better and for worse."Omphalos"One of the new ones! I really loved this one. The question, "What if a very specific set of religious beliefs was inarguably proven to be true and it was abhorrent to your values and conception of the world?" is one that I, as an agnostic, very non-religious Jew, find fascinating. (Brief plug for Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota quartet, which I absolutely love and which also explores this idea.) The title is also perfect, though I had never encountered the word before and didn't realize just how perfect until I looked it up after finishing the story."Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom"[to fill in at some point] (hide spoiler)]
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