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Exhalation: Stories

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An alternate cover edition for this book can be found here. 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 stories This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature T An alternate cover edition for this book can be found here. 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 stories This 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.


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An alternate cover edition for this book can be found here. 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 stories This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature T An alternate cover edition for this book can be found here. 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 stories This 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.

30 review for Exhalation: Stories

  1. 4 out of 5

    Emily (Books with Emily Fox)

    If you're looking for incredibly original sci-fi short stories, look no further! This time I felt like a lot of these were possible futures linked to technology that reminded me a bit of "Black Mirror", maybe less dark though. Would recommend.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    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 Chiang I 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 Chiang I 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...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marcheto

    4.5 stars A 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.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    (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

  7. 4 out of 5

    ☽¸¸.I am¸¸.•*¨ The ¸¸.•*¨*Phoenix¨*•♫♪ ☾

    "Four things do not come back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity." Exhalation is a collections of short stories, "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," "Exhalation", "What's expected of us", "The Lifecycle of Software Objects", "Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny", "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", "The Great Silence","Omphalos" and "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom". Some of these stories have been published before, but this was my first expe "Four things do not come back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity." Exhalation is a collections of short stories, "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," "Exhalation", "What's expected of us", "The Lifecycle of Software Objects", "Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny", "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", "The Great Silence","Omphalos" and "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom". Some of these stories have been published before, but this was my first experience with the author so everything was new for me. I fell in love with this book immediately, from the first story: I have never read a sci-fi book set in an ancient/fairytale-like Islamic culture, and I have to say it works very well! Very interesting and original. The second story was the weirdest for me, and somewhat hard to follow; but still very interesting because of the amount of philosophical repercussions that are discussed inside the story itself, and not mainly in the afterwords (which, incidentally, are very interesting and I never felt the need to skip them) like in the rest of the book. One of the stories, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects", felt very long compared to the rest and almost like a short novel. I appreciated the theory underneath and the character built, but the plot and especially the ending didn't satisfy me. This was my least favourite. The new stories, "Omphalos" and "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom", were both extremely interesting, and the last one in particular had a marked Black Mirror feeling to it; and, well, Black Mirror is my favourite series, so... This book made me realize that, even though I am a sci-fi fan, I don't usually read contemporary sci-fi, but I tend to go for the classics, like Asimov or Sturgeon. Compared to those, modern sci-fi has some of the same themes, one of them being A.I, and the general repercussions of technological progress on the life and morals of human beings; but some of them are different and recurrent in today's imagination: companionship, pets, recording memories, paradoxes and alternate realities. This last idea, in particular (the idea generated by discoveries in quantum physics that parallel universes may exist in which same situations have different outcomes, thus creating an infinite number of possible timelines that exist all on different dimensions) and the consequences it necessary has on the paradox of time travel, has been the main concept of at least three books I read this year. Sci-fi tales deal with different ideas throughout the years, but I think the fil rouge that connects all of them is the longing/fear for progress. The thin line between utopia and dystopia is often of a moral nature (should creatures that have human-like intelligence but are created in a digital world have access to human rights?), but more often is just a matter of perspective. For example, in the short story "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", the author explores the repercussions of having a photographic memory that is not subjective to the normal mechanisms of forgetting and rewriting. At first, he expresses fear for the way it would change the human brain and our society in general, but ultimately he compares it to the invention of writing (a way to objectively record facts that were previously only told orally), showing that these kind of doubts have always been in the human mind, acting as a balancing force against mindless progress. Yes, these major discoveries change society at the core. But does this mean we should refuse them? Every time I read about this idea, it reminds me of my art teacher, who refused to learn how to create digital art because when he was a student he would only use a pencil, and believed that what is not done by hand is not "real art"; or students at my university who refused to use digitization of documents because "the first philologists didn't have computers and they were doing just fine". I wish I would have asked them at the time, what do you think those ancient philologists would think of you, if they knew what incredible technology you had and refused to use it "just because"? Damn, Van Gogh would have probably given a ear to try Photoshop (ahah). Anyway, what I wanted to say is that fear of the unknown it instilled in human nature, and so are many of the themes discussed in this book (history that repeats itself, like the discovery of Earth orbit compared to the discovery of a static star in the short story "The Great Silence", for example); and that is why we find them in many authors through the years. But it's the way you use those concepts as a starting ponit for your creativity, that gives birth to original art. And I think this book is exactly that. A new favourite! Can't wait to check out more from this author 🙃

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aerin

    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.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

    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 · ★½ Chiang 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 · ★★★½ Imagine 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

  10. 5 out of 5

    Izzy

    i've been reading so many great books lately that i think i'm getting kinda spoiled. not gonna complain, tho. a more comprehensive review will come soon!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Marianna Neal

    4.5 out of 5 stars Ted 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 stars Ted 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!

  12. 4 out of 5

    matthew

    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!!)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    (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.)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    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.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leo Robertson

    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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    Blindingly intelligent sci-fi. Some of these stories will go down in history. This isn't a perfect collection, but it's damn close -- and what it is, even more than perfect, is ~smart~. Chiang's tales tickled my brain, got me thinking, even if the stories that they were telling weren't as interesting as the idea he was interrogating. But when the two things collide? Hot damn. That's what sci-fi can be.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Константин Зарубин

    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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    The Nerd Daily

    Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Marcin Zwierzchowski Ted Chiang is quite a unique author as his fiction has been with us since almost 30 years, but doesn’t publish much, and yet he’s one of the most beloved science fiction authors of our time. Beginning with his debut story The Tower of Babylon, he has won praise from the critics, love from the fans of science fiction, and a lot of awards. With only a handful of short stories and novellas published, he has won four Hugo Awards, Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Marcin Zwierzchowski Ted Chiang is quite a unique author as his fiction has been with us since almost 30 years, but doesn’t publish much, and yet he’s one of the most beloved science fiction authors of our time. Beginning with his debut story The Tower of Babylon, he has won praise from the critics, love from the fans of science fiction, and a lot of awards. With only a handful of short stories and novellas published, he has won four Hugo Awards, four Nebula Awards, four Locus Awards, John W. Campbell Award and BSFA Award. Perhaps now he’s most known as the author of Story of Your Life, which was the basis for the movie Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve. Most importantly though, Ted Chiang is one of the last sci-fi authors that uses the genre not because it can be spectacular, with space battles and robots, but as a space for thoughts. Like the sci-fi masters of the Old, Chiang is still keen on the science part of the genre and stories combined in Exhalation are great examples of science fiction as an “idea literature”. As Chiang himself explains in his authors notes for each story, it usually starts with a thought, a question, a seed which grows into a story. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling shows us what it would be like to remember everything, and that’s the center around which the story grows (like in that Black Mirror episode – The Entire History of You). But that’s the surface. Chiang goes deeper, showing us on one hand how “truth” works, how there are different kinds of it, and how our own mind can play tricks on us, and on the other hand he also shows the significance of writing as technology and what it did to us, to how we think. That’s the thing about Chiang’s stories – they make us think. Also – they help us think. In the Golden Age, science fiction was known for “predicting the future” and even now many of sci-fi masters are praised because their writing has foreseen or inspired some future technology. Now it’s really hard, with science being so specialised and entire think tanks competing with each other to come up with the next iPhone. So what’s the new purpose of sci-fi? Maybe it’s not predicting the future, but making us ready for it? Or helping us understand the more and more complicated science? In The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, Chiang uses One Thousand and One Nights inspired stories to explain the paradox of time travel. In Omphalos, he’s built a universe in which the Creationists beliefs could work. And in Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom, we see how the knowledge of existence of many alternate universes could influence us and our decision making process. Both Omphalos and Anxiety… are new stories, original to this collection. And because ideas or technology aren’t inherently good or bad (it’s what we do with it what makes them that) Chiang’s sci-fi also isn’t pessimistic or optimistic. Even when writing about the birth of AI in The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Chiang isn’t tempted to write either dystopias or utopias; it may sound strange when applied to science fiction, but those stories are just realistic. His uniqueness as a sci-fi author is that he chooses different paths than most of other writers – in The Lifecycle for example he focuses on the process, not the result, he takes his time and stays true to what he thinks is the most likely scenario, not to what would look “cool”. And Ted Chiang’s greatness is that with all of that he manages to write compelling stories. He takes the more difficult paths, the longer ones, and still manages to hold our attention throughout the whole story. Yes, he focuses on science, but his fiction isn’t worse because of it. Forgetting for a moment about the time travelling paradox, in The Merchant you’ll find a touching love story. And The Truth of Fact is an immensely complex story of a relationship between a father and his daughter. Anxiety, one of the new stories here, has a great main character. One shame is that Exhalation is only the second book in a nearly three decades long career of Ted Chiang and knowing how rarely he publishes, it’ll probably be a while before any new material will be available. Then again, one can read those stories several times and still find new things in there, be inspired in a new way.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    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. 4/5 Overall, 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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    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.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jersy

    This is exactly what I expect modern science fiction stories to be. - Fascinating concepts, partly new but mostly improvements and updates on existing popular ones like time travel, paralel universes and artificial life - Showing the implications of these concepts, not only on human life in general, but also the emotional and personal results, demonstrated on well-done relatable characters - Great writing. Chiang finds a different voice in every of his stories and changes the style according to This is exactly what I expect modern science fiction stories to be. - Fascinating concepts, partly new but mostly improvements and updates on existing popular ones like time travel, paralel universes and artificial life - Showing the implications of these concepts, not only on human life in general, but also the emotional and personal results, demonstrated on well-done relatable characters - Great writing. Chiang finds a different voice in every of his stories and changes the style according to the topic which made every of the stories feel unique. - Inclusion of scientific explanations I also liked that most of the stories had an ending that was either feel-good and/or left the reader with a question. The ideas and concepts used were all really interesting for me, especially pairing off science and religion, which I hadn't seen done before. Giving this book a 5 star rating does not mean I loved all of the stories, but I loved a lot and could appreciate the others for what they did. While I´d liked to praise the book for how good it is, my love of this book has been conveyed enough and will be by other as well, so I want to voice some criticism, too. I noticed that Chiang´s attempts to avoke emotions with his endings didn´t always work 100% for me, sometimes small parts of it didn't feel entirely realistic within the context. Also, The Lifecycle of Software Objects had so many instances of telling instead of showing that it ended up being really noticable. However, these things didn't spoil my enjoyment and I can still recommend this to everyone who likes scifi.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gabi

    Again Ted Chiang presents a nearly flawless collection of short stories. His intelligent grasp on SF topics, his habit to meticulously think through those ideas and present them in stories that always also present a deep insight into the human soul has me in absolute awe. His mind-boggling concepts almost always draw me completely into his stories. His fantastic and still so through-and-through logic narrations are the best that short stories has to offer. I'm not sure I could even choose a favour Again Ted Chiang presents a nearly flawless collection of short stories. His intelligent grasp on SF topics, his habit to meticulously think through those ideas and present them in stories that always also present a deep insight into the human soul has me in absolute awe. His mind-boggling concepts almost always draw me completely into his stories. His fantastic and still so through-and-through logic narrations are the best that short stories has to offer. I'm not sure I could even choose a favourite in this collection. With the exception of two of the short ones, each one made a profound impression on me. Perhaps it's The Lifecycle of Software Objects , perhaps it's Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom , perhaps it's The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate , perhaps Exhalation … they all were outstanding. Read for yourself and choose your own.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joachim Stoop

    What to do? What to do? The first story was a magnificent and magnetising new take on time travelling, as if it was told by Sheherazade or Voltaire's Zadig. Then there were two or three more brilliant ones. Although Black Mirror came a bit too close, they were very compelling and got deep into ethical and philosophical waters in looking at future technology's possible consequences. Some shorter ones came across as (somewhat interesting or amusing) filling. But the central and longest story about IA What to do? What to do? The first story was a magnificent and magnetising new take on time travelling, as if it was told by Sheherazade or Voltaire's Zadig. Then there were two or three more brilliant ones. Although Black Mirror came a bit too close, they were very compelling and got deep into ethical and philosophical waters in looking at future technology's possible consequences. Some shorter ones came across as (somewhat interesting or amusing) filling. But the central and longest story about IA and animalistic robots was one of the most frustrating and exhausting stories I've ever read. Maybe it was the robotic voices in my audiobook; maybe it was because the premisse seemed sooo up my alley, that the disappointment only got bigger. It was so promising the entire time, but never really delivered. so 4-

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    It’s only June, but I doubt I’ll read a better book this year.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Will Chin

    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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    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.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Topher

    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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    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 stars Exhalation: previously published in 2008, read but can't remember when, 4 stars What'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 stars Exhalation: previously published in 2008, read but can't remember when, 4 stars What's Expected of Us: previously published 2005, previously unread, 4 stars The Lifecycle of Software Objects: Previously published 2010, read in 2012, 3 stars Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny: previously published in 2011, previously unread, 4 stars The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling: previously published in 2013, previously unread, 4 stars The Great Silence: previously published 2015, previously unread, 4 stars Ophalos: new story!, five stars Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom: new story!, ALL THE STARS

  29. 4 out of 5

    niri

    gorgeous. it's rare that i love every story in a collection, but not a single one of these is anything short of spectacular. a lot of it was especially fascinating to me in the light of what i'd been working on for my undergrad thesis, which was on artificially created beings + memory + identity in science fiction. this + ken liu's the paper menagerie are now cemented as two of my favourite short story collections

  30. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This collection contains three Ted Chiang stories I had never read before - “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny”, “Omphalos”, and “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”. The first two I didn’t like. The third was pretty good, but nothing special. I guess the book was worth buying just for the last story, but it’s pretty close. Four stars overall because the collection also contains some of my favorite Ted Chiang stories, even though they weren’t new to me. I love “Exhalation” and “The Lifecycle of Sof This collection contains three Ted Chiang stories I had never read before - “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny”, “Omphalos”, and “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”. The first two I didn’t like. The third was pretty good, but nothing special. I guess the book was worth buying just for the last story, but it’s pretty close. Four stars overall because the collection also contains some of my favorite Ted Chiang stories, even though they weren’t new to me. I love “Exhalation” and “The Lifecycle of Software Objects”, and “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” and “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” are also very good.

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