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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 Ted Chiang/>From 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 Ted Chiang/>From 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. 5 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. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    “A collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.” President Obama’s summer 2019 reads. It’s an incredible - yet credible - collection of highly original, profound stories of the personal and societal implications of future tech. From a 3-page snippet to a 100-page novella, they explore humanity’s relationship with technology and hence ourselves: science, literacy, parallel and alternative worlds, faith, and free will. You can’t fault the w “A collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.” President Obama’s summer 2019 reads. It’s an incredible - yet credible - collection of highly original, profound stories of the personal and societal implications of future tech. From a 3-page snippet to a 100-page novella, they explore humanity’s relationship with technology and hence ourselves: science, literacy, parallel and alternative worlds, faith, and free will. You can’t fault the writing, but you don’t read for lyricism, pithy quotes, and deep characterisation. You read for the brain-twisting mind-expansion. Note: The individual reviews are in spoiler tags for easy scrolling; they don't contain plot spoilers. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, 4* Nested stories of portals to alternative lives, like a Tale of Arabian Knights. (view spoiler)[ "Coincidence and intention are two sides of a tapestry, my lord. You may find one more agreeable to look at, but you cannot say one is true and the other is false." Image: Front and back of tapestry cushion depicting Esther and Ahasuerus (N Netherlands, 1650-80 - so wrong culture and wrong period!) (Source.) Traditional sci-fi writers tackle the mechanics and paradoxical consequences of time travel. They include futuristic space-faring, alien planets, and exotic lifeforms. Chiang takes a theological, philosophical, alchemical approach, and sets it on Earth, hundreds of years ago. Sit comfortably and submit to the tangled enchantment of a matryoshka-like story with an ancient, mythical tone. See, hear, and touch the buzz of a Baghdad bazaar long ago. Wander, wonder, and ponder. This has a moral, but does not preach. It might be a tale of Scheherazade. Framing Story “My heart was troubled, and neither the purchase of luxuries nor the giving of alms was able to soothe it. Now I stand before you without a single dirham in my purse, but I am at peace.” A penniless man tells his story to a mighty caliph. Middle Layer His story begins when he entered the shop of a metalsmith, where he found wares more varied, exotic, and fine than he had ever seen (“an astrolabe equipped with seven plates inlaid with silver, a water-clock that chimed on the hour, and a nightingale made of brass that sang when the wind blew”). The owner chatted and then took him to a back room, where he told three fantastic stories, all relating to knowledge, understanding, and acceptance of the past and the future: free will versus destiny - the will of Allah. The “alchemy” of which the metalsmith spoke is a time portal. “He offered an explanation, speaking of his search for tiny pores in the skin of reality, like the holes that worms bore into wood, and how upon finding one he was able to expand and stretch it the way a glassblower turns a dollop of molten glass into a long-necked pipe, and how he then allowed time to flow like water at one mouth while causing it to thicken like syrup at the other.” Three More Stories The metalsmith’s tales are of those who used his gate: The Fortunate Rope Maker, The Weaver Who Stole From Himself, and The Wife and Her Lover. All of life is here: treasure, travel, love, loss, robbers, deceit, disguise, and sacrifice. There is guilt, repentance, atonement, and forgiveness. “That is all, but that is enough.” What Does it Mean? Chiang does confront paradoxes, but not the “What if I kill my grandfather?” kind. He drills into the human psyche and soul. And the deeper he goes, the more pleasingly tangled the knots in the back of the tapestry become. “Past and future are the same, and we cannot change either, only know them more fully. My journey to the past had changed nothing, but what I had learned had changed everything.” Links There are echoes of style, setting, and tone of JL Borges’ stories. See my review HERE. Telling a wondrous story to a great man reminded of Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which I reviewed HERE. (hide spoiler)] Exhalation, 4* A dangerously literal sort of introspection. (view spoiler)[ “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.” Self-awareness is a fundamental attribute of intelligent life, but the converse is more unsettling: conscious intelligence that does not fit our usual definition of “life”. The narrator challenges the assumption that air is the source of life and investigates that, and the mystery of memory, in a shocking, risky, and very personal experiment. This challenges readers’ assumptions about the narrator (who and what they are), as well as the readers themselves (what makes us human). It’s also a metaphor for pollution and climate change, along with the panic or denial that can arise from realising the inevitability of death (as individuals, or life as we know it). Thus, it leads naturally to the next story in the collection, What’s Expected of Us. “Even if a universe's life span is calculable, the variety of life that is generated within it is not… None of them could have been predicted, because none of them was inevitable.” (hide spoiler)] What’s Expected of Us, 5* Without free will, would life lose all meaning? (view spoiler)[ “The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief.” Can you force yourself to believe something? If a simple device proved free-will didn’t exist, would there be any purpose in living? Perhaps: people whose choices are highly constrained, whether by imprisonment or severe disability, are not generally suicidal. Three thought-provoking pages reminded me of a Monty Python sketch about the danger of the funniest joke in the world (and when I read Chiang’s notes, I learnt he’d had that in mind), but this story is sadder and less funny, but also more profound: Text of sketch: HERE. Video of sketch: HERE. See a later story in the collection, Omphalos, for a very different take on free will. (hide spoiler)] The Lifecycle of Software Objects, 4* What if Tamagotchis evolved and interacted for decades, into full AIs, with emotions? Image: Tamagotchi (Source.) (view spoiler)[ This wide-ranging, thoughtful novella’s only (slight) disappointment was a rather anticlimactic end. A zookeeper-cum-primatologist is recruited by a software company to work with an animator to develop digients for the game world, Data Earth: engaging, and realistic, but without broaching Uncanny Valley. They can be bred and trained. Nature and nurture affect them: is it wrong to neglect or actively abuse a digient? Perhaps it depends in part on how much free will they have to consent, and also how conscious they are as beings. What if they developed their own culture? Over the years, the tech improves (digients in robot bodies interact in the real world), but changes in consumer tastes, data markets, and the wider economy affect development in unexpected ways. This story is fundamentally about human relationships with intelligent technology. There’s research exploring the same idea from the other side: “If you give someone a 3D head-mounted display… and “beam” her into a robot’s body so she sees the world from its perspective, you can change her attitude toward it.” Robot rights and abuse - on Vox.com But: “Empathizing with robots risks actually reducing our empathy for people.” And that’s the basis of the next story in the collection, Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny. (hide spoiler)] Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny, 4* Machines do the work we don’t want to, often better and faster. Make them engaging and lifelike, and we can grow fond of them as well. Nothing to lose, right? (view spoiler)[ A Victorian inventor devises an “automatic nanny”, as a help, rather than replacement. He believes “rational child-rearing will lead to rational children”, unhindered by excessive emotional involvement of parents. Harry Harlow’s maternal separation studies sprang to mind. The results are broadly predictable; the detail less so. See Robot rights and abuse - on Vox.com, and the previous story in the collection, The Lifecycle of Software Objects (hide spoiler)] The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, 5* “When you learn to read you will be born again...and you will never be quite so alone again.” Rumer Godden Two stories, separated by centuries and continents, explore the ramifications of becoming literate versus the consequences of being deskilled by technology, for individuals and societies. (view spoiler)[ In the near future thread, people can outsource their memory to lifelogs (audio and video), ultimately becoming cognitive cyborgs. Far away, Jijingi, aged 13, is taught to read by a missionary - the only person in his village who can. Both technologies change how people think, act, and process the word and the world, and neither are inherently forces for ease or good. “The sounds a person made while speaking wee as smooth and unbroken as the hide of a goat’s leg, but the words [on the page] were like the bones underneath the meat.” Both threads explore the importance of remembering and forgetting; the difference between two types of truth: what’s right (true in spirit) and what’s clinically accurate; the relative importance of personal experience over documentary evidence, and the temptation to prove one’s right over admitting when one’s wrong. Be kind, don’t rewind? Revisiting happy events would be a joy, and trying to check facts to settle an argument hard to resist. But there would be painful memories as well. And sometimes, one would discover one’s memory did not match the “facts”. This happens already: when you unearth old photos, videos, letters, or school reports. Having history rewritten is unsettling, especially as it’s likely to be at times of upheaval, such as going through the possessions of a loved one who has died. (hide spoiler)] The Great Silence, 4* The title relates to The Fermi Paradox: if the universe is so vast and so old, we are surely not the only intelligent life, so why can’t we find it? (view spoiler)[ Perhaps the problem is that we wouldn’t recognise it if we saw it – like the dolphins in Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. “‘Aspiration’ means both hope and the act of breathing… I speak, therefore I am.” The opposite of the title of the story collection. (hide spoiler)] Omphalos, 4* “What if the entire practice of science is founded on a false premise?” (view spoiler)[ This is a world where young earth creationism is true. Unlike the vocal believers online, these people believe the Bible and science, because Chiang has twisted the physics, cosmology, and anthropology to fit. In the most ancient tree fossils, the rings just stop at the point of creation, and the oldest mummies have no navels, because they were created (omphalos is primary/first species). Here, “humanity was the reason for creation”, and scientists have the most reason to believe. “The Church has always been able to derive strength from the evidence when it’s useful and ignore it when it’s not.” That’s not always true for individuals: there’s a crisis of faith and consideration of free will in a different way from the earlier story in the collection, What’s Expected of Us. (hide spoiler)] Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, 4* A futuristic device is used for complex criminal ends. (view spoiler)[ The sci-fi aspect concerns Prisms, which are used to communicate with one’s paraself, from a different branch of many worlds. It’s like a shared notepad from a point of divergence, with limited pages. When it’s used up, there’s no way to reconnect. Minor scams include a grey market for second-hand Prisms, dubious data brokers, and insurance adverts targetting people just before they have an accident. The main scam is bigger and relies on an ingenious use of two Prisms, simultaneously. It’s the issues raised by the device that interested me. Like the lifelogs in The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, the temptation to view is huge. Chiang envisages many uses: positive (collaborating with one’s paraself and reaping the full rewards in both branches), neutral (“what if?” therapy, or a widow getting social media updates of a para-husband who survived), and ultimately destructive, leading to jealousy, self-doubt, and an identity crisis. Prisms are neutral, but addict support groups and the crime thread demonstrate the allure and danger of the dark side. Flutterby This suggests a time traveller wouldn’t need to kill Hitler: just disturbing an oxygen molecule a month before his conception could change everything. (But it might not!) The short story that is often said to have given rise to The Butterfly Effect is Ray Bradbury’s The Sound of Thunder See my review HERE. “If the same thing happens in different branches where you acted differently, then you aren’t the cause.” (hide spoiler)]

  3. 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 Alchem 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...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    All said, Chiang's new collection rocks. :) I've read a good number of these in other places, but it doesn't diminish my enjoyment. I'm referencing the stories I liked the most. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate - 1001 Nights meets fixed-timeline time-travel. Easily one of my favorites. Exhalation - A rather interesting logical-breakdown of universal principles from the PoV of a robot race. The Lifecycle of Software Objects - Novella, and easily the most wren All said, Chiang's new collection rocks. :) I've read a good number of these in other places, but it doesn't diminish my enjoyment. I'm referencing the stories I liked the most. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate - 1001 Nights meets fixed-timeline time-travel. Easily one of my favorites. Exhalation - A rather interesting logical-breakdown of universal principles from the PoV of a robot race. The Lifecycle of Software Objects - Novella, and easily the most wrenching, exploratory of the lot. Touches not only on artificial life and AI, but the same kind of feelings we might have for autistic children and trying to save Zoos. For pretty much the same reasons. And I got rather invested in this. I can see it becoming a problem in our future. Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny - So cool! A mix of our recentish Science History and a very plausible alternate past, part psychology, part 'oh, crap, we definitely could have done this to ourselves'. The Great Silence - A Fermi gut-punch. Omphalos - A great reversal of an alternate reality, where proof of god's intervention, creation, is everywhere, but scientists come to a startlingly different conclusion. :) Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom - Another novella, and fascinating as hell. Part self-help group, part scam, and all focusing on the nature of alternate reality informational crosstalk. :) I'm really surprised at how well this one worked for me. I keep noticing how much Chiang loves to mess with our understanding of our basic reality. It's a Thing. A great Thing. How does it compare to the previous collection? Neither better nor worse, because it is all him. Quality, a lot of exploration in different ways, but always reaching for the same high standard. :) I loved it. :) No complaints at all.

  5. 4 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~ ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    Q: We spoke for more than an hour, and my fascination and respect bloomed like a flower warmed by the dawn, until he mentioned his experiments in alchemy. (c) Q: We don’t normally think of it as such, but writing is a technology, which means that a literate person is someone whose thought processes are technologically mediated. We became cognitive cyborgs as soon as we became fluent readers, and the consequences of that were profound. Before a culture adopts the use of writin Q: We spoke for more than an hour, and my fascination and respect bloomed like a flower warmed by the dawn, until he mentioned his experiments in alchemy. (c) Q: We don’t normally think of it as such, but writing is a technology, which means that a literate person is someone whose thought processes are technologically mediated. We became cognitive cyborgs as soon as we became fluent readers, and the consequences of that were profound. Before a culture adopts the use of writing, when its knowledge is transmitted exclusively through oral means, it can very easily revise its history. It’s not intentional, but it is inevitable; throughout the world, bards and griots have adapted their material to their audiences and thus gradually adjusted the past to suit the needs of the present. The idea that accounts of the past shouldn’t change is a product of literate cultures’ reverence for the written word. Anthropologists will tell you that oral cultures understand the past differently; for them, their histories don’t need to be accurate so much as they need to validate the community’s understanding of itself. So it wouldn’t be correct to say that their histories are unreliable; their histories do what they need to do. Right now each of us is a private oral culture. We rewrite our pasts to suit our needs and support the story we tell about ourselves. With our memories we are all guilty of a Whig interpretation of our personal histories, seeing our former selves as steps toward our glorious present selves. But that era is coming to an end. Remem is merely the first of a new generation of memory prostheses, and as these products gain widespread adoption, we will be replacing our malleable organic memories with perfect digital archives. We will have a record of what we actually did instead of stories that evolve over repeated tellings. Within our minds, each of us will be transformed from an oral culture into a literate one. It would be easy for me to assert that literate cultures are better off than oral ones, but my bias should be obvious, since I’m writing these words rather than speaking them to you. Instead I will say that it’s easier for me to appreciate the benefits of literacy and harder to recognize everything it has cost us. Literacy encourages a culture to place more value on documentation and less on subjective experience, It would be easy for me to assert that literate cultures are better off than oral ones, but my bias should be obvious, since I’m writing these words rather than speaking them to you. Instead I will say that it’s easier for me to appreciate the benefits of literacy and harder to recognize everything it has cost us. Literacy encourages a culture to place more value on documentation and less on subjective experience, and overall I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Written records are vulnerable to every kind of error, and their interpretation is subject to change, but at least the words on the page remain fixed, and there is real merit in that. When it comes to our individual memories, I live on the opposite side of the divide. As someone whose identity was built on organic memory, I’m threatened by the prospect of removing subjectivity from our recall of events. I used to think it could be valuable for individuals to tell stories about themselves, valuable in a way that it couldn’t be for cultures, but I’m a product of my time, and times change. We can’t prevent the adoption of digital memory any more than oral cultures could stop the arrival of literacy, so the best I can do is look for something positive in it. And I think I’ve found the real benefit of digital memory. The point is not to prove you were right; the point is to admit you were wrong. Because all of us have been wrong on various occasions, engaged in cruelty and hypocrisy, and we’ve forgotten most of those occasions. And that means we don’t really know ourselves. How much personal insight can I claim if I can’t trust my memory? How much can you? You’re probably thinking that, while your memory isn’t perfect, you’ve never engaged in revisionism of the magnitude I’m guilty of. But I was just as certain as you, and I was wrong. You may say, “I know I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes.” I am here to tell you that you have made more than you think, that some of the core assumptions on which your self-image is built are actually lies. (c) Q: The Fermi Paradox is sometimes known as the Great Silence. The universe ought to be a cacophony of voices, but instead it is disconcertingly quiet. (c) Q: Only a species of vocal learners would ascribe such importance to sound in their mythologies. We parrots can appreciate that. (c) Q: Lord, I place myself in your presence, and ask you to shine your light into my heart as I look back upon this day, so that I may see more clearly your grace in everything that has happened. (c) Q: ... for myself, the most precious knowledge I possess is this: Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough. (c)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kayla Dawn

    Overall a very good and interesting short story collection. Definitely worth checking out. 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 ⭐⭐⭐ Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Overall a very good and interesting short story collection. Definitely worth checking out. 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 ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  7. 5 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.

  8. 5 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 manag/>'Anxiety (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

  9. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    He really is the High Master of sci-fi short stories ;) Three/five minutes reading, here it is: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/... Merged review: 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/> He really is the High Master of sci-fi short stories ;) Three/five minutes reading, here it is: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/... Merged review: 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.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    I just love Ted Chiang. I read his earlier collection of short stories a few months ago (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and all the praise I heaped on him then are still true with "Exhalation". His style is completely unique, and while he sometimes plays with old ideas, he has a way of making them fresh, bright and very thought-provoking. Just as with "Stories of Your Life and Others", there are a couple of less than stellar stories here, b I just love Ted Chiang. I read his earlier collection of short stories a few months ago (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and all the praise I heaped on him then are still true with "Exhalation". His style is completely unique, and while he sometimes plays with old ideas, he has a way of making them fresh, bright and very thought-provoking. Just as with "Stories of Your Life and Others", there are a couple of less than stellar stories here, but they don't diminish the quality of this collection! Here are the highlights from my favorites: "The Merchant and the Alchemist Gate": Don't you just love a 1,001 Nights kind of story? I know I do! And just as he reworked Biblical myth gorgeously, here Chiang channels Scheherazade perfectly to tell a tale of time travel, and ultimately, of love. Superb. "The Life Cycle of Software Objects" actually brought to mind a game some of you might remember; I never played Faunasphere, but my husband wrote a book about it (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...), and the way people got attached to their digital pets in the game is so similar to the relationships developed between the creators of the digients they care for. It's also a fascinating reflection on AIs - as something not threatening for a change! "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" explores the idea that the technology we use eventually shapes the way our cognitive capacities work, the way they influence our perceptions - to a rather moving ending. I'll be chewing on this one for a while. "The Great Silence" is both humorous and an interesting shift in the perspective we use to define sentient life capable of communication. Kurt Vonnegut would be proud of this one! "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom": I've never seen a story that explores the idea of free will and the parallel worlds theory quite that way. For a while, I wondered where we were going with this "Black Mirror"-type story: addiction to technology, predatory business practices linked to technology usage... But then it got wrapped up in a very human, compassionate way, and it was perfect. If you are not already a Ted Chiag fan, I suggest you get your hands on any of his short story collections. Fantastic sci-fi!

  11. 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.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Yoon

    How do you talk about a short story collection? Some work, others don't but what's clear throughout is the thoughtful effort Chiang puts to these stories. He explores notions of time travel, free will, entropy, alternate realities and wrestling with notions of being and memory. He's careful with his logic but what I appreciate is the his exploration of the human impact. A miniature device with a negative time delay that can send a signal back a second in time creates a catastrophic ex How do you talk about a short story collection? Some work, others don't but what's clear throughout is the thoughtful effort Chiang puts to these stories. He explores notions of time travel, free will, entropy, alternate realities and wrestling with notions of being and memory. He's careful with his logic but what I appreciate is the his exploration of the human impact. A miniature device with a negative time delay that can send a signal back a second in time creates a catastrophic existential toll on some individuals. Meanwhile a time portal allowing travel back and forth across 20 years doesn't change the past but can change our understanding of it. You never get the sense he's overly impressed with himself and his sci-fi conceits. He doesn't fall in the trap of trying to dazzle with outlandish futuristic worlds and clever scenarios (which abound nonetheless) but instead uses these ideas as a jumping off point to wrestle with something more human.

  13. 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" "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 🙃

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    "People are made of stories. Our memories are not the impartial accumulation of every second we’ve lived; they’re the narrative that we assembled out of selected moments." . ▫From the short story "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" in EXHALATION: Stories by Ted Chiang. Much like Chiang's first collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, these stories had a profound effect on me. Chiang's creativity and philosophical science fiction hit all the right buttons for me.

  15. 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tom LA

    5 stars are nothing. I’ve read everything that Ted Chiang has published in the last 15 years (not difficult to do because he’s really not very prolific) and I consider him to be the modern-day Arthur C. Clarke. I don’t know if I could imagine a better compliment for a science fiction writer, at least coming from me. And I know Chiang loves Clarke, too. Being the modern Clarke means that : 1) he is a genius; 2) he has a deep technical and scientific rigor, a mind that loves to wrap itself around 5 stars are nothing. I’ve read everything that Ted Chiang has published in the last 15 years (not difficult to do because he’s really not very prolific) and I consider him to be the modern-day Arthur C. Clarke. I don’t know if I could imagine a better compliment for a science fiction writer, at least coming from me. And I know Chiang loves Clarke, too. Being the modern Clarke means that : 1) he is a genius; 2) he has a deep technical and scientific rigor, a mind that loves to wrap itself around scientific problems and not let go until the last drop of intellectual juice has been squeezed out; 3) he writes with a poet’s heart, which typically takes an entirely different type of writer (and even a different brain) than the one at number 2). So.... a very rare author, indeed. I’m not surprised that his stories manage to rack up all the most prestigious science fiction awards as soon as they come out. I loved this collection with a hot passion. An annoying “New Yorker” reviewer wrote that it lacks “the same magic of his first collection”. That is absurd bollocks. But it’s also not surprising, given that the title of that vapid article was “Science-fiction doesn’t have to be dystopian” (!).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Quann

    Exhalation highlights some of my favourite aspects of Ted Chiang's writing, but also brings out some of the content I was less keen on with Stories of Your Life and Others . I read this one over a few months--my short story game has been weak this year!--but took down the last three stories over a few days. In my review of Chiang's first collection, I noted his creativity often takes centre stage in his stories, but I've come to appreciate the depth with which he investigates his premises. Take, for Exhalation highlights some of my favourite aspects of Ted Chiang's writing, but also brings out some of the content I was less keen on with Stories of Your Life and Others . I read this one over a few months--my short story game has been weak this year!--but took down the last three stories over a few days. In my review of Chiang's first collection, I noted his creativity often takes centre stage in his stories, but I've come to appreciate the depth with which he investigates his premises. Take, for instance, one of my favourite of the bunch in this collection, Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom. It is a spin on a parallel universe story in which the entire population can access alternate timelines via supped-up pseudo-iPads. Instead of moving towards a huge cinematic set of conflicts, Chiang uses this premise to interrogate free will and the true nature of one's character. Chiang's ability to look conventional tropes through a titled lens is again on display in The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate. In this story a Babylonian merchant is introduced to a porto-time machine and learns the story of his life. Though time travel narratives have worn a little stale on me in recent times, Chiang's take is unique, optimistic, and humanistic. Another stand-out is the much talked about Lifecycle of Software Objects in which AI is created, but needs to be reared just like a child. Again, a classic sci-fi concept turned on its head that asks questions about the AI debate that I hadn't considered and opened my mind. What's Expected of Us was almost like a horror short laced with hard science-fiction. The rest of the stories landed to various degrees for me. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling presented an interesting dichotomy of technology's influence on memory, but the story's structure bugged me in the earlier-set tale. The eponymous Exhalation is a kind of neat steampunk story that failed to resonate with me, but I think would be crack to my engineer father-in-law. Dacey's Patent Automatic Nannywas just alright. Omphalos's final reveal left me a bit befuddled even if the story's main point was well stated. Ultimately, I'm always going to pick up and read Chiang's collections. The breadth of creativity and the games he can play with my mind are always a treat. Really, I'm surprised how often I found Chaing's writing to be cold or analytic where I craved a bit of warmth. Mind you, his ability to write emotionally impactful stories is not in question, just that some stories feel like they could have used a bit more of that juice for my palate. Looking forward to passing this one around and reading what all you folks made of it!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    This collection of nine science fiction stories was inventive and interesting on an intellectual level, but only two of them touched me emotionally. Personally, I want to feel something when I read a book and not just engage my mind. I want my heart to beat faster or have it hurt in sympathy with the characters as my mind works to sort out where the author is leading me. This did not happen here for the most part as these stories pondered free will, fate, what shapes people to be who they are an This collection of nine science fiction stories was inventive and interesting on an intellectual level, but only two of them touched me emotionally. Personally, I want to feel something when I read a book and not just engage my mind. I want my heart to beat faster or have it hurt in sympathy with the characters as my mind works to sort out where the author is leading me. This did not happen here for the most part as these stories pondered free will, fate, what shapes people to be who they are and how much is under their control. Each story had a lesson to impart concerning the above and where our technology is leading us, whether it’s closer to one another or farther apart. One of my favorite stories which I have rated five stars is the first one, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a circular story that reads like a fable and unwinds and rewinds like a spiraling apple peel loosened from the fruit. Another favorite story worth five stars is the last one in the collection, “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom,” which gives new meaning to the term self-help, as people in that time and place use prisms to communicate with themselves in alternate versions of their world in which their lives diverged onto different paths. The remaining seven stories were either two or three stars for me, with “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” and “Omphalos” being standouts. So if you enjoy science fiction stories that will engage your mind and imagination, this might be a good book for you. But if you’re looking for more of an emotional connection, you might find many of these stories leave you dissatisfied, your mind left whirling, but your pulse rate calm.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Obsidian

    Well, I think that all in all I had a mixed reaction to this newest collection of short stories by Chiang. Some were pitch perfect. Others went on too long and just had a garbled message in my opinion. I still love how he talks about things such as fate, faith, love, and even touches upon how technological advancements does not always equal making things better for human beings or other species. Per usual, here are my individual ratings for the short stories. "The Merchant and the Alchemist/>"The Well, I think that all in all I had a mixed reaction to this newest collection of short stories by Chiang. Some were pitch perfect. Others went on too long and just had a garbled message in my opinion. I still love how he talks about things such as fate, faith, love, and even touches upon how technological advancements does not always equal making things better for human beings or other species. Per usual, here are my individual ratings for the short stories. "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" (5 stars)-I loved this story that included time travel as well as a message of fate, love, and forgiveness. The narrator is telling a story to a caliph and we don't know why. Chiang gets us there eventually. There are stories within a story here and it reminds me a bit of Scheherazade and her tales she told to spare her life. "Exhalation" (5 stars)-A story about an alien race and what the narrator leaves behind. It's a story about the end of all things, and how to still take pleasure in what you have left behind for those that follow. "What's Expected of Us" (4 stars)-A fairly short story that touches upon people who buy a device that has an unusual effect on parts of the population. Seems to be a cautionary tale again about the widespread use of technology. "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" (3 stars)- One of the first short stories that dragged. I think this and maybe another story in this collection ended up being the longest. I was initially intrigued about people making virtual "pets" called digients and how people were learning how to take care of them. However, Chiang also gets into the manner of free will and how easily it is to pervert what you initially intended when creating something new. I read this whole thing as a big thought experiment and I don't even know where I as a reader was supposed to come down on. I think that the story could have been cut back a bit since it just kept going on and on. Chiang tries to center the story a bit on two of the humans in this one (Ana and Derek) and how they come to care for the digients that they were responsible for creating and getting to learn things. However, Chiang tries to throw in some things about unrequited love when dealing with them and I think it just got tangled up in everything else. "Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny" (3.5 stars)-This one was a little short. I think we are supposed to take away the fact that because something is a machine does not make it better for human beings. But also we need to make sure that we show affection and love whenever possible. "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" (3 stars)-This was the next longest short story in the collection. There seemed to be multiple things happening in this story. We have a man who has raised his daughter who is realizing that things he believed are not true due a device that shows memories. And then we have people realizing that writing things down does not give the same feeling as when someone tells us a story that uses their body, hands, their voices. I think I was supposed to have some big take away on this one and it flew past me. Discussion of memories and writing didn't really gel together the way that I think it should have. "The Great Silence" (4 stars)-Very short. But I thought it was powerful. "My species probably won't be here for much longer; it's likely that we'll die before our time and join the Great Silence. But before we go, we are sending a message to humanity. We just hope the telescope of Arechibo will enable them to hear it. The message is this: You be good. I love you. "Omphaslos" (4.5 stars)-I liked this one since it touches upon faith and the meaning of life. What would you do if you found out something you always believed was not true. Would you still carry on the way that you were, or would you reel in despair. "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom" (5 stars)-So this one is touching about parallel lives. We find out about prisms that allow you to talk to your paraselves when you have a decision point that affects things. Chang focuses on several people in this one, Dana a therapist to those who uses prisms, who is hiding a secret of her own. Nan who is using the prisms to make money. Jorge, a patient of Nan's, and several other people who are part of a prism support group. I would love to see this one on the small or big screen. It did read a bit like a Black Mirror episode, but an old one (not the newest season, that one is not very good). I thought this was such an interesting thought experiment.

  20. 5 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 storie 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!!)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Not going to bother with a tale-by-tale because I wasn't interested more than 3 stars'-worth in any of them. I must be at fault. I don't care for or about the stories or the collection.

  22. 5 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 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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    MeaganCM

    I'm done. I'm finished. I can't read another page. I read all the stories but the last one. I got about halfway through that one. I really liked: The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, Exhalation, What's Expected of Us, The Great Silence. These were all so good. It's hard to say which would be my favorite out of these. Maybe Exhalation. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling was ok and I cared nothing for the other stories. The last story was the only one that tripped me up a little on the idea side of things. I'm done. I'm finished. I can't read another page. I read all the stories but the last one. I got about halfway through that one. I really liked: The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, Exhalation, What's Expected of Us, The Great Silence. These were all so good. It's hard to say which would be my favorite out of these. Maybe Exhalation. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling was ok and I cared nothing for the other stories. The last story was the only one that tripped me up a little on the idea side of things. I was cool with the machine that allowed you to communicate with your "paraself" from an alternate reality. But then he was going into how the machine works AAAANNNDDD way too much quantum mechanics. I just didn't have the patience to wade through the explanation Chiang was trying to give. Other then that, the ideas are fully accessible. Ted Chiang is a great writer with great ideas, but I have a heard time with the subtle (*cough* boring) way some of stories were executed. The subtlety really worked well for some of his ideas but for others it was just tedious (The Lifecycle of software objects). Some of the stories just don't fit with my tastes. So this is a case of "it's not you, it's me".

  24. 4 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 sto 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!

  25. 5 out of 5

    ashley c

    Ted Chiang's second short story collection again is big on grand ideas. His stories feel like they're stripped of all extraneous material that will divert from the key message he is trying to convey, material such as too many supporting characters, or a plot. I kid. I am seeing a lot of mixed reactions to Chiang's writing style and decision to work around any plot presence, but I think we can all agree that his ideas are fascinating. For a scifi enthusiast used to recycled ideas, Chia Ted Chiang's second short story collection again is big on grand ideas. His stories feel like they're stripped of all extraneous material that will divert from the key message he is trying to convey, material such as too many supporting characters, or a plot. I kid. I am seeing a lot of mixed reactions to Chiang's writing style and decision to work around any plot presence, but I think we can all agree that his ideas are fascinating. For a scifi enthusiast used to recycled ideas, Chiang is a fresh breath of air every time. Just some quick thoughts below: The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate - I loved the use of an old classic tale of morality with time travel! Exhalation - This is easily one of my favourites. I love stories exploring different realities and universes. The protagonist experimenting on himself himself to find an eureka moment about his entire world is something I enjoyed. What's Expected of Us - Short and delicious. What would you do if you realised you have no free will? I think it would be interesting to see the effects on our individual psych and on society as a whole. We act and function as though we have free will. I personally lean towards believing we have no free will when it comes down to the basic tenet of it, but I of course live, act, and think like I do. The Lifecycle of Software Objects - A novella about the development and caring for AI creatures. The creatures are intelligent, self-aware, and mimic the growth and development of a young child. they are even self-aware about how their own existence is limited to software in a computer or at best, a robot body. While it was an idea worth exploring in this day and age of AI anxieties and ethical conundrums, I actually found this quite draggy. Perhaps if it was shortened considerably it would have delivered a stronger punch. I felt that the protagonists cycled through the same problems over and over again and it could have been shaved off and left more to the reader's imagination. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling - a reflective piece on how technology changes our forms of communication, memory, and relationships. I love how the social commentary is embedded in a in-depth look into a father-daughter relationship. I enjoyed the resolution. Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny - This one was a miss for me. Bad psychology - perhaps that was the point but I found that I could have done without it. The Great Silence - Not sure what he was trying to say with this one, but I liked the small twist. Omphalos - A very interesting account from a secular scientist of a time where the existence of god was a given fact. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom - I loved this one and I'm so glad it's a novella. It's my favourite too. It explores how our society deal with the newfound ability to communicate with yourself and others from a parallel reality with crystals. I love it when a story takes the scifi concept and plants it as casually and normally as possible into current society, exploring how things may change but also how things stay the same.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Benji Glaab

    A sumptuous foray with many mind bending concepts. Like with most good sci-fi the writing needs to be smart, but also remain accessible to the masses. Chiang walks that line well by using the everyday person as the main pov excepting where he will use an AI or a Maccaw in 2 of the stories. Their are no outrageous characters in this collection which allows the reader to think what would you do in the situation giving it a charming appeal, and get yourself asking some questions throughout.

  27. 4 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 th 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.

  28. 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!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dax

    The first story is a wonderful take on the concept of time travel. Setting this story in a traditional Arab culture was a fresh approach. After this 5 star opener, however, I found most of Chiang’s Sci-Fi collection to be solid but unspectacular. The only other standout is the second to last story, Omphalos; an excellent look at the relationship between science and religion. Overall, a good collection with two stories that are worth the price of admission alone. High three stars.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gabi

    Again Ted Chiang delivers 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 show 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 Again Ted Chiang delivers 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 show 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.

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