My Rating ~ Three and a half stars
RELEASED: 14 May 2019
Source: ARC received from Macmillan Australia
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.
Thankyou to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a copy of Exhalation, in exchange for an honest review.
I always find it a little difficult to rate books comprised of short stories, because typically, there are some stories I love and would give all the stars to, and some that just don’t really resonate with me as much. Exhalation was no exception.
All of the stories in this book were thought provoking musings on how technological advances might challenge the way we think, feel and how we relate to the world around us. I find those sort of questions so interesting and love having my moral and intellectual thoughts challenged in that way.
Short stories don’t give me much time to build a love for the characters or get involved in the world described, so they need to catch my interest as quickly as possible. Due to that attitude, it’s probably no wonder that the stories I loved the most in Exhalation were some of the longer ones. My favourites were:
The Lifecycle of Software Objects with its exploration of whether, or when, AI machines that grow and learn should be able to make their own decisions – and whether deciding for them is exploiting them.
The Truth of Fact, The Trust of Feeling, with its parallel stories – firstly the question of how being able to have perfect recall memory would affect society and our personal lives and secondly the impact the written word has had in the world.
Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom, a story centred around being able to view parallel timelines and our ‘paraselves’, and the different impact that could have on individual people.
All of the stories above were ones I want to share with other people (and ask them to read, so we can debate the points raised in them!)
If you’re interested in thought provoking reads, especially about technological / futuristic advances, or you’ve enjoyed TV shows such as Black Mirror, I’d recommend giving some of these stories a try!
Photo via my Instagram account – Bookbookowl