I Wanna Be Literated #205

I Wanna Be Literated #205

Thursday, 23 May 2019

by Ted Chiang

I’m sure I’m not the only one who had their mind completely blown by the movie Arrival. Being a sci-fi lover I was completely delighted by how little of it was about explosions and instead focused on communication and the life stream. A story like that deserves credit solely for how unique it is. Well, it turns out that unique story came from the mind of Ted Chiang.

Exhalation is his latest collection of short stories, which was intriguing to me on a couple levels. I was interested to discover all the little ideas Chiang had floating around in his head, but also a little concerned because I’ve been burnt by sci-fi short stories before. I know that in the hands of a capable writer (like Asimov) a deep and entertaining story could be told in a couple dozen pages, but I feared that might be the exception rather than the norm. Well I’m glad to say that Exhalation proves Chiang belongs in the capable category.

There aren’t really that many stories in Exhalation, because most of them are like novellas. It was impressive reading Chiang’s exploration on various topics such as time travel, the evolution of a software that allows users to parent a semi-intelligent entity, and the idea of free will and choice when we have the ability to speak to ourselves in a parallel dimension. And, I have to thank Chiang for not dumbing things down for his audience and allowing them to figure things out for themselves. Too often stories are so spoon-fed to us that they become boring, but Chiang trusts his audience and relies on characters, their dialogue, and the occasional added narrative to build on his premise. It’s great when things finally start to click in your mind. It doesn’t even matter than some of the stories overstay their welcome a bit or are incomprehensible (like the Exhalation story itself, the Great Silence, and Omphalos), when the story resonates, it’s immediately engaging and stays with you afterwards making you contemplate the world around you and its possibilities. That’s some pretty strong stuff.

Exhalation is filled with cool concepts and great stories that will be appreciated by the casual reader and must be read by any fan of science fiction.

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