There aren’t many authors whose works I automatically purchase without question, but Ted Chiang is one of them. His stories are thread-pulls on natural philosophy, able to shift a paradigm and play it out. It’s the best kind of science fiction. When I read his work, I feel as though I have another track running on my life, one that’s probing at the fabric of how we all think and reason.
If I’m waxing too lyrical, I think it’s granted. I read somewhere that Chiang doesn’t write much, but what he does write is worth reading. I discovered him when I walked into Pulp Fiction bookstore in Brisbane many years back and said I wanted a recommendation for short stories. The staff member that day handed me a copy of Stories of Your Life and Others. Thank you, sir, wherever you are. Stories felt to me an intimate outing into other realities. I bought it, I read it, I’ve recommended it to many.
This second collection, Exhalation, has a more sweeping feel, exploring larger questions but with the same delicate touch. The titular story, echoing with a particular melancholy in its resolution, I found the most poignant, almost uncomfortable in its allegory to entropy. “Omphalos”, which imagines a world in which creation is evidenced in fact, I found the most conceptually interesting. “The Great Silence” contained the most poetic connections. But singling out these does the others a disservice; in nine stories there is time travel, AI, memory augmentation, faith, quantum mechanics, and many other subjects. All are about those things, and also not really about them. What’s perhaps best is how each story is a fiction capable of reorienting attention in a way that adds dimension and beauty to what’s already here. And we could all use a hellava lot of that.
Recommended to science and engineering nerds everywhere. I give Exhalation 5 stars.