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Exhalation: Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 7, 2019
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“A collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.”
—Barack Obama, via Facebook
“Illuminating, thrilling. . . . Like such eclectic predecessors as Philip K. Dick, James Tiptree, Jr., Jorge Luis Borges, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, China Miéville, and Kazuo Ishiguro, Chiang has explored conventional tropes of science fiction in highly unconventional ways. . . . Individual sentences possess the windowpane transparency that George Orwell advocated as a prose ideal. . . . It is both a surprise and a relief to encounter fiction that explores counterfactual worlds like these with . . . ardor and earnestness. . . . Human curiosity, for Chiang, is a nearly divine engine of progress.”
—Joyce Carol Oates, The New Yorker
“Masterful and striking. . . . A fusion of pure intellect and molten emotion. . . . Represents the ideal definition and practice of all science fiction. . . . [Chiang’s] career thus deservedly joins those of only a handful of past masters who likewise did their best work in miniature: Edgar Allan Poe, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon. . . . His challenging and rewarding fiction proves that a sizable and appreciative audience exists for the kind of speculative fiction that doesn’t merely offer cosmic explosions, but instead plucks both heartstrings and gray matter in equal measure.”
—Paul Di Filippo, The Washington Post
“Deeply beautiful. . . . These stories are carefully curated into a conversation that comes full circle, after having traversed extraordinary terrain. . . . [Exhalation] is as generous as it is marvelous, and I’m left feeling nothing so much as grateful for it.”
—Amal El-Mohtar, The New York Times Book Review
“A master of the form. [Chiang’s] new collection of nine stories—theming free will and choice, virtual reality and regret—is so provocative, imaginative, and soulful that it makes Black Mirror look drab and dull by comparison.”
—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly, “The 10 best books of 2019...so far”
“Delirious and exciting as hell . . . [Chiang’s] stories brim with wonder and horror, spectacle and mundanity, philosophy and religion. Tapping into a range of speculative traditions, from pulp and fantasy to the rigorous scientific accuracy of hard sci-fi and the popcorn thrills of soft sci-fi, his work has a profound richness.”
—Stephen Kearse, The Nation
“A handful of living science fiction writers have attained godlike status—N.K. Jemisin, Cixin Liu, and Ann Leckie, to name a few. But Ted Chiang is the only one who’s done it without writing a novel. In fact, he’s published far less than his neighbors on the genre’s current Mount Rushmore, usually just one short story every two years. But oh, his stories. They’re a religious experience. . . . In Exhalation, which could be subtitled ‘Black Mirror For Optimists,’ every story seems crafted with one objective in mind—pure awe. . . . A moving book about fate and free will that is destined to become a literary landmark of the 2010s.”
—Adam Morgan, The A.V. Club
“These are humane, skillfully assembled stories, populated by vivid and memorable characters. . . . [Chiang’s] best stories boast a beguiling mix of compassion and awe. . . . His versatility and intellectual restlessness have yielded an immensely pleasing book.”
—Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle
“As much thought experiments as stories, Ted Chiang’s exquisite mechanisms employ science fiction as an instrument to probe the human condition. Like the chronicler of Exhalation’s title narrative, he opens the back of his own head and lays bare its mysterious golden motion for the hushed appreciation of an awestruck audience. Beautifully written and conceived, this is a marvelous, astonishing collection that we would do well to read before the worlds it conjures are upon us. Urgently recommended.”
“Exquisite. . . . The stories in Exhalation are a shining example of science fiction at its best. They take both science and humanism deeply seriously.”
—Constance Grady, Vox
“Ted Chiang writes with such a matter-of-fact grace and visionary power that one simply takes on faith that his worlds and his characters exist, whether they are human or robot or parrot; he is the rare author who makes me feel, also, that he believes in his readers, in our integrity and our imagination.”
—Karen Russell, author of Orange World
“Ted Chiang has no contemporary peers when it comes to the short story form. His name deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Carver, Poe, Borges, and Kafka. Every story is a universe. Every story is a diamond. You will inhale Exhalation in a single, stunned sitting, because true genius doesn’t come along nearly as often as advertised. This is the real thing.”
—Blake Crouch, author of Dark Matter
“Exquisitely crafted. . . . One after another, Chiang’s stories claim their place in your mind until you’re completely swept up in his provocative and at times even charming world. . . . Each story is a carefully considered, finely honed machine. . . . What makes Exhalation particularly brilliant is that not one of the stories feels like it’s designed to be thought-provoking in a stilted, academic way. Chiang is an entertaining, empathetic writer first, before being one of contemporary sci-fi’s intellectual powerhouses, and each story reads that way. . . . [Chiang is] one of the most exciting voices in his field.”
—BookPage (starred review)
“Chiang’s long-awaited second collection. . .continues to explore emotional and metaphysical landscapes with precise and incisive prose. . . . Chiang remains one of the most skilled stylists in sf, and this will appear to genre and literary-fiction fans alike.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“An instant classic. . . . Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Chiang produces deeply moving drama from fascinating first premises. . . . These stories are brilliant experiments, and his commitment to exploring deep human questions elevates them to among the very best science fiction.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Chiang is always thought provoking, and his latest collection is no exception.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
About the Author
- Publisher : Knopf; 1st Edition (May 7, 2019)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1101947888
- ISBN-13 : 978-1101947883
- Item Weight : 1.2 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.1 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #13,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is a fable about time travel, sensibly told in the context of the medieval Muslim Middle East. Exhalation is a brilliant reframing of the laws of entropy. What’s Expected Of Us explores the social impact of experiential proof that free will is an illusion. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is a splendid and humane analysis of artificial intelligence. Darcy’s Patent Automatic Nanny is a steampunk tale of a robotic nanny. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling brilliantly examines the impact of technology on memory, both in terms of the written word vs oral tradition and in terms of a near future where everything is recorded. The Great Silence posits that our search for non- human intelligence in the universe errs in neglecting non-human intelligence here on earth. Omphalos examines creationism with great sympathy and scientific precision. Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom is a thought provoking exploration of the many worlds hypothesis of quantum mechanics, accessibly told in very human terms.
Ted Chiang knows his hard science and his philosophy. He writes in the mold of the great natural philosophers, crafting his tales to illuminate some of the most profound questions of our time. His writing is clear and awesomely competent. I’ll read anything he publishes. He’s s wonder.
It was beautiful and will be one of my favorite books for a long time to come.
In Exhalation, Chiang attempts something fiendishly difficult: Writing about very complex scientific and (especially) philosophy-of-science topics through fiction. Making correct points about the science and the philosophy is hard enough -- and good science writers are worth their weight in gold -- but adding to that challenge the idea of compelling story-telling and characters? Fughettaboutit. I doubt Tolstroy could have pulled that off, had he heard of quantum physics.
And Chiang very much does not pull it off. He barely tries. The "stories" here are just cover. They're gimmicks, presumably fashioned to put his book in a different section of the bookstore where it might be noticed. There are no notable characters, to say nothing of character development. Except for one story (the first in the collection) no settings to speak of. And the stories themselves are clearly secondary to the explanations he gives of the philosophical problem he's addressing. Several are WAY too long. The short ones are better, because one doesn't expect much in the way of typical story elements in something that lasts 6 or 8 pages. But when you're reading a 70 page short story you kind of expect to care about characters, form a picture of the setting in your head, and engage with a real story.
The topics he's writing about are at the same time old and new: Time travel, the alternate universe theory of quantum physics, artificial life forms, memory assistance devices, and so forth. Not much is in here that you would not have encountered as a philosopher of science in the 1970's. All of it has been written about more compellingly elsewhere, by scientists as well as general subject authors. Even by sci-fi authors on occasion! That Chiang's attemps are in this particular form is unusual, but that doesn't make the impact any more powerful.
There are a couple very well done pieces in here. The first story, about time travel and taking place in 17th century Baghdad and Cairo, is lovely and moving. Another, about a robot alien whose world is dying, and who is journalistically describing the reaction of its inhabitants to that news, is spare and unexpectedly beautiful. But the two centerpieces are absolute duds. One is an endless story about creators of software "animals" and their relationship through the real-virtual divide. The subject isn't all that interesting and in any case it drags incessantly. The human characters -- a common problem here -- are boring, generic and lazily drawn, which makes the whole "difficult question" a lot less compelling. And the vague "sometime in the near future" setting is barely addressed. It feels like something written by a high school geek for a special project in English Lit. The second showcase, the last in the collection, is a little better: A story about a machine that can connect people to their "alternate selves" in another universe. It has a little verve to it, and the characters have some dimensionality, but in the end it kind of fizzles out too and gets us nowhere with the characters.
The ironic thing about sci-fi is that at its best it tells us something about ourselves, rather than the unfamiliar people n the stories. When you're done you feel like you've been shown something that any great novelist could show you, just from a different direction. Chiang doesn't do that here at all.
Exhilation isn't terrible. The writing's pretty solid (if uninspired -- Chiang REALLY needs to take a lesson in how to fit his dialog, which is always the same and in exactly the same tone as his prose -- to his characters). The issues are real and very much worth pondering. But this should have been a collection of essays, not stories. It would not have sold as well, but it would have read a whole lot better.
Top reviews from other countries
That comment aside, this is a fine collection. ‘The Great Silence’ is a melancholy alternative perspective on communication with alien life and respect for her environment. ‘The Truth Of Fact, The Truth of Feeling’ explores the nature of memory and social relations. ‘What’s Expected of Us’ – previously published in the science journal ‘Nature’ – is both amusing and troubling. ‘The Lifecycle of Software Objects’ is full of good ideas but its length does make one wonder whether Chiang’s unique abilities actual work at anything beyond the short story form. (In this respect he reminds me of James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon.) ‘The Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate’ is about time travel, and loss, and (that key Chiang interest) determinism. Finally, there is the title story, which starts as an intriguing scientific puzzle and ends with an exhalative view of existence that reminds me of Heidegger and which never fails to move me to tears.
The quality of Chiang’s work is very high. If he does not produce much volume then perhaps that is part of the equation. I still think that he is one of the most exciting things to have happened to SF in years. I’m happy to wait whilst he takes his time.
At times the pace becomes laborious and takes some effort, but if you keep chipping away the structure that is revealed is magnificent. Each story is an epiphany.
The book feels like a philosophical treatise on current science extrapolated ab absurdum. Not a light read but a rewarding one
it is very hard to review short stories without spoilers, so I won't. But if you loved Story of Your Life, then there are things in here to delight you. As with that collection, this one isn't all perfect, but light and share matters in life.