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In these nine stunningly original, provocative, and poignant stories, Ted Chiang tackles some of humanity’s oldest questions along with new quandaries only he could imagine.

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 second chances. In "Exhalation," an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications that are literally universal. In "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom," the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.

Including stories being published for the first time as well as some of his rare and classic uncollected work, Exhalation is Ted Chiang at his best: profound, sympathetic—revelatory.

368 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 7, 2019

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About the author

Ted Chiang

108 books9,019 followers
Ted Chiang is an American speculative fiction writer. His Chinese name is Chiang Feng-nan. He graduated from Brown University with a Computer Science degree. He currently works as a technical writer in the software industry and resides in Bellevue, near Seattle, Washington. He is a graduate of the noted Clarion Writers Workshop (1989).

Although not a prolific author, having published only eleven short stories as of 2009, Chiang has to date won a string of prestigious speculative fiction awards for his works: a Nebula Award for "Tower of Babylon" (1990), the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992, a Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for "Story of Your Life" (1998), a Sidewise Award for "Seventy-Two Letters" (2000), a Nebula Award, Locus Award and Hugo Award for his novelette "Hell Is the Absence of God" (2002), a Nebula and Hugo Award for his novelette "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" (2007), and a British Science Fiction Association Award, a Locus Award, and the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for "Exhalation" (2009).

Chiang turned down a Hugo nomination for his short story "Liking What You See: A Documentary" in 2003, on the grounds that the story was rushed due to editorial pressure and did not turn out as he had really wanted.

Chiang's first eight stories are collected in "Stories of Your Life, and Others" (1st US hardcover ed: ISBN 0-7653-0418-X; 1st US paperback ed.: ISBN 0-7653-0419-8). His novelette "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" was also published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

As of 2013, his short fiction has won four Nebula Awards, three Hugo Awards, the John W Campbell Award, three Locus Awards, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award. He has never written a novel but is one of the most decorated science fiction writers currently working.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,779 reviews
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
554 reviews60.5k followers
June 26, 2019
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.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
February 3, 2022
Self-Consciousness and Its Discontents

The cost of awareness is the knowledge of inevitability, including the inevitability of death. This is the inherent irony of the universe. It doesn’t matter what we know, our fate has already been fixed. Our ambitions, choices, and persistence are in vain. The idea of predestination is simultaneously an intellectual triumph and a spiritual dead-end - mind realising its own impotence and unimportance.

This self-consciousness is the dominant theme throughout Chiang’s stories. In a tale that could be from the Arabian Nights, the protagonist discovers that “Coincidence and intention are two sides of a tapestry...” Our apparent purposes are just as much a product of the systematic causality of the universe as desert sandstorms and random tragedies. So “past and future are the same, and we cannot change either.” Not even that modern dream of time travel can affect our fates. Everything has been programmed from the beginning.

In the title story, which takes place in a world of robots who are effectively immortal, one daring individual seeks to uncover the source of his consciousness within his own mechanism. But in succeeding, he also discovers the inescapable law of increasing entropy that points to the inevitable doom of the robot-civilisation. The allusion to our current concerns about global warming is unmistakeable. Thus the robot’s conclusion: “Some find irony in the fact that a study of our brains revealed to us not the secrets of the past but what ultimately awaits us”

Another little gem shows the profound but unanticipated consequences of a new high-tech toy. The Predictor is a small hand-held device which accurately anticipates when the owner will activate it by lighting a green LED. “There’s no way to fool a Predictor.” It works every time. So much for the idea of free will and our ability to change the course of universal development. And the implication? “Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has.”

The longest tale takes place in a pop-up AI company that has developed a “Neuroblast genome” for a species of virtual creatures called “digients.” Digients are adept at language and learning, and are sold commercially to be nurtured like high-tech Tamagotchis. They can also be installed temporarily in robots and become part of the physical world. Digients are ‘taught’ by their owners but also teach each other. Consequently they develop their own language and independent culture - with unpleasant revelations for their owners.

So Chiang’s attitude toward technology, indeed toward the conscious life which produces it, may seem rather grim. But he is surprising in his quasi-editorial observations. For example one of his characters concludes that “Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.” Another makes a virtue out of impotence: “My message to you is this: Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t.” And ultimately he provides some sensible spiritual advice to “Contemplate the marvel that is existence.”

Perhaps not a complete dead-end after all.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,181 followers
August 20, 2019
“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.

Exhalation, 4*
A dangerously literal sort of introspection.

What’s Expected of Us, 5*
Without free will, would life lose all meaning?

The Lifecycle of Software Objects, 4*
What if Tamagotchis evolved and interacted for decades, into full AIs, with emotions?

Image: Tamagotchi (Source.)

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?

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.

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?

Omphalos, 4*
What if the entire practice of science is founded on a false premise?

Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, 4*
A futuristic device is used for complex criminal ends.
Profile Image for Guille.
785 reviews1,749 followers
February 13, 2021

Creo que es necesario advertir que no es lo literario lo que prima en estos relatos, aquí encontrarán una serie de cuentos filosóficos o ensayos “relatizados” que les harán pensar o les divertirán o, en aquellos cuatro o cinco destacables, ambas cosas, pero no quieran encontrar más de lo que hay en esta atractiva forma de plantear problemas, enigmas, profecías de caminos que el ser humano quizás alguna vez tenga que recorrer, que no es poco.

La cosa empieza fuerte, un ingenioso cuento a las mil y una noches, “El comerciante y la puerta del alquimista” , en el que se solventan las paradojas de los viajes en el tiempo gracias a que se encierran todas ellas en una sola, imposible de eliminar, la paradoja ontológica. Una forma astuta de hacer menos sombría la posibilidad del determinismo.

Tras esta cima, el camino desciende…

-ligeramente en “Exhalación” , un relato en el que unos robots con conciencia de sí mismos, inteligencia y sentimientos, únicos habitantes de la tierra, se creen los seres humanos del universo y se plantean sus mismos problemas existenciales;

-de forma más pronunciada en “Lo que se espera de nosotros” , un cuento que no creo que acierte con la respuesta que los seres humanos daríamos a la “certeza” de la imposibilidad del libre albedrio;

-y con una elevada inclinación en “El ciclo de vida de los elementos de software” , un ensayo sobre la responsabilidad de crear vidas, seres inteligentes, virtuales o reales, sobre las dudas que un creador tendría entre concebir seres con inteligencia, curiosidad y capacidad de aprendizaje o seres totalmente obedientes ya provistos de una gran inteligencia y capacidad o simplemente criaturas felices y sin problemas que nos diviertan como meras mascotas, todo muy interesante pero embutido a la fuerza en un relato superfluo e innecesariamente largo;

-y la cosa no mejora con “La niñera automática, patentada por Dacey” en el que simplemente se enfatiza la influencia de las primeras experiencias en la más tierna infancia.

No obstante, la cosa remonta, y cómo, con el siguiente, “La verdad del hecho, la verdad del sentimiento” , planteando lo que significa nuestra memoria en la construcción de nuestro yo, y como ello cambiaría de forma importante al poder disponer de una grabación completa de toda nuestra vida. Es muy inteligente como relaciona las consecuencias que traería ese posible cambio con el que se produjo cuando la tradición oral pasó a ser una tradición escrita. Todo ello plasmado en un relato, dos realmente, perfectamente entrelazado con el desarrollo del tema.

Pasando como una exhalación por el siguiente relato, “El gran silencio” , haciendo, de paso, honor a su título, llegamos a otro de los buenos, “Ónfalo” . ¿No me digan que no es interesante un mundo en el que los propios científicos son los que creen en el hecho de la creación del mundo (en realidad, no es que crean, los científicos no creen, al menos no en el uso de su oficio: han demostrado que somos seres creados), siendo otros los que dudan de ella? Para mucha gente, de estos mundos de Chiang o del nuestro, una prueba, o miles de ellas, nunca son concluyentes si no apoyan lo que previamente se cree o conviene creer. El problema del relato llega cuando otras constataciones científicas parecen demostrar que la tierra y el ser humano no son el centro de la creación, lo que implica que no hay ningún propósito para el hombre. ¿No me digan que no? Y nuevamente tengo que resaltar aquí, por el contraste con otros relatos del libro, su valor literario.

Y para que terminemos con un buen sabor de boca, Chiang nos regala un último relato: “La ansiedad es el vértigo de la libertad” con otro de los temas clásicos, esos universos paralelos que se despliegan a cada momento en líneas temporales distintas que pueden acabar difiriendo sustancialmente unas de otras, y la posibilidad de saber qué tal les va a nuestros otros yoes en esas realidades alternativas y hasta de comunicarnos con ellos… o sea, con nosotros mismos. Las implicaciones son maravillosas.

El libro peca un poco de ser una recolección de cuentos previamente publicados en otros sitios, solo los dos últimos son nuevos. Hasta casi el final estuve decidido a darle solo tres estrellas, y eso redondeando al alza, pero con estos dos relatos finales he pensado que se merece las cuatro.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
784 reviews12.5k followers
September 3, 2020
Ted Chiang is the master of the short form. His execution of short stories and novellas is nearly always flawless, the ideas are great, and his writing style is versatile. This is a writer who has mastered his craft, and his infrequent offerings are well worth the wait.

This is the second time I read his brilliant second collection, Exhalation, this time on the quest to read (or reread) this year’s Hugo and Nebula nominees (Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom, nominated for both, and Omphalos nominated for Hugo for best novelette). But Chiang’s writing is just so good - or at least perfect for my tastes - that I ended up revisiting the entire collection. I’ll try to briefly touch on all of them.

Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom is one of the two novellas in this collection, and is a gem. Here through a great SF idea Chiang explores the themes of moral choices and responsibility for those choices, as well as the conundrum of free will.

A few decades prior the Prisms were invented - devices whose activation splits the world into two parallel branches initially differing by a single choice or even a single photon — and which for a while allow you to communicate with your paraself (parallel world self) in the branched-off reality and see how your lives diverge based on the smallest of choices.

Two issues arise from this paraself communications through the Prisms.

First is more obvious. If you manage to fare better than your paraself, your choices at or after the activation of the Prism are validated. Pat on the back, moral superiority, the whole shebang. But if your paraself fares better in life after your realities have diverged, this can lead to a serious self-esteem and identity crisis as that self-validation no longer applies. Some people spiral down the guilt rabbitholes, blaming themselves and their actions for whatever makes their branch worse than the parallel branch. No wonder that there are support groups for Prism users.
“I want to know whether my decisions matter! […] Forget about murder; that’s not the kind of thing I’m talking about. But when I have a choice to do the right thing or the wrong thing, am I always choosing to do both in different branches? Why should I bother being nice to other people, if every time I’m also being a dick to them?”

The second issue is more subtle. Many eventually subscribe to the idea that by the nature of quantum mechanics and that infamous Schroedinger’s cat our moral choices are meaningless because no matter what you do there’s always another you in one of the many universes who makes an opposite choice. So if one of your many paraselves is destined to pull the trigger or cheat a store clerk or kick a puppy — then why the hell shouldn’t it be you?
“But the question was, given that we know about other branches, whether making good choices is worth doing. I think it absolutely is. None of us are saints, but we can all try to be better. Each time you do something generous, you’re shaping yourself into someone who’s more likely to be generous next time, and that matters.
And it’s not just your behavior in this branch that you’re changing: you’re inoculating all the versions of you that split off in the future. By becoming a better person, you’re ensuring that more and more of the branches that split off from this point forward are populated by better versions of you.”

The point is — choose the right thing. You are the sum of choices you make, after all, and right and wrong do not simply cancel out.

Support groups, childhood guilt, soulless scams and even murder — all of this is mixed in this smart and thoughtful story — and all of it boils down to whether you would want to be a better version of yourself.

5 stars.

Omphalos gives us a glimpse into the world where science has proven young Earth creationism. It’s obvious that the world is eight thousand years old, proven by ringless trees and mummies without navels and fossilized bones without epiphyses and mollusk shells without growth rings.

This is the world where there is no doubt ever that God created it for a purpose, and divine purpose drives every aspect of life.
“My teachers told me that God wanted us to reason things out for ourselves. But what if that’s not true? What if”—his voice cracked—“what if God had no intentions about us at all?”

The crisis of faith in this world does not come from the clash between religion and atheism. It comes from the immensely frightening possibility that maybe there was no divine purpose for this particular world except for it being a failed experiment, a trial run before the creation of the actual world with God’s purpose. And just the thought of that can be shattering.
“I’ve devoted my life to studying the wondrous mechanism that is the universe, and doing so has given me a sense of fulfillment. I’ve always assumed that this meant that I was acting in accordance with your will, Lord, and your reason for making me. But if it’s in fact true that you have no purpose in mind for me, then that sense of fulfillment has arisen solely from within myself. What that demonstrates to me is that we as humans are capable of creating meaning for our own lives.”

When all meaning is lost, can you create new purpose?
“Even if humanity is not the reason for which the universe was made, I still wish to understand the way it operates. We human beings may not be the answer to the question why, but I will keep looking for the answer to how.
This search is my purpose; not because you chose it for me, Lord, but because I chose it for myself.”

4.5 stars.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects — an old favorite, reviewed separately here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

4 stars.
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling — A brilliant 5-star story of the nature of memory, the impact of recording our experiences and how objective memory can change our identity and self-understanding as compared to the highly subjective experience of remembering that we have now.
“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.”

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is a cleverly plotted story of time travel in medieval Baghdad and Cairo. Three stories within a story, told in the style of ‘Arabian Nights’, dealing with the nature and circularity of time. 4.5 stars.
“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.”

The Great Silence : As people are searching for the possibility of communication with so far only theoretical extraterrestrial intelligences, there is a quiet extinction of a nonhuman species capable of communication right here on Earth. Very short, very lyrical, very poignant. 5 stars.
What’s Expected of Us : Another story about free will. 2 pages of sheer brilliance. 5 stars.
“My message to you is this: Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has.”

Exhalation — a strange one about the nature of mind and entropy, and also mechanical life-forms, containing these exact words: “Auto-dissection was the only option.” 4 stars.
Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny — 3 stars, a rare misstep from Chiang but not enough to affect the brilliance of this story collection.

Overall, it is a brilliant, thoughtful, highly original collection. This will certainly not be my last reread.

5 stars for the collection as a whole.


My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2020: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,224 followers
December 5, 2019
Every story has a mind-boggling idea as its fulcrum. A prism replaces the smart phone as favoured piece of handbag technology which allows the owner to communicate with her paraself in an alternate universe; virtual ai pets are brought into the real world via robotic bodies as their owners seek to discover how fruitful a bond can be created with them; a robot performs an anatomical study on its own brain; in another story we're told we've been hunting aliens in the wrong places - we should be consulting parrots.

The first story reminded me of Paolo Thingybob's The Alchemist (one of my all time pet hates): platitude dressed up as parable with camels, bazaars and desert storms roped in to provide some soap opera mysticism. We can't change the past but we can change the way we experience it - isn't that the bedrock of psychoanalysis? Perhaps what it's inadvertently about is the megalomania of self-pitying men. A man has an argument with his wife and then she dies. He obliterates every other moment they've shared to dwell solely on this one argument. Otherwise, we're led to believe their relationship was exemplary. One moment never defines a history of love. It was a trite choice of personal dilemma. There are so many miles better ideas out there to provide a more dramatic example of one moment in a life someone is desperate to replay. And this was a problem throughout these stories. When it comes to scientific possibility he has a great imagination; when it comes to human drama his imagination has a tendency towards cliché. The human aspect of the narratives with which he dramatized his ideas always seemed a bit lame and lifeless to me. There were a couple of stories I enjoyed but on the whole I was left underwhelmed.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,106 followers
July 22, 2019
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.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
967 reviews6,861 followers
March 25, 2022
I want to know whether my decisions matter!

Ted Chiang’s Exhalation is an antidote to our anxieties over the future, be it of technological dystopias or an endless void of extinction. While, sure, these are topics that are addressed, what is most striking about this extraordinary collection are the way he makes fatalism seem so comforting and mines heady and—often dark—philosophical inquiries for a wealth of emotional resonance. A being contemplates their inevitable non-existence, free will is shown to be false, people can time travel but can never change anything, tech pets face horrible lives, all these sci-fi terrors come at you across the nine stories with such charming delivery that each feels like a welcoming adventure into the unknown. Chiang is a joy to read and these stories, as fun as they are smart, show us that ‘people are made of stories,’ as he examines futuristic possibilities, explores scientific theories and maps out the human experience in the ways we shape, and are in turn shaped by, these frightful and exciting futures.

Every decision you make contributes to your character and shapes the kind of person you are.

Fans of Chiang’s previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, or viewers of the film Arrival based on the title story, will be familiar with the way he sends abstract ideas and fantastical theories down a river of complex emotions. There is everything from the sad and heartwarming to the laugh-out-loud funny here, often within the same story. The opening tale, The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate (you can read it here) is such a story, involving a time travel device as inspired by Kip Thorne. The traveller is cautioned that no matter what, they cannot change the course of events no matter how they try, and a series of stories-within-stories are told as a warning with varying levels of disaster to those who thought they could outsmart the nature of time. This story also combines culture and religion into futuristic ideas, set in the Middle East ‘because acceptance of fate is one of the basic articles of faith in Islam.’. It is a rather heartwarming story even for all its darkness and sadness, one I’ve returned to several times as it is a pure delight to read and has a lovely message:
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. . . . Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.

Chiang has a knack with storytelling and quite a whimsical prose, with great phrases such as ‘the great lung of the world.’ In this way he can truly tap the most human parts of us and explore what they mean in the infinite context of space and time. Which can be quite terrifying, but somehow he always finds a positive angle to spin it, and the occasional twists coupled with a movie-like cinematic plot such as in the final story, which makes the stories all the better. Such as in What’s Expected of Us where a new piece of technology shatters everyone’s perception of free will, plunging society into a malaise:
Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important: what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has.

The longest story, The Lifecycle of Software Objects might drag a bit, but the engagement with length is part of the effect. It’s a story of the lives of digital pet creators and how they intertwine with the growing AI of their creations that will have you missing your Nano Pet/tamagotchi and hoping there is an afterlife for them. This story as well as Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom ponder the ways technology will interact with us emotionally and psychologically, with the later story following a character that works as a therapist of sorts for coaching or helping those having existential crises from the technology that shows them what life is like in other timelines where they made different choices. Even the less enthusiastic stories still present the reader with ideas to chew on. The variety of stories here gives plenty of space to address a wide range of topics, such as 'The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling' which looks at the way language shapes our thinking. The story contains two timelines, a past and a present that addresses the ideas of digital memory—a new method of inking history—and the ethical questions of whether or not to use it.

Writing was not just a way to record what someone said; it could help you decide what you would say before you said it. And words were not just the pieces of speaking; they were the pieces of thinking. When you wrote them down, you could grasp your thoughts like bricks in your hands and push them into different arrangements. Writing let you look at your thoughts in a way you couldn't if you were just talking, and having seen them, you could improve them, make them stronger and more elaborate.

This is truly a blissful sci-fi reading experience and Chiang can hang with the best of them. Each story posits exciting ideas and makes you really confront yourself faced with the enormity of time, the universe and the questions of free will. This is fun from start to finish.


The universe began as an enormous breath being held. Who knows why, but whatever the reason, I'm glad it did, because I owe my existence to that fact. All my desires and ruminations are no more and no less than eddy currents generated by the gradual exhalation of our universe. And until this great exhalation is finished, my thoughts live on.
Profile Image for Frank Hidalgo-Gato Durán.
Author 10 books221 followers
October 12, 2021
Es complicado comentar algo sobre esta joya sin extenderte demasiado, pero tampoco quedarte corto.
Este tipo de libros son los que me hacen vibrar, y “morir” cerebralmente. Es puro placer sináptico, y un máster en ingenio y concepto en lo que a ciencia ficción “dura” se refiere. Y digo que es dura, porque para el que no esté acostumbrado a consumir tanta información, datos y análisis procedentes de los principios físicos, de la ingeniería, la cosmología, entre otros, puede resultarle algo denso y pesado de digerir. El autor es un ingeniero informático y se dedica también a escribir manuales técnicos de su profesión, así que os podéis hacer una idea. Es verdad que hay ocaciones en las que el tecnicismo y el concepto opacan la propia historia, pero OJO, que no significa que este libro sea un manual como tal. Es un libro para todos, y lo recomiendo 100%!! Es fascinante, y más para los que gustan de la ciencia ficción “densa”.
Sí me gustaría deciros que, por una parte, lo debéis “coger suave” si lo deseáis disfrutar realmente, y por la otra, releed por favor sus relatos para que os quedéis con los detalles y la información que,más allá de la propia historia, son lo que verdaderamente han hecho de este libro algo mágico y trascendental.Bravo Ted!
Ah! Y ya de paso, si os gusta este tipo de ciencia ficción, echadle un ojo a mi trilogía: “El lugar donde los Equilibristas descansan”.Saludos.😉👍
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,633 followers
April 15, 2020
This is a collection of 9 short stories from author Ted Chiang. I was less impressed by this collection than the previous one I read, The Story of Your Life. Several sounded like minor Black Mirror episodes, others were just not that plausible or interesting. I think my favorite was the first one with the time portals. Not sure I am even up to analyzing each story here. There are some interesting ideas, but overall I found this collection wanting and hardly as good as, for example, the magical Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu.
Pprize.com had this one in their Pulitzer 2020 prediction list, but I am not buying it. For my money, of the 4 candidates I read so far, Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips is still the leader.
On to The Topeka School hoping to be more impressed....

My List of 2020 Pulitzer Candidates: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1...
My blog about the 2020 Pulitzer: https://wp.me/phAoN-19m
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,008 followers
March 8, 2021
Loved one of these stories, enjoyed a couple of them, did not resonate at all with the rest. I liked when Ted Chiang wrote stories about innovative concepts – if there were a technology that could allow us to perfectly recall all our memories (“Truth of Fact, Truth of Feeling”), if we could raise AI software as if they were digital pets or almost like our own children (“Life Cycle of Software Objects”) – and merged them with some aspects of human relationships.

I loved the last story in this book, “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom,” because I feel that Chiang pulled off that combination in such a superb way. In the story, humans can purchase “prisms” that allow us to talk to our alternate reality selves, if only for a brief period of time. Chiang intertwines this intriguing concept with deep commentary about what it means to be a “good” person and if our attempts to be kind, decent people really matter. He imbeds this commentary in the complex lives of specific characters, including Nat, a woman who has struggled with substance use and is now helping out a con artist, and Dana, a therapist who once made a mistake in a friendship several years ago. I grew attached to these characters and the ending of the story filled my heart with warm feelings. I actually finished the story on a day where I felt a little sad, and the story helped me remember to be kind to myself and my efforts to be a compassionate and caring person.

I did not resonate with several of the other stories in this collection though. I found them to be too cognitive or intellectualized for my taste. They felt more like thought experiments than stories that focused on characters’ developments, emotions, or relationships with one another. My lack of enthusiasm may stem from how I tend to prefer more interpersonally-focused fiction as opposed to science-fiction or speculative fiction. Again though, there were a few stories, especially “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” that merged the speculative fiction style with characters’ emotional development.
July 28, 2019
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)
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)
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)
Only a species of vocal learners would ascribe such importance to sound in their mythologies. We parrots can appreciate that. (c)
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)
... 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)
Profile Image for Kevin Kuhn.
Author 2 books585 followers
August 16, 2022
I found “Exhalation” a bit frustrating—deep breath. On one hand, Chaing continues to ask brilliant questions, and present intellectually stimulating situations. On the other hand, I found the stories to be thin—more like essays or thought experiments, rather than fully realized stories. I don’t blame Chaing, he’s a brilliant writer, I blame the reviewers who have set these sky-high expectations and have fallen all over each other trying to give the greatest praise. Or perhaps, I should blame myself, for my inability to manage my expectations.

So let me start with my issues. I struggle matching what I’ve read with the reviews and praise for this book. Entertainment Weekly called it “soulful,” The Washington Post says, “molten emotion,” San Francisco Chronical claims, “vivid and memorable characters,” and finally Bookpage says, “exquisitely crafted.” “Brilliant ideas” – I get, “pure intellect” – I agree, “provocative” – no argument here. But vivid characters and molten emotion, I don’t get. It must be me, because almost every critic praises this book emotional impact and great characters, and I can’t remember a single personality. We rarely get a character description, more often something like, ‘a man in an orange sweater.’ We seldom get character reactions, such as physical movements or facial reactions. We’re often in a white room – no description of the setting. I get that these are short stories and need to be lean, but the characters and places never came alive for me. The book is more ‘tell’ than ‘show.’ The ideas, the thought experiments are wonderful—amazing really—but I didn’t feel the emotion. It was all intellectual for me.

Here's the thing, I fully enjoyed the stories. They are original and imaginative. Chaing is bold, not afraid to ask the big questions and take on dangerous subjects such as religion. Despite addressing many different areas – technology, physics, philosophy – the stories feel confident, and Chaing’s intelligence comes spilling through. I recommend Chaing and this book but be careful of expectations. Exhale.

Let’s do a quick summary of the nine stories:

“The Merchant and The Alchemist’s Gate” – an original examination of time travel. An Alchemist has created a portal – cross through one side and you go twenty years in the past, cross back through the portal and you return to the present. The story reads like a fairy tale and it’s one of my favorites. Chaing mixes in predetermination and cleverly weaves a fantastic tale.

“Exhalation” – The title tale and in my opinion, the strongest in the book, despite the lack of dialog or interaction. A humanized robot examines his universe, his anatomy, and consequently his very existence.

“What’s Expected of Us” – A fun exanimation of the impact of predetermination and its impact on humans. This was more impactful for me after having read Brian Greene’s “Until the End of Time.”

“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” – A history of sentient avatars. Reminded me a great deal of Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man.” I like the twists and turns and how far Chiang take the ideas, but it skims along and probably would have been better as a novella with a little more meat on the bones.

“Darcy’s Patient Automatic Nanny” – My least favorite of the collection. A 1700’s period piece on a mechanized nanny. An example of my issues with this book – all tell and no show.

“The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” – Another thought experiment around the implications of a device which allows recording (and instant replay on request) of every moment of your life. Another intriguing idea, but coldly told.

“The Great Silence” – A six-page comparison of humanities extraordinary attempt to find signs of extraterrestrial life, while carelessly destroying intelligent species (such as the grey parrot), here on Earth. Of all the stories, this little tale evoked more emotion in me than any other.

“Omphalos” – Another story told with almost no dialog or interaction, but an intriguing and brave plot. What if intelligent creation could be proven scientifically? Similar in theme to “Hell is the Absence of God” from Chiang’s first collection.

“Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” – A fascinating take on the Many Worlds or Alternate Universes theories. What if a device was created that allowed us to communicate with parallel worlds. Again, Chaing examines this idea richly and uncovers implications few would imagine. I think this had the potential to be a novel, and I would have love to have seen it fully developed with deeper conflict and stakes for the characters.

Overall, an excellent collection of provocative questions and thoroughly examined implications. It didn’t leave me breathless, but a strong four stars for this collection!
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,185 followers
March 5, 2021
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 Chiang fan, I suggest you get your hands on any of his short story collections. Fantastic sci-fi!
Profile Image for FotisK.
367 reviews167 followers
October 31, 2021
Η επικρατούσα χρήση του όρου «Επιστημονική Φαντασία» στα ελληνικά, αδικεί κατάφωρα το είδος αυτό (fiction σημαίνει μυθοπλασία/ λογοτεχνία), καθώς στη βάση του είναι υποτιμητικό: η «Φαντασία» δίπλα στο «Επιστημονική» υποδηλώνει κάτι μη ρεαλιστικό, υποδεέστερο της Λογοτεχνίας, που με τη σειρά της -υποτίθεται- είναι ρεαλιστική, σε αντίθεση με την άλλη, την πλανεμένη, που κινείται στη σφαίρα του απίθανου, του παράλογου, τουτέστιν του παρα-λογοτεχνικού.

Δεν «κομίζω γλάυκα» αναφέροντας το προφανές: η άξια λόγου λογοτεχνία δεν μπορεί να είναι ρεαλιστική με την έννοια της φωτογραφικής αποτύπωσης της εποχής της, της πιστής αναπαράστασης και αναπαραγωγής του υπάρχοντος. Ως τέτοια μπορεί να έχει δημοσιογραφική ή ιστορική αξία ενίοτε – όχι απαραίτητα όμως καλλιτεχνική. Κάθε έργο τέχνης αποτελεί επινόηση, έργο φαντασίας του δημιουργού της, δομημένο μεν από υλικά της πραγματικότητας, πλην όμως ανακατεμένα στον κάδο της ιδιαίτερης αφηγηματικής οπτικής του συγγραφέα. Κι αν τα προαναφερθέντα ισχύουν στην περίπτωση της «συμβατικής» λογοτεχνίας, τότε για τη science fiction μάλλον ισχύει εις διπλούν. Φαντασία επί δύο, επινόηση επί δύο.

Αν ήθελα να προσδιορίσω την «Εκπνοή», θα έλεγα ότι είναι μια συλλογή 9 διηγημάτων sci-fi, με φιλοσοφικό υπόβαθρο. Αυτό σημαίνει ότι χρησιμοποιεί τη φόρμα του είδους για να επεκταθεί σε φλέγοντα υπαρξιακά ερωτήματα. Ο Ted Chiang με σπουδές στην Επιστήμη των υπολογιστών, χρησιμοποιεί την επιστήμη, την τεχνολογία (τόσο την υπάρχουσα όσο και τη φανταστική/ μέλλουσα), προκειμένου να θέσει τα ερωτήματα και ενίοτε να δώσει απαντήσεις επ’ αυτών, αν και το τελευταίο γίνεται σπανιότερα, ως όφειλε άλλωστε, προκειμένου να μην εκπέσει στον απεχθή διδακτισμό των προαγωγών ιδεολογίας. Ζητήματα ταυτότητας, υπαρξιακά, σχετιζόμενα με τη μνήμη και τη λήθη, τον χρόνο, την επικοινωνία, την ελεύθερη βούληση, την τεχνητή νοημοσύνη και τη σχέση του δημιουργού-δημιουργήματος διατρέχουν τις σελίδες του βιβλίου αυτού.

Γιατί, θα ρωτήσει κάποιος, να μην θέσει αυτά τα σημαντικά ερωτήματα με τον παραδοσιακό τρόπο που επιλέγουν οι συγγραφείς και τι ακριβώς πετυχαίνει; Τι παραπάνω προσφέρει αυτή η φόρμα που μπορεί σε πολλούς να φαντάζει απωθητική ή έστω μη θελκτική; Μια πρώτη απάντηση είναι ότι η συγκεκριμένη φόρμα λειτουργεί απελευθερωτικά: με λίγα λόγια, δεν περιορίζει τον συγγραφέα στο θέμα του χρόνου, αλλά κυρίως από πλευράς τεχνολογικής εξέλιξης, σε σχέση πάντα με ένα κεντρικό ζήτημα ηθικής φύσεως. Αν η πραγματική ζωή, το παρόν, μπορεί να ζυμωθεί από μυθοπλαστικής πλευράς στα χέρια του συγγραφέα έτσι ώστε να συμπεριλάβει τη «σύγκρουση του ορθού με το ορθό» κατά τον Χεγκελιανό ορισμό της τραγωδίας, η φανταστική λογοτεχνία προσφέρει ένα επιπλέον επίστρωμα (εκείνο της τεχνολογικής εξέλιξης). Κατ’ αυτόν τον τρόπο, το θέμα φωτίζεται με εντελώς νέο τρόπο. Αφενός η τραγικότητα οδηγείται στα άκρα εξαιτίας του διαμεσολαβητικού παράγοντα που προσφέρει η χρονική/ τεχνολογική απόσταση με ό,τι αυτό συνεπάγεται. Αφετέρου, ο αναγνώστης υφίσταται την ευεργετική επίδραση της μεταστροφής της αρχικής μη ταύτισης (εξαιτίας του φανταστικού επιστρώματος) που σταδιακά όμως μεταστρέφετα�� στην αντίστροφη διαδικασία, αλλά αυτή τη φορά ως απελευθερωτικής πράξης όπως θα εξηγήσω στη συνέχεια.

Το παράδοξο της sci-fi λογοτεχνίας (εν γένει του φανταστικού) αποτελεί για εμένα ό,τι πιο ενδιαφέρον και ρηξικέλευθο σ’ αυτό το είδος. Με λίγα λόγια, ο συγκαιρινός αναγνώστης βρίσκεται σε έναν χωροχρόνο οικείο και ταυτόχρονα ξένο από τον δικό του – οικείο όσον αφορά την ανθρώπινη ταυτότητα και ανοίκειο σε σχέση με την τεχνολογία και τις επιπτώσεις της στη ζωή και την προσωπικότητά του. Αυτή η απόσταση προσφέρει τη δυνατότητα να αποδεχτεί ευκολότερα όλα εκείνα που στην καθημερινότητά του θα έβρισκε ακατανόητα, ακόμα και ειδεχθή. Εξ ου και το παράδοξο της ταύτισης/ μη ταύτισης που προανέφερα. Διόλου τυχαία η λογοτεχνία της φαντασίας -στα χέρια των ικανότερων κοινωνών της βεβαίως- απετέλεσε και συνεχίζει να αποτελεί εργαστήριο εναλλακτικών ενοποιητικών μύθων, ανατρεπτικών λογισμών, ανοικειωτικών τεχνικών και αντι-θεαματικών προτάσεων.

Για να επανέλθουμε -τώρα και πάντα- στους ιδρυτές της Σχολής της Φρανκφούρτης που υποστήριζαν τον διττό χαρακτήρα της κουλτούρας: τα στοιχεία της κατάφασης και εκείνα της άρνησης της κοινωνικής δομής, εν τέλει την επιβεβαίωση και την απόρριψη του υπάρχοντος. Όταν ο οραματισμός ενός διαφορετικού τρόπου ύπαρξης στενεύει σαν κορσές τους ρεαλιστές γραφιάδες, οι κορυφαίοι συγγραφείς του είδους αιθερολάμνουν προς τις νησίδες της ουτοπίας δείχνοντας τον δρόμο της ελευθερίας.

Ως παραδείγματα εντός του βιβλίου, να παραθέσω τα εξής: Τη σχέση του δημιουργού με το δημιούργημα όπως τίθεται στο διήγημα «Ο βιολογικός κύκλος των λογισμικών όντων», όπου αναπτύσσεται εναργώς η σχέση γονέα-παιδιού μεταξύ μιας γυναίκας και μιας Τεχνητής Νοημοσύνης. Το οικείο (η κατάφαση) είναι η αείποτε γονική σχέση, ο πανίσχυρος δεσμός, ενώ το ανοίκειο (η άρνηση) είναι η διάρρηξη της μεταξύ ανθρώπινων όντων σχέσης, με το ένα σκέλος να είναι τεχνολογικό δημιούργημα. Αίφνης, ο αναγνώστης πλέει σε άγνωστα νερά, καλούμενος να αναθεωρήσει όσα δεδομένα, ευρισκόμενος σε τοπίο που φωτίζεται από το δικό του φως. Μοναδική του πυξίδα, και απαραίτητη προϋπόθεση, η φαντασία.

Η πρωταγωνίστρια του διηγήματος «Η αγωνία είναι ίλιγγος της ελευθερίας» βρίσκεται εν μέσω εσωτερικών συγκρούσεων και αναφωνεί -με περισσότερη ένταση από όση σκόπευε- «Θέλω να ξέρω αν οι αποφάσεις μου έχουν σημασία!». Εδώ το ανοίκειο, το τεχνολογικό αίτιο (η κβαντική τεχνολογία του λεγόμενου Πρίσματος επιτρέπει τη συνομιλία με έναν ή περισσότερους παράλληλους εαυτούς με διαφορετική πορεία στον χρόνο) λειτουργεί ως αφορμή για να περάσουμε στο οικείο που δεν είναι άλλο από τον τρόμο του κενού, το αρχέγονο ερώτημα περί ελεύθερης βούλησης και ντετερμινισμού. Τι σημαίνει τελικά να παίρνουμε αποφάσεις, πόσο μας καθορίζουν και κατά πόσον το παράδειγμα που δίνουμε επιδρά στους άλλους, επιστρέφοντας σ’ εμάς και ετεροπροσδιορίζοντάς μας; Θα μπορούσα να συνεχίσω για όλα τα διηγήματα, αλλά θεωρώ ότι ο αναγνώστης πρέπει να ανακαλύψει ο ίδιος τη γοητεία τους, χωρίς πατρονάρισμα.

Εξίσου σημαντικό, μολονότι μπορεί να ακουστεί ήσσονος σημασίας, είναι το γεγονός της νοηματικής πυκνότητας των διηγημάτων. Το καθένα από τα περιεχόμενα κείμενα αναφέρεται σε κάποιο σημαντικό θέμα, καθώς και άλλα απορρέοντα επιμέρους, προσδίδοντάς τους διαστάσεις μυθιστορήματος και αφήνοντας στον αναγνώστη μοναδική αίσθηση πληρότητας. Είναι ξεκάθαρο ότι ο Chiang επένδυσε χρόνο και εργασία στο να διυλίσει τις σκέψεις του και να φέρει στον αναγνώστη το απόσταγμά τους, με αποτέλεσμα να μην περισσεύει τίποτα. Διόλου τυχαία στα 54 χρόνια του ο ολιγογράφος συγγραφέας έχει εκδώσει μόλις 2 συλλογές διηγημάτων. Η εντυπωσιακή αίσθηση οικονομίας που διακρίνει το βιβλίο είναι ένδειξη αξιοθαύμαστης συγγραφικής δεινότητας (κάτι που θα επιβεβαι��σουν υποθέτω οι συγγραφείς, όχι μόνο αναγνώστες όπως εγώ). Η αφηγηματική φόρμα του είδους της φαντασίας, γίνεται στα χέρια του Chiang εντυπωσιακό εργαλείο που αναδεικνύει το πυκνό υλικό, χωρίς εντούτοις να το αφήσει είτε να ξεφουσκώσει είτε να ξεχειλώσει, καθιστάμενο ανενεργό. Και βέβαια σε αυτό συμβάλει η αναμενόμενα υπέροχη μετάφραση της Μαργαρίτας Ζαχαριάδου.

Λένε πως ένα από τα πλέον θελκτικά χαρακτηριστικά της λογοτεχνίας είναι το ότι με το πέρας κάποιων σελίδων ο συγγραφέας έχει εξαφανιστεί από το προσκήνιο και ο αναγνώστης βρίσκεται χαμένος στον κόσμο που ο πρώτος έπλασε. Ακόμα κι ο ανύποπτος ή καχύποπτος αναγνώ��της του genre αυτού, λησμονεί ήδη από τις αρχικές σελίδες της «Εκπνοής» ότι κινείται στη Ζώνη του Λυκόφωτος της φανταστικής λογοτεχνίας.

Πρόκειται για δώρο σπάνιο, ιδίως για όσους συνεχίζουν να βλέπουν τον κόσμο γύρω τους ως μία πιθανότητα εν μέσω άλλων πολλών, ως μια πολύχρωμη ταπετσαρία που είναι πάντα εκεί, αλλά στις άκρες της έχει αρχίσει και ξεφτίζει. Και περιμένει ένα χέρι να τραβήξει το ξέφτι ελαφρά, αποκαλύπτοντας από πίσω το θαύμα…

Profile Image for Claudia.
960 reviews556 followers
December 27, 2019
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:

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.
Profile Image for Kayla Dawn.
291 reviews903 followers
September 6, 2019
Overall a very good and interesting short story collection. Definitely worth checking out.

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate


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


Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom
Profile Image for M.  Malmierca.
323 reviews309 followers
March 12, 2022
Nos gusta la idea de que siempre haya alguien responsable de cada acontecimiento, porque nos ayuda a darle un sentido al mundo. Nos gusta tanto que a veces nos echamos las culpas sólo porque haya alguien que cargue con las culpas. Pero no todo está bajo nuestro control, ni bajo el control de nadie.

Exhalación (2019) es el segundo libro de relatos del no demasiado prolífico escritor estadounidense Ted Chian (1967-). Nueve cuentos que continúan en la línea de su anterior colección, La historia de tu vida [Reseña] , así que prácticamente todo lo que comenté sobre aquella podría valer también aquí.

Las historias de Exhalación se mueven dentro de lo que se considera Ciencia Ficción (escenarios inexistentes o aún desconocidos, imaginarios avances científicos y las consecuencias que estos provocan sobre la realidad), pero creo que se apartan de la Ciencia Ficción más estereotipada o, digamos eufemísticamente, convencional, donde a menudo solo varían los lugares —a veces incluso ya utilizados—, pero tanto las tramas como el desarrollo siguen siendo bastante reconocibles.

Todas las historias de Exhalación parecen provenir de una duda, una curiosidad, una incógnita que se le ha presentado al autor, un ¿y si esto fuera así y no así? Chian lanza sobre esos interrogantes que le preocupan su desbordante imaginación y su aguda visión personal; reflexiona sobre ellos y los somete a un exhaustivo análisis, para terminar planteando algunas hipótesis, algunas conclusiones a veces más propias de un ensayo que de una ficción, aunque sea especulativa.

El autor elige temas dispares (desde filosóficos hasta tecnológicos) y los trata desde una perspectiva siempre original. En su exposición prioriza las consecuencias de estas situaciones e incide con una profundidad asombrosa en cómo la humanidad se enfrenta a las nuevas realidades derivadas de ellas. No parece importarle demasiado la acción, e incluso, a veces, da la sensación que ni siquiera el argumento.

Los relatos de Ted Chian son curiosos, sugerentes, e incluso provocativos, pero algunos no tan ágiles, amenos, emocionantes o con finales sorprendentes como muchos esperamos cuando nos adentramos en este género. Cada cual tendrá que decidir si este estilo tan particular es de su agrado o no. Yo no he tenido problemas con ellos.

NOTA: Muy ilustrativos unos apuntes que aparecen al final de la obra sobre los motivos que llevaron al autor a elegir cada uno de los diferentes temas y el modo de abordarlos. Interesantes para conocer como discurre la mente de Ted Chian, sus fuentes y su manera de entender el mundo de la Ciencia Ficción.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,979 reviews1,989 followers
November 30, 2019
Not going to bother with a tale-by-tale because I wasn't interested more than 3 stars'-worth in any of them. All but the title story, in fact, were 2.5* because they have nothing exciting to say and they say it so very slowly. I must be at fault. I don't care for or about the stories or the collection.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,116 followers
April 30, 2021
There are two science fiction writers who can write a story exploring an idea better than anyone else, and only one of them is still alive - Ted Chiang. If you take an idea like young-earth creation or multiple dimensions or time travel all the way through and really consider all the ramifications, it opens up interesting avenues, and Chiang follows them to conclusions other authors can't reach (I think he must be very intelligent.) Some of these are novella length, but as long as you know it going in, no big deal. I also like the author note at the end of each one.

My Audible version didn't list the last story, missed some how. It's "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom" and is one of the newer and longer stories.
Profile Image for Raquel Estebaran.
299 reviews190 followers
November 26, 2021
Antología de relatos que reflexionan acerca de la condición humana y el libre albedrío.

Muy buena lectura, imaginativa y original.
Profile Image for inciminci.
399 reviews73 followers
May 7, 2023
In between all the dark and extreme books, it is in fact enjoyable to read a nice speculative fiction every now and then, something to calm you down, lift you up and sooth you. Something you can chew over in your head playfully, something neutral and relatable yet brainy enough to make you think. If that book is a short story collection, all the better. That book is Chiang’s Exhalation.

For each of these nine stories Chiang takes a conventional sf trope plus a philosophical question and plays with those, never in extreme ways, yet always quite revolutionarily. I really enjoyed reading these and especially the author’s note on the writing of each story, explaining how the idea of it formed. All this was a real treat.

My highlights:

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate
It is a brilliant idea to combine the Islamic concept of a very rigid, unchangeable fate, written for everyone beforehand, “kismet” or “kader” so to say, with a cute time travel/portal story and place it in Baghdad in (presumably) the middle ages. I loved above all the respect with which Chiang presents a different culture; from a skimmed down version of the oriental story telling structure to the omission of any kind of stereotype, to portraying people as people.

What’s Expected of Us
A very short piece, but amusing food for thought, about self-determination and free will and the possibility/impossibility of it in face of a technology which plays with that.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects
An almost novella, a little saga which deals with questions on AI, creation, parenting, limits of personal freedoms through the birth, development and course of life of digital little animals called digients.

The Great Silence
A couple of years ago I was watching the movie “Kedi”, a documentary on street cats of Istanbul, and felt charmed by an interviewee who was telling that she thinks of animals like a sort of alien, our skills, our intelligences, our beings are completely different, yet we are able to find a way to understand each other. Chiang’s story is built on the same basis, but the extraterrestrial intelligence is justly a little sour about us.

As you see there’s a lot to explore here. All in all, this was a great book that I’ve read for the Shine&Shadow monthly light read.
Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
557 reviews142 followers
January 4, 2020
Wow. These hit hard.

Amazing stories that think through technology and humanity.
Profile Image for lalsayed .
110 reviews25 followers
July 27, 2021
Όταν έκλεισα αυτό το βιβλίο ήμουν ένας άλλος άνθρωπος από αυτόν που ήμουν όταν το άνοιξα.

Βαθιά υπαρξιακό. Ο Chiang είναι μια συγγραφική ιδιοφυΐα.
Να το διαβάσετε άμεσα!
Profile Image for S. Zahler.
Author 25 books874 followers
February 7, 2023
The finest stories in the second Ted Chiang collection, Exhalation, are amongst the most thoughtfully written and thought-provoking works of fiction that I've ever read, and every single piece contained herein is a worthwhile journey. This master craftsman investigates, upends, and inverts big ideas by employing scientific tools: His well considered works are exemplar speculative fiction pieces that touch upon concepts no other genre can explore.

Although I greatly enjoyed Chiang's first collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, this new one is richer, more scientifically interesting, and very, very emotionally engaging. (An aside: I didn't care for 'Understand' in the first collection---the only story that he's written that I'd describe as commonplace---but I liked or relished all of the others.)

Scientific explorations of religious themes/myths are present in both books, but I prefer 'Omphalos' in this new collection over his previous forays ('Hell is the Absence of God,' 'Seventy-Two Letters,' and 'Tower of Babylon'), as it cleverly underpins it's religion with science and then makes superb ontological extrapolations from there. The revelations in this piece about the day of creation and cosmology are truly brilliant fictional conceits.

Even though I typically avoid time travel stories, 'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate' proves that Chiang's talents, humanitarian voice, and clever plotting can create a strong entry in this category. It's a good, somber yet hopeful story.

The ideas explored in the short tales between the long ones are thought-provoking catalysts for discussion on free will ('What's Expected of Us'), communication with non-human beings ('The Great Silence'), and the nature of nurture ('Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny'). Even these smaller works are valuable jewels.

The two longest tales are amongst the best in the collection. 'The Lifecycle of Software Objects' explores Artificial Intelligence in such a way that the treatment of these beings (digients), their development, and the parameters of their worlds mirror our own kindnesses, weaknesses, and biological biases. In this story, Chiang brilliantly reconciles humanity's best traits and flaws with the inexorable, amoral, and valuable advances of science.

'Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom' is an exploration that asks questions I've never even considered in relation to divergent quantum realities. As was the case with my favorite story from this author's first collection ('Liking What You See: A Documentary'), thoughtful and believable characters investigate inchoate moral issues that an advancement of science has presented, and the conclusions drawn by the inhabitants of this dizzying web continue to linger in my mind...

My other favorite story in the collection, and one of the most daring works in this author's entire catalogue is the titular tale, 'Exhalation.' This universe is very different from our own: The protagonist's detective work/surgery/scientific musings are odd, memorable, and deftly done, and the thematic connections between this alien place and our own reality only enrich the experience. The bizarre setting of this tale is atypical for Ted Chiang (and feels a bit more like Greg Egan), but Chiang's subtle characterization, warmth, optimism, and introspection are present and make the big, strange ideas resonate universally and feel very personal.

Ted Chiang's second story collection is one of the best science fiction books that I've ever read. I recommend it highly and rank it alongside other favorite works in this genre like Diaspora (Greg Egan), Dark Integers and Other Stories (Greg Egan), Permutation City (Greg Egan), Quarantine (Greg Egan), Appropriate Love (Greg Egan), Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke), Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke), Star Maker (Olaf Stapledon), Forge of God (Greg Bear), The Electric Ant (Philip K. Dick), The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (Philip K. Dick), Dragon's Egg (Robert L. Forward), Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. LeGuin), The Lotus Eaters (Stanley G. Weinbaum), Raft (Stephen Baxter) and Black Fog (Donald Wandrei).
Profile Image for Repellent Boy.
503 reviews524 followers
December 22, 2021
4,5. En esta colección de relatos, Ted Chiang plantea muchísimas cuestiones relacionadas con la conducta humana ante conflictos derivados de los avances tecnológicos y como estos van moldeando lo que creemos del ser humano, incluso lo que implica ser uno. ¿Quién o qué es el ser humano? ¿Hacia dónde vamos? ¿Cuál es nuestro origen? ¿Somos el ombligo del mundo o realmente somos un puntito más dentro de un basto universo? En cada uno de estas historias, Ted Chiang consigue exponer un enigma y analizar a raiz de este al ser humano y el impacto que tendría cierta situación en los diferentes individuos

Esta colección cuenta con 9 relatos, que siendo tan peculiares y diferentes entre ellos, es curioso ver lo bien que encajan unos con otros. Al acabar la obra da la sensación de unidad. Quizás el primero, por su ambientación, es el que más se diferencia de la estilo general de la obra, pero todos encajan. Tenía pensado hablar un poquito de cada relato, pero no quiero caer fácilmente en el spoiler, porque sería una pena no disfrutar de esta obra al máximo y la sorpresa del tema que abordará cada uno de los relatos es uno de sus atractivos. Pero, a grandes rasgos, ¿qué preguntas va a plantearnos "Exhalación" en sus más de trescientas páginas? Muchas.

¿Qué ocurriría si pudieramos crear mascotas virtuales? Y si estas tuvieran consciencia, ¿las respestaríamos más o las utilizaríamos para nuestro beneficio como al resto de animales? ¿Seríamos más felices si pudiéramos comparar nuestras acciones en líneas de tiempo paralelas o las posibles acciones de otros posibles yoes nos trastornaría? ¿Y si nuestra vida fuera grabada en su totalidad y puediéramos acceder a esos vídeos en cualquier momento? ¿Perderíamos esa parte sentimental que aportamos a nuestros recuerdos por tener una memoria perfecta de los hechos? ¿Cómo reaccionaríamos si un aparato adivinara siempre nuestras futuras acciones, negando nuestro libre albedrío? ¿Y si descubrimos que el planeta tierra no es más que una especie de copia de otro lugar y que no somos el origen ni el centro de nada?

Estas y muchas otras incógnitas se expresan perfectamente en este libro y, en lo personal, me han volado la cabeza. Es de esos libros que constantemente te hace replantearte cosas y pensar que tipo de persona serías tú ante estas situaciones. Ha sido una sopresa enorme encontrarme con Ted Chiang. Tiene la capacidad de crear tantos posible dilemas a la vez, que probablemente sea un autor para releer, del que sacar constantemente nuevas ideas.

Aunque he tenido relatos favoritos, ni uno solo me ha parecido menor, y eso que algunos no duraban más de tres páginas, pero el autor conseguía con poquito crear la idea completa y mostrar el dilema, logrando siempre impactar. También hay relatos más largos que casi podríamos considerarlos pequeñas novelitas como "El ciclo de la vida de los elementos del software" o "La ansiedad es el vértigo de la libertad", dos de mis grandes favoritos. ¿Es Ted Chiang uno de los mejores autores de relatos? Pues posiblemente, al menos de los que hasta ahora yo he leído. Me muero de ganas de la otra colección de relatos que tenemos publicada en español.


El comerciante y la puerta del alquimista 4
Exhalación 4,5
Lo que se espera de nosotros 4
El ciclo de la vida de los elementos de software 5
La niñera automática, patentada por Dacey 5
La verdad del hecho, la verdad del sentimiento 5
El gran silencio 4,5
Ónfalo 4
La ansiedad es el vértigo de la libertad 5
Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,437 followers
July 11, 2019
(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.

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Profile Image for Justo Martiañez.
404 reviews135 followers
May 9, 2022
1.5/5 Estrellas

Perdonad a este ignorante de la CF, amigos y compañeros lectores de GR, pero esta lectura ha sido un completo fiasco para mi, mea culpa.

9 relatos y una caída en picado de mi interés por ellos, ya que cada vez los he ido entendiendo menos. El primero arranca bien, sobre viajes en el tiempo, al estilo de las mil y una noches...pero después, entre androides o humanoides que examinan su cerebro en busca de la causa de su pérdida de fuerza vital (Exhalación), mascotas virtuales (digientes) que hacen perder el norte a unos pocos obsesionados por la IA, niñera automáticas, programas para buscar en tu memoria, papagayos inteligentes, he acabado por perder el hilo conductor de estas historias, si es que existe y paulatinamente, todo interés en ellas.

Entiendo que se quieren transmitir enseñanzas sobre la importancia de la comunicación en el ser humano, el paso del tiempo, el libre albedrío, el determinismo, el desarrollo de las nuevas tecnologías y su impacto en la vida humana, la inteligencia artificial, que se yo y muchas cosas que seguramente se me han pasado, pero el envoltorio no ha sido nada atractivo para mi....tengo la mente poco amueblada para este tipo de historias, que le vamos a hacer......
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,639 reviews2,156 followers
February 16, 2019
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.
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