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Exhalation by Ted Chiang
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Exhalation (original 2019; edition 2019)

by Ted Chiang

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1,787887,371 (4.19)52
This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary "Exhalation," an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," a woman cares for an artificial intelligence over twenty years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: "Omphalos" and "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom." In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth--What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?--and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.… (more)
Member:RegalKnieval
Title:Exhalation
Authors:Ted Chiang
Info:New York : Alfred A. Knopf, [2019]
Collections:Your library
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Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang (2019)

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» See also 52 mentions

English (84)  Spanish (3)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (88)
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
Thoughtful But Sluggish

Ted Chiang delivers nine science fiction-ish stories, most first published elsewhere. As a first-time Chiang reader, well, the volume is a bit underwhelming. Rather than reading like short stories, these read like somewhat entertaining TED talks on how technology does and could impact our lives. However, since these are supposed to be stories and not essays or philosophical tracts, they may disappoint readers, especially science fiction readers who are not already fans of Chiang.

That said as a cautionary to readers, most will find the stories mildly interesting and possibly sparks for thought. Chiang offers an interesting take on time travel, focusing on its immutability in the form of an Arabian Nights like fable (“The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”). He imagines AI taken to a new level. Here, companies develop and grow online entities from genomes and work with them as they develop into sentient creations, complete with a set of inherent problems characteristic of living beings (“The Lifecycle of Software Objects”). These are two of the better stories, along with “Omphalos,” a world in which religion dominates and creationism and human centrality are the accepted explanation of existence. You can almost hear Mrs. Coulter mutter something about the price of scientific theology, but only faintly, as this highlights perhaps the biggest failing of the collection: lack of character development and thus paucity of humanity.

So, while the thoughts here are appreciated, getting at them can be something of a slog. Not for everybody, for sure.
( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
A beautiful and thoughtful thing is this. Lots of ideas and lots of humanity ( )
  lloydshep | Nov 4, 2021 |
I am rather picky about my sci-fi, but I love Chiang's works for how easy they are to imagine. ( )
  bookwyrmm | Oct 30, 2021 |
These are some smart and fascinating stories about humans and technology, time and free will. ( )
  GwenRino | Oct 27, 2021 |
A fantastic collection of stories not to be missed! The themes include parenting, entropy, time travel, free will. Each story is a delight to read. ( )
  mstruck | Sep 30, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
Exhalation’s nine stories are … fine. A couple are excellent, most are good, a couple don’t really work. It feels like damning the book with faint praise to say so, but isn’t that exactly how short-story collections generally work?
 
I can’t think of another modern genre writer like him, myself: his tales make me think of the same sort of impact a Bradbury or a Heinlein story had in the Golden Age, where readers would read something just because it is written by the author.
 
In the hands of a truly fatalistic writer, the premises and conceits in Exhalation would frogmarch us down the tired path to dystopia. But Chiang takes the constraints on our freedom as a starting point from which we have to decide what it means to act as if our decisions still matter.
 
Chiang is a writer of precision and grace. His stories extrapolate from first premises with the logic and rigor of a well-designed experiment but at the same time are deeply affecting, responsive to the complexities and variability of human life.
 
[Chiang's] voice and style are so beautifully trim it makes you think that, like one of his characters, he has a magical looking-box hidden in his basement that shows him nothing except the final texts of stories he has already written — just so he'll know exactly how to write them well in the first place.
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ted Chiangprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ballerini, EdoardoNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blair, KellyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoffman, DominicNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kim, NaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Landon, AmyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lew, BettyDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
To Marcia
First words
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate
O might caliph and commander of the faithful, I am humbled to be in the splendor of your presence; a man can hope for no greater blessing as long as he lives.
Quotations
Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.
--"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate"
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.
--"What's Expected of Us"
But I and my fellow parrots are right here. Why aren't they interested in listening to our voices?
  We're a nonhuman species capable of communicating with them. Aren't we exactly what humans are looking for?
--"The Great Silence"
Experience is algorithmically incompressible.
--"Exhalation"
Last words
Disambiguation notice
This is the collection that includes the title story. Please do not combine with the individual story.
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This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary "Exhalation," an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," a woman cares for an artificial intelligence over twenty years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: "Omphalos" and "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom." In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth--What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?--and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.

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