Review – Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Book Title: Exhalation

Book Description: From an award-winning science fiction writer (whose short story "The Story of Your Life" was the basis for the Academy Award-nominated movie Arrival), the long-awaited new collection of stunningly original, humane, and already celebrated short stories 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.

Book Author: Ted Chiang

Publisher Logo:

Date published: 2019-05-07

Number Of Pages: 352

  • Writing - 8/10
  • Collection Pacing - 8/10
  • Overall - 8/10
User Review
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Exhalation is a short story collection by Ted Chiang that focuses on how humanity is changed by technology.


Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Exhalation is a science fiction short story collection by Ted Chiang. Chiang is best known for writing the novella Story of Your Life, which was adapted into the film Arrival, the 2016 movie for which Amy Adams should have won an Academy Award. Unlike some other short story collections, this short story collection coheres pretty thoroughly to one specific theme.

Ted Chiang - Exhalation

Exhalation collects nine stories, each of which illustrates how people react to technology (that we may or may not recognize as such). Altogether, this is a cohesive collection that centers around one theme: how technology affects humanity.

Technology and Humanity in Exhalation

All of these stories, in one way or another, are about how technology can change humanity. The kinds of technologies seen here vary widely, from the implementation of writing to creating and raising digital creatures known as digients. We like to think that every new technology makes us better people. However, Chiang argues that technology changes us, but we cannot always say that it is for the better. In some cases, we lose something while we’re looking at this new innovation. In others, the technological innovation improves our lives in some ways, but changes what we focus on. 

Two of the stories contained in Exhalation are Hugo finalists. “Omphalos” is a finalist for Best Novelette. “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom” is a finalist for Best Novella. In “Omphalos,” a female archeologist discovers a truth about the universe that shakes her faith in God and science after someone steals an artifact. It is written as a historical fiction story, but there is a major divergence point that would be a spoiler to disclose, as well as some other points that influence the story greatly. The technology element is more oblique in this story than it is in others, but the truth discovered would not have been possible without it.

In “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom,” products exist that allow people to communicate with their parallel selves. The point-of-view characters all react to the availability of this technology differently. Both of these stories are written very well, and lead the reader to ask interesting questions about the world around them.

Conclusion – Exhalation Looks at Futures We May Not Wish to See

In Exhalation, Ted Chiang explores the effect of technology on society. What becomes clear through these stories is that technology should be carefully considered. Even if we think an innovation can only provide good, all nine of these stories weave tales where that good has unintended consequences. Although not all of these stories take place in the future, they are all still about potential futures humanity could face. Several of these stories are easily visualizable as Black Mirror episodes. However, that television series has an oppressive feeling of darkness that this collection never really reaches (thankfully). If you’re looking for a short story collection that looks forward, this might be the work for you.

Don’t forget! Hugo Voting closes Wednesday 22 July 2020 at 23:59 Pacific Daylight Time (UTC-7)/Thursday, 23 July 2020 at 18:59 New Zealand Standard Time (UTC+12).

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About the author

Siobhan Dempsey

Siobhan needs books to function, and therefore can infodump quite a lot about them, particularly when they're either science fiction or fantasy.

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