When I read Stories of Your Life and Others in 2017 I was blown away by Ted Chiang's writing. It's unique to find a short story collection where so many of the stories are standouts (and memorable) but his first collection managed to do both. I found it mind-boggling that he hadn't written more so when I heard Exhalation was coming out I added it to my library holds list. With the memory of the stories from the first book still pretty fresh in my mind, I went into Exhalation with high expectations...and was slightly disappointed. This collection veered much more strongly toward artificial intelligence and existentialism while his previous work was varied (and exceptional). The best story from this collection was actually Exhalation which was about robots constructed with artificial lungs (yes, it's creepy). I can't really remember any of the rest except one about a robotic nanny which had a great philosophical bent to it. Quite a few stories were novella length which I think contributed to why it didn't feel as diversified as the first collection since not as many stories could be included. (A/N: Many of the stories were collected from various publications over the years and some are as old as 10 years.) That isn't to say that I didn't still appreciate his artistry as a writer because without a doubt he is a brilliant wordsmith but when you come out of the gate with such a winner like Stories of Your Life and Others it can be difficult to reach that height again. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ My overall assessment: 6/10.
What's Up Next: Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs by Caitlin Doughty
What I'm Currently Reading: Do You Mind if I Cancel? (Things That Still Annoy Me) by Gary Janetti
I had heard a lot about Paper Girls before sitting down to finally read the first volume. I liked the girl setting and the 80s theme. Even though I wasn't even born at the time, with all the current enthusiasm for the period, it is difficult not to like it.
I thought the setting was very nicely executed, just I couldn't really get into the story at this point. However, I would like to someday read a couple more of these to explore where it is going.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Well, I think that all in all I had a mixed reaction to this newest collection of short stories by Chiang. Some were pitch perfect. Others went on too long and just had a garbled message in my opinion. I still love how he talks about things such as fate, faith, love, and even touches upon how technological advancements does not always equal making things better for human beings or other species. Per usual, here are my individual ratings for the short stories.
"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" (5 stars)-I loved this story that included time travel as well as a message of fate, love, and forgiveness. The narrator is telling a story to a caliph and we don't know why. Chiang gets us there eventually. There are stories within a story here and it reminds me a bit of Scheherazade and her tales she told to spare her life.
"Exhalation" (5 stars)-A story about an alien race and what the narrator leaves behind. It's a story about the end of all things, and how to still take pleasure in what you have left behind for those that follow.
"What's Expected of Us" (4 stars)-A fairly short story that touches upon people who buy a device that has an unusual effect on parts of the population. Seems to be a cautionary tale again about the widespread use of technology.
"The Lifecycle of Software Objects" (3 stars)- One of the first short stories that dragged. I think this and maybe another story in this collection ended up being the longest. I was initially intrigued about people making virtual "pets" called digients and how people were learning how to take care of them. However, Chiang also gets into the manner of free will and how easily it is to pervert what you initially intended when creating something new. I read this whole thing as a big thought experiment and I don't even know where I as a reader was supposed to come down on. I think that the story could have been cut back a bit since it just kept going on and on. Chiang tries to center the story a bit on two of the humans in this one (Ana and Derek) and how they come to care for the digients that they were responsible for creating and getting to learn things. However, Chiang tries to throw in some things about unrequited love when dealing with them and I think it just got tangled up in everything else.
"Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny" (3.5 stars)-This one was a little short. I think we are supposed to take away the fact that because something is a machine does not make it better for human beings. But also we need to make sure that we show affection and love whenever possible.
"The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" (3 stars)-This was the next longest short story in the collection. There seemed to be multiple things happening in this story. We have a man who has raised his daughter who is realizing that things he believed are not true due a device that shows memories. And then we have people realizing that writing things down does not give the same feeling as when someone tells us a story that uses their body, hands, their voices. I think I was supposed to have some big take away on this one and it flew past me. Discussion of memories and writing didn't really gel together the way that I think it should have.
"The Great Silence" (4 stars)-Very short. But I thought it was powerful.
"My species probably won't be here for much longer; it's likely that we'll die before our time and join the Great Silence.
But before we go, we are sending a message to humanity.
We just hope the telescope of Arechibo will enable them to hear it.
The message is this:
You be good. I love you.
"Omphaslos" (4.5 stars)-I liked this one since it touches upon faith and the meaning of life. What would you do if you found out something you always believed was not true. Would you still carry on the way that you were, or would you reel in despair.
"Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom" (5 stars)-So this one is touching about parallel lives. We find out about prisms that allow you to talk to your paraselves when you have a decision point that affects things. Chang focuses on several people in this one, Dana a therapist to those who uses prisms, who is hiding a secret of her own. Nan who is using the prisms to make money. Jorge, a patient of Nan's, and several other people who are part of a prism support group. I would love to see this one on the small or big screen. It did read a bit like a Black Mirror episode, but an old one (not the newest season, that one is not very good). I thought this was such an interesting thought experiment.