There are some books that I fall into, where the story draws me and I feel emotionally connected to the narrative. Exhalation, by Michael Chiang, was of a different sort. More than almost any other work of fiction I can remember, it was intellectually challenging, not in the sense of being hard to read, but rather thought provoking. Chaing is extraordinary at melding deep ideas, both philosophical and scientific, into compelling and fascinating stories. The result is an exceptional collection of unusual and compelling tales.
Exhalation is a collection of short stories, some as short at 8 pages, others up to 120. They all fall into what one would probably describe as science fiction, but not in an outer-space sort of way. The worlds he creates are very much like ours, but different enough that it allows us to see ourselves with some distance. The first story, and my favourite, is about teshuva, explored through the ability to go back in time. Others discuss free will (which comes up more than once in different forms); relationships in the world of self-conscious AI (and so delving into the question of what relationships are all about); the boundaries of morality; and more.
Chiang, a many time Hugo and Nebula award winner, is an exceptional writer. His prose is smooth and clean, something that’s probably more important as a short story writer. His ideas are exceptionally creative. Not just the ability to give narrative form to complex ideas, which is a significant accomplishment in and of itself, but the range of background knowledge and diverse settings is unusual, and made the reading much more fun.
Chiang is a master at his craft, and I look forward to reading his other collection of stories soon.
Just Because I Liked It:
- I found this interview with Professor Jonathan Gribetz on the 18Forty fascinating. Less the discussion at the end about the Israeli-Arab conflict, than aspects of Israeli-Palestinian history that I had never heard, and found surprising, heartening, and very interesting.
- There are not many people around anymore who were close to Martin Luther King Jr.. Clarence Jones is one of them, and he has an important message to share.