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Summary and book reviews of Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Exhalation

Stories

by Ted Chiang

Exhalation by Ted Chiang X
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2019, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2020, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Book Summary

From an award-winning science fiction writer, 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.



Some of the stories in this collection have been published elsewhere, including the title story at Lightspeed (link opens in a new window).

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Although this may not be a great choice for readers who find comfort in thematically-oriented stories that have tidy resolutions, those with more experimental tastes will find a lot to enjoy in Exhalation. The book offers nine distinct and fascinating worlds, making it perfect for either dipping in-and-out or devouring in one go. Sci-fi fans will appreciate the different experimental lenses through which to view humanity...continued

Full Review (650 words).

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(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Ted Chiang’s Exhalation collects nine deeply beautiful stories (two original to the collection, the rest published over the last 14 years), many of which explore the material consequences of various kinds of time travel... these stories are carefully curated into a conversation that comes full circle, after having traversed extraordinary terrain.

Washington Post
Chiang’s stories are uniformly notable for a fusion of pure intellect and molten emotion. At the core of each is some deep conceptual notion rich with arcane metaphysical or scientific allure. But surrounding each novum is a narrative of refined human sensitivity and soulfulness that symbolically reifies the ideas. While this combination represents the ideal definition and practice of all science fiction, it’s seldom achieved.

Los Angeles Review of Books
For readers who have yet to experience the exquisiteness of Chiang’s achievements, a ready-to-hand comparison that encapsulates his method is to think of his work as a prose version of ideas similar to those explored by the highly popular Black Mirror television series. Yet this comparison also does an injustice to Chiang’s work in that it might incline us to overlook the magnificent subtlety and nuance with which Chiang proceeds, in contrast to the often heavy-handed polemic of the series. This collection is a stunning achievement in speculative fiction, from an author whose star will only continue to rise.

Library Journal (starred review)
Any SF reader can dive into these stories and find something exciting. Especially recommended for fans of Greg Egan, Ken Liu, and Netflix's Black Mirror.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
As Chiang's endnotes attest, these stories are brilliant experiments, and his commitment to exploring deep human questions elevates them to among the very best science fiction.

Booklist (starred review)
Chiang remains one of the most skilled stylists in SF, and this will appeal to genre and literary-fiction fans alike.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Author Blurb Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin
From Ted Chiang's singular mind comes another innovative and mind-bending collection of short stories...Chiang's writing does what good writing should: make the universe feel both vast and small at the same time.

Author Blurb Kevin Brockmeier, author of The View From the Seventh Layer
Ted Chiang brings to science fiction both the refined human insight of the best contemporary literature and the shapeliness and resonance of myth. Stories of Your Life and Others has proven to be one of the finest collections of the last twenty years, and Exhalation, if anything, outdistances it. Surely the grace, lucidity, intensity, heart, and intelligence of these stories will allow them to endure.

Author Blurb Aja Gabel, author of The Ensemble
There's so much excellence in the labyrinth of ideas in Exhalation—machines that question free will, AIs that challenge love, software that shapes memory—what truly astounds is the tenderness that pulses through each story like a heartbeat...He is not only at the top of his genre, but a true storyteller, and one of our most skilled and fascinating. I am so excited to live in a world where Ted Chiang is writing.

Author Blurb Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad
Ted Chiang's stories are lean, relentless, and incandescent.

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Orange World
Ted Chiang writes with such a matter-of-fact grace and visionary power that one simply takes on faith that his worlds and his characters exist, whether they are human or robot or parrot; he is the rare author who makes me feel, also, that he believes in his readers, in our integrity and our imagination.

Author Blurb Blake Crouch, author of Dark Matter
Ted Chiang has no contemporary peers when it comes to the short story form. His name deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Carver, Poe, Borges, and Kafka. Every story is a universe. Every story is a diamond. You will inhale Exhalation in a single, stunned sitting, because true genius doesn't come along nearly as often as advertised. This is the real thing.

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Beyond the Book

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an idea that extends to ancient times, when Hephaestus — a character in Greek mythology, son of Zeus and Hera — used his skills as a blacksmith to create mechanical servants. Despite this longstanding fascination, it was not until the 1950s that AI became a feasible technology with the invention of stored-program electronic computers. Today, streaming services, social media platforms, vehicles, virtual assistants and other technologies all function in part using AI-related systems.

But what is artificial intelligence? Those within the scientific community have yet to agree on a definition, with at least three distinct schools of thought:

  • According to Stanford professor of engineering and ...

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