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Exhalation (2000)

Exhalation (2000)

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4.32 of 5 Votes: 1
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About book Exhalation (2000)

An interesting short story that started off reminding me strongly of Asimov, but eventually established its own voice- sort of. With its first pages Exhalation presents us with a narrative that leaves us uncertain about the rules of this universe. The characters are clearly not people as we know them, though they think and communicate as we do. The opening reminded me of the Asimov short stories "A Feeling of Power" (with the discovery/rediscovery of fundamental knowledge) and “The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline” (except Chiang's story mimics the format of a scientist's magazine article instead of a scientific research paper). These similarities weren't a bad thing, but kept the first pages from feeling fresh and new to me. After that, as the unnamed narrator makes discovery after discovery, the similarities that struck me weren't drawn from other science fiction stories but real-world natural philosophers. The main dissection of the brain was strongly reminiscent of Newton's exploration of his own eye with a needle, then the musings on the nature of the narrator's universe can't help but bring to mind the work of Copernicus and Carnot. Again, by no means a bad thing, in fact Chiang clearly meant for these comparisons to occur to the reader, but the problem I had was that after mirroring the ideas in this fictional universe Chiang doesn't do much with them- he describes some instances of unrest and despair, but then ends the story with a message of hope. It's a nice message of hope, to be sure, equally applicable to our world as it is to the fictional one, but it's not one that had much of an impact with me. I was already planning to continue with my life, despite the inevitability of death and the seemingly inevitable heat death of the universe, and while this story reminded me of that decision, it didn't inspire me in any way that I wasn't inspired before. Scratch that last sentence, actually, it did inspire me to revisit Asimov's The Last Question at some point in the not-too-distant-future. Now there's a 5 star science fiction story that does the heat death of the universe right. Until I read this I thought that Hell is the Absence of God was the greatest science fiction story not only by Chiang, but in general. As you might have guessed by now, I was very wrong.The only thing I can say about this story is that it is beautiful, elegant, sparse in just the right way. This is so far, in my mind, the pinnacle of all of Chiang's works, asking the big questions in just the right way. What the story is, a meditation on existance, an exploration of another world, one vast metaphor, I cannot say. It is all these things and more. The character, for there is only one, is perhaps his greatest yet, as much prop as person and yet so much more.This is a story that defies all catagories and surpasses all of them. It is my predicition that this will be this years Hugo winner.

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I love this short story. First encountered in on Escapepod and then recently re-read in Lightspeed

The absolute best science fiction I've ever read. I doubt anything will top this gem.

All science is a bag of wind.

Ted Chiang can do no wrong

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