My impressions of "Exhalation" By Ted Chiang

Warning: Spoilers

I think perhaps Ted Chiang is my new favorite sci-fi writer. His stories are deep, thoughtful and play with philosophical concepts usually with a fantastic premise.

I don't know what are Ted Chiang's influences but I got a strong Borgian parallels from his stories. For instance, in "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" we have a time-travel story set in a medieval islamic context like in the Arabian Nights where Chiang plays with the concept of fate.

Borges also shows his deep appreciation for Arabian Nights:

“When you read The Arabian Nights you accept Islam. You accept the fables woven by generations as if they were by one single author or, better still, as if they had no author. And in fact they have one and none. Something so worked on, so polished by generations is no longer associated with and individual.[...]"

  • Jorge Luis Borges, Conversations, Volume 1

In many of his short stories Borges (most?) also plays with philosophical concepts such as the infinite ("The Aleph") and so on.

Besides "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" I personally I found these other short stories to be my favorites:

  • Exhalation
  • Omphalos
  • Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom

I still catch myself thinking about the world of "Omphalos" and Chiang's parallels with the discovery that humanity is not the center of creation (here represented literally as the discovery of a planet that is the center of the universe from where all ether spins around).

In "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom" I think that the character of Nat is very compelling and I felt happy that she found redemption by the end of the story. It made me think a lot about the concepts of free will, fate and what our decisions mean ethically in a chaotic (literally, metaphorically) world.

Interesting enough, "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" which I had heard a lot about didn't catch as much my attention, it is for sure an accurate description of how AGI could evolve but the story was a bit too technical, a bit too detailed and a bit slow for me. But again, what do I know? Perhaps I'm just tired of the subject in general.

PS: Also, I just another short story from Ted Chiang, "Tower of Babylon". OMG, so good and it's such a different style from all his other writings I've read so far, I am just so amazed at how he is able to mimic such different writing styles. In this story the tower is so detailed it seems it can be touched and the men that build the tower, are made of sweat, muscle and tendons pulling rope upwards [?]. Such an incredible imagination...


I'm a cat-shadow floating in the web.