BSFA/Hugo nominee: “Exhalation”

I’m going to be lazy with this one, and quote other people. In the pro camp, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro:

And now for something quite extraordinary. If you’re looking for a single reason to purchase Eclipse Two then you may be out of luck, because Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” is at least three of them. It is without a doubt one of the finest and freshest breaths of story I’ve ever come across. It is immediately compelling, a superlative example of a story that pulls on a seemingly mundane observational thread, and reasonably proceeds from it to unwrap the entire fabric of existence. Though time will be the ultimate judge, I have no reservation in calling it a masterpiece. The story is narrated in the first person by a character who appears to make a crucial discovery about air. What he is able to deduce from his initial and further experiments comprises the narrative’s unforgettable journey into expanding consciousness. The story’s execution, on the whole minimalist in approach, is flawless. It unfolds in gradual revelation, and every component fits as perfectly as those described in the character’s empirical forays into literal self-reflexivity. Of course, it also functions superbly on a metaphorical level and pays tribute to classic SF stories dealing with entropy and thermodynamics. The intellectual thrill of reading it might be compared to directly experiencing William Blake’s “world in a grain of sand” and “eternity in an hour,” except in this case contained in a few molecules of air.

Rich Horton also likes it:

“Exhalation” is quite as spectacular as last year’s Hugo winner, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, and yet completely different. It depicts an utterly unusual artificial world, apparently completely made of metal, whose inhabitants are likewise metal, and who breathe air supplied by replaceable lungs. It is told by one of these people, who discovers how their brains work, as it becomes clear that the supply of air is diminishing. The setup seems to imply some history that other writers might have exploited — is this a society of robots after humans have left, perhaps? — but Chiang’s interests are elsewhere, and the story explores deeper philosophical questions, and comes to a very moving conclusion. To make the obvious pun — it took my breath away.

Abigail Nussbaum:

Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation,” though a chilly thought exercise of a story, is a chilly thought exercise by Ted Chiang and therefore cooler, more inventive, and more interesting than just about anyone else’s chilly thought exercises.

But Martin Lewis is less keen:

If you had told me before I had read the stories that I would be rating the Chiang bottom I would have told you to pull the other one. Generally, it is much as you would expect a Chiang story to be: typically rigourous, taking a single idea and working it through. Unfortunately it is a lame idea. Chiang sits us down and explains the terrible beauty of, er, entropy. Great. Oh, and it contains no dialogue which must make it slipstream.

EDIT: And Ian Sales:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Chiang is one of the best writers of short science fiction currently being published. Which means every Chiang story is not only judged against all others published around the same time but against every other Chiang story. Which does him no favours. Especially in this case. ‘Exhalation’ is pretty much a thought experiment, with very little in the way of plot. It’s well-written, but it failed for me in several aspects. It lectures the reader… and the explanation for this doesn’t quite justify the up-front info-dumping. Further, the central premise isn’t actually that interesting, and all the story does is provide a slow and cumbersome vehicle for the narrator to figure out that entropy exists.

So: read the story (or listen), and while I’m driving home, post a comment to tell me which camp you fall into — and, most importantly, why. (Spoiler! I liked it. And my why will wait until later.)

About these ads

40 Responses to “BSFA/Hugo nominee: “Exhalation””

  1. Martin Says:

    The story’s execution, on the whole minimalist in approach, is flawless.

    I don’t disagree but I need something more than that. Every hour that has passed since I read it I’ve liked it less. It remains a Chaing story though, and hence head and shoulders above most short fiction.

  2. Jason M. Robertson Says:

    Mark me down in the ‘liked it’ camp.

    Why? Because connecting the abstract and the universal to the emotional power of narrative is a tentpole purpose of sf as I understand it, and this is an excellent instance of that goal. It is also a very Chiang-like story in that it is a strongly counterfactual story recapitulating some of modes and mechanisms of discovery in our world. In that it is a physically rigorous metaphor for our prior knowledge and eternal circumstances, a mechanism truly unique to the genre which I am happy to celebrate.

  3. Abigail Says:

    I’m probably not going to participate in these discussions too much since I’m planning to write my own Hugo posts, but I just wanted to say that my quote above is a little more positive than I actually am about the story. Neat as it is, I didn’t think “Exhalation” achieved much more than neatness, and as Ian says Chiang is judged on his own curve. Compared with stories like “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” or “Hell is the Absence of God,” “Exhalation” feels like a lesser work, though obviously I may rate it higher once I read the other stories on the ballot.

  4. David Says:

    (My first comment on Torque Control; hope you don’t mind a newcomer.)

    This was my first time reading a Chiang story, and I think I fall somewhere between the two camps. I liked ‘Exhalation’, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ‘spectacular’ or a ‘masterpiece’. I think Abigail describes it best when she calls it a ‘chilly thought exercise’ — it’s a story I appreciated more with my head than with my heart. I saw Chiang aiming for the ‘emotional power’ that Jason describes, but didn’t truly feel it, and I think that is the story’s major weakness.

  5. Niall Says:

    David, welcome! There’s always space for newcomers. Although clearly you need to read Stories of Your Life and Others

    I have a feeling this discussion is going to come down to us all agreeing on what, exactly, “Exhalation” is, but disagreeing about either whether that’s a good thing, or whether it achieves what it sets out to do, or both.

    So let me try to articulate why it works for me. I freely admit I am extremely partial to bittersweetness as an emotional flavour, particularly in its scientific romance form — I like Baxter and Clarke, after all; I think there is a terrible beauty to entropy, to the dying fall — but I think there’s a bit more to the story than just that tone. Nor would I describe it as a story I appreciate more with my head than my heart; I’d describe it as a story I appreciate with my heart because I appreciated it with my head first. It feels to me like a story in the tradition of “Nightfall” and “The Nine Billion Names of God”, in the way it seeks to (and, obviously, to my mind succeeds in) evoking radical estrangement within a tiny frame. The emotional impact in each case depends on having understood the terms of the argument, and intuiting the inevitability of the final move just before it happens; an intellectual thrill that, it is hoped, becomes something more visceral. A sort of evidence-based epiphany. The precise moment at which Chiang achieves that for me is:

    Which is why I have written this account. You, I hope, are one of those explorers. You, I hope, found these sheets of copper and deciphered the words engraved on their surfaces. And whether or not your brain is impelled by the air that once impelled mine, through the act of reading my words, the patterns that form your thoughts become an imitation of the patterns that once formed mine. And in that I live again, through you.

    I can analyze it like this: first sentence repays the faith invested in the story up-front, that Chiang has thought through the identity and motivation of the narrator as rigorously as his invented cosmology. It personalizes the narrator’s concern for me, makes it sharper and more immediate, in contrast to, say, the brain-dissection scene, which is an extraordinary image precisely because of its dispassion. Second sentence puts us in a more clearly defined relationship to the narrator, and in doing so introduces a casually enormous perspective shift: we are far in his (? — I’m not sure gender is actually ever specified) future. We must have undertaken the exploration of a dead world described in the previous paragraph — and of course, in a sense, we did, because in reading about it we made it happen. The third sentence seems faintly tragic — for all his vision, there are some imaginative leaps he can’t make; we are more different from him than he can imagine. (And thus he is probably more different from us than we have imagined.) The second half of the third sentence picks up on the suggestion of the second sentence, and the fourth sentence directly equates the ephemeral, fragile act of suspending disbelief when reading with that of creating life.

    I can analyze it like that, but when I’m reading it, I don’t; I just find it incredibly moving. The point of the story is not, to me, actually the terrible beauty of entropy, though I think it conveys that quite well; the point of the story is the wonder of life in the face of that terrible beauty.

    After all of which, it probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that I am faintly baffled by the implication that, as, a thought experiment, “Exhalation” is somehow a lesser kind of story. I think Jason put his finger right on it, in fact, in that “Exhalation” feels to me like a kind of story that is truly unique to science fiction, and that that uniqueness, that taking advantage of its chosen form, is something to be celebrated. “Exhalation” tackles an idea that is inhuman in its remoteness by creating a literally inhuman world to express that idea — even second time through, I got a tingle from phrases such as, “every day we consume two longs heavy with air”. If its plot and characters are subordinate to a different act of creation, I say: given how complete that act of creation is, so what?

    A question for those who are less keen on “Exhalation”: how do you feel about “Understand“?

  6. Peter Nel Says:

    I understand Ted Chiang has had only about a dozen stories published, which makes his reputation remarkable. I have his only collection, but it’s jostling for attention with a pile of other books.

    I liked “Exhalation”. Mainly, because it passes the crucial “What happens next?” test. The story has such a narrow focus (there is only one character), that the reader is immediately plunged into an engrossing narrative in which important secrets of the universe are slowly unpeeled from a single point of view.

    I found the conclusion satisfying as well. It makes emotional sense from the narrator’s rather narrow point of view. For me, there was only one niggle: I kept feeling I was missing something, perhaps a “Nightfall” moment in which the narrator’s world is suddenly placed in the context of the reader’s world.

  7. Ian Sales Says:

    Abigail, I did enjoy ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’ when I read it, but I did so shortly after finishing Robert Irwin’s The Arabian Nightmare and it compared unfavourably with that.

  8. David Says:

    Thanks for the warm welcome, Niall!

    “…clearly you need to read Stories of Your Life and Others…”

    I know, I know. I’ll get around to it one day. Along with the hundreds of other books I need to read…

    I wouldn’t say that being a thought experiment makes ‘Exhalation’ a lesser kind of story. It’s not what kind of story it is that makes the difference, but how well it works on the emotional level — and clearly (to use our reactions as an example) it worked better for you on that level than it did for me.

    Will read ‘Understand’ when I have more time — my start on the Chiang oeuvre!

  9. Rich Horton Says:

    I too find “Exhalation” far from chilly by the end (though I can see why people react to it that way) — as I said, I think it’s ultimately very moving.

    In his canon I would rank it well ahead of “Hell is the Absence of God”, which never worked for me nearly as well as it evidently did for many readers, and comparable perhaps to “Seventy-Two Letters” and “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, and well behind “Story of Your Life”, but then so is almost every SF story ever published.

  10. Peter Hollo Says:

    “Understand” is truly dazzling. I remember the first time I read it, and I remember the second, a couple of years later. It’s of a particular genre (human becomes superhuman through odd medical advances, perhaps a side-effect of a treatment for something) which would probably also include Cory Doctorow’s “Ownz0red” and at least a couple of Robert Reed stories as I recall.
    For me the gradual abstraction, revelation and acceleration are perfectly balanced.

    “Understand” is in some ways very Chiang, and in some ways a bit different, I feel. “Exhalation” is more of a piece with some of Chiang’s other works, a kind of Barrington J Bayley piece with less sharp humour and a bit more rigour…

  11. Alvaro Zinos-Amaro Says:

    I kind of agree with the first review you quoted, though it does tends to go in a flowery way :-)

    Excellent round-up. I wish even more people would share their thoughts and read this story.

    Very nice analysis, Niall. Since reading “Exhalation” (and that review I wrote of it for The Fix was shortly after my first contact with it, always a risky proposition) I’ve kept thinking about why it moved me so much. Wondering whether circumstantial factors at the time of my first reading (my emotional state, what I ate for lunch etc.) might have somehow conspired to make me unreasonably receptive to it, I set out to read it again in deliberately unfavorable circumstances. I sat myself down late one night, when I was tired and lacking concentration. It grabbed me again, just as powerfully as before.

    “I’d describe it as a story I appreciate with my heart because I appreciated it with my head first.” Exactly my response. I was so conceptually absorbed that the emotion emerged directly from the character’s profound realizations.

    “The emotional impact in each case depends on having understood the terms of the argument, and intuiting the inevitability of the final move just before it happens; an intellectual thrill that, it is hoped, becomes something more visceral. A sort of evidence-based epiphany.” Again, I couldn’t have phrased it better myself. I find that the stories in which the pace of my deduction aligns with the textual revelation in the manner you described tend to make for memorable reading experiences. It’s almost paradoxical, but figuring the story’s terms out just a little in advance of the characters makes those terms seem more inevitable. It happens when I intuit, but cannot necessarily formulate on a conscious level or even recognize that I have intuited, the conclusion that follows from the previous premise just before the story delivers it.

    I don’t think the story so much qualifies entropy as this or that, but rather confronts us with it in a completely honest, non-cynical way. It makes us feel entropy as if for the first time. And it does provide the glimmer of an affirmation of life in the face of entropy, again as Niall mentions.

    Another reason I like it so much is because it recapitulates the mind-expanding process of scientific revelation. Science teaches us cosmic humility by dethroning or refining our notions of what we thought by understood, by displacing our place in the cosmos; exactly what happens to the narrator in “Exhalation.”

  12. Sean McCann Says:

    My first comment too, and mostly because I just read “Exhalation” yesterday…
    I’ve recently made up a few of my own reasons to enjoy SF, most prominently that it seems one of the last frontiers in literature to examine the human condition.
    What I keep forgetting is that because it’s SF, it doesn’t have to be the Human condition. (In the space of 12 hours last week, I read “Evil Robot Monkey,” “The Pope of the Chimps” and “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” for the first time.)
    “Exhalation” serves as another reminder that SF is about the condition of the soul, regardless of what that soul might inhabit.
    So does Chiang’s pneumo-mechanical race have souls that can be considered in this light? The narrator’s subtle desire for immortality and his race’s collective fear of death seem to imply this, but what are their other motivating factors? Is there a spiritual motivation for their communal air-refilling activity or is it something instilled in them by their creators for information transmission?
    So it could be that Chiang is asking “what’s the smallest ingredient of a soul?” Is it simply the desire for immortality, the frustration that the universe dealt you a bad hand? If so, then it works really, really well.
    I still liked “26 Monkeys better…”

  13. Karen Burnham Says:

    I wasn’t sure I was going to like “Exhale” as much as I had Chiang’s other stories; the very formal tone seemed distancing at first (absolutely agree that we judge Chiang on his own curve). However, it absolutely hit that “Sense Of Wonder” moment when I realized what he was doing and it literally made me think about the universe from a slightly different perspective than before.

    In that way, I appreciated it in much the same way that I appreciated Egan’s recent “Incandesence,” only even more so because that sort of thing works better in a short story than a novel.

  14. MattD Says:

    There’s a stretch of “Exhalation” from about the 1/2 way point to the 3/4 mark — from the “where was my body?” thought on through the reassembly of the body and to the idea of the “great exhalation” — that I think is excellent.

    The difficulty I have with the rest of the story is one of…cohesion, I suppose, of character and culture. Both seem constructed a bit too obviously to fit the story, to be similar enough to human to generate sympathy but different enough in just the right spots to create the necessary awareness of that difference. I wasn’t sure I believed that nobody guessed that they themselves were slowing down, and devised a simpler test of it. I wasn’t sure the idea of belief in the possibility of explorers from other universes was earned: the ability to conceive of the other, especially in a world where this race appears to be the only one, is such a leap. I wasn’t sure I bought that, but not any questioning into the race’s past. Etc. Yes, they’re not human, but the pattern of similarities and differences from human didn’t seem to imply any coherence to me.

    Possibly what I’m looking for is there, and I’m simply not smart or knowledgeable enough to see it. But as it is, I agree that “the point of the story is the wonder of life in the face of that terrible beauty”; I just wasn’t convinced by the “life” aspect. A thought experiment that is rigged to have only one possible result isn’t much of an experiment. It becomes mainly an excuse for some nice prose — which Chiang certainly delivers. Indeed, after I read the other nominees, I may well conclude that this is the best of the lot.

  15. Ian Sales Says:

    There’s no denying that ‘Exhalation’ is ingenious – especially the section where the narrator investigates his own brain. But for me the opening doesn’t fit the ending. We meant to believe that the “story” is being recorded for the benefit of an explorer who is unfamiliar with the narrator’s world… yet there’s a level of familiarity in the opening paragraphs which suggests that the intended audience does indeed know how the world works. I suspect this is an artefact of Chiang’s narrativisation (is there such a word?) of exposition. In fact, the entire story is pretty much one big info-dump.

  16. David Moles Says:

    It’s a clever metaphor — thanks for spoiling it for everybody, Martin! — but it’s not a story, it’s a gedankenexperiment. (Usually from Ted you get both, but not this time.)

    The gedankenexperiment-thinly-disguised-as-story mode has a long and illustrious heritage in SF. I just have no patience with it any more, myself, and so I consider the fact that “Exhalation” doesn’t do much for me to be my failing rather than Ted’s. I suspect it accomplishes everything Ted wanted to accomplish.

  17. David Moles Says:

    Oh, and Niall: The difference between “Exhalation” and “Understand” is that “Understand” has characters and a plot.

  18. Martin Says:

    Matt articulates very well some of my problems. I’m not adverse to thought experiments but this doesn’t strike me as much of a thought experiment, rather an illustration. It doesn’t really ask “what if consciousness was based on gold and air pressure computers?”, instead it illustrates a principle through the creation of a world designed for this express purpose. And that is all. There is essentially no characterisation, there is no life or colour. The passage that Niall disects in detail that supposedly gives the story its emotional power seems like a cliche and an afterthought to me. Pretty much every story about a lone survivor or a dying race ends with a similar “I hope these words make my immortal” sentiment.

    As I seem to be at pains to say repeatedly, I don’t think it is a bad story. A lot of what I’m writing is in reaction to excessive praise rather than out of active dislike of the story. I also think Chiang is a victim of his own success. Not just (as others have said) in comparing this story to his own ridiculously high standards but also that he makes it look so easy that there is a tendency on the reader’s part to think it is easy and hence obvious.

  19. Martin Says:

    David Moles has nipped into the gap whilst I was drafting that so I will AOL his comment about ‘Understand’ which truly is a great story.

  20. Niall Says:

    Some responses to other people. Martin:

    It remains a Chaing story though, and hence head and shoulders above most short fiction.

    I would have thought you’d be more positive about the stories you ranked above it on your ballot, then …

    Peter:

    “Understand” is in some ways very Chiang, and in some ways a bit different, I feel. “Exhalation” is more of a piece with some of Chiang’s other works

    Interesting. I can see why you’d say that, but for me “Understand” feels like the closest comparison point, in that the plot and central character feel similarly rudimentary, and similarly not the point of the story, not what stays with me when I’m done reading.

    Sean:

    “Exhalation” serves as another reminder that SF is about the condition of the soul, regardless of what that soul might inhabit.

    That’s an interesting way of putting it. One grace note in the story that I liked was the narrator’s certainty that his brain was so wonderful that it must be the work of a creator. It’s possible, I think, to use this to read the story as being about life that we created, but what’s more interesting to me is the slight shading it adds to the narrator’s character. (And stick around! We’ll get to “26 Monkeys” in a few weeks …)

    Matt:

    I wasn’t sure I believed that nobody guessed that they themselves were slowing down, and devised a simpler test of it.

    My impression was that the slowing down was detected pretty much as soon as it was detectable; the narrator was first because he’d been planning his experiment anyway, for other reasons.

    The one line in the story that niggled at me was, ‘The mechanicians among them constructed an engine that takes air from our atmosphere and forces it into a smaller volume, a process they called “compression.”’ They didn’t have compression? At all?

    But as it is, I agree that “the point of the story is the wonder of life in the face of that terrible beauty”; I just wasn’t convinced by the “life” aspect.

    I think that may depend what you’re looking for in terms of life. The first time I read the story, I was delighted in the initial extrapolation from the concept of lungs to an entire social situation; but then the story turned away from that kind of society-creation a bit, and I was perhaps slightly disappointed. What I felt by the end of the story, though — and the paragraph I quoted goes to this — was that the wonder of life, in this story, is not the complexity of a society, or the nuances of interaction between sentient beings; it is simply the existence of that life itself. I come back to the auto-dissection scene, which is the demonstration of the intricacy of a living organism. It’s the passing of that which I think the story mourns, not the passing of a society (which is a second-order consequence of life’s existence).

    Ian:

    But for me the opening doesn’t fit the ending. We meant to believe that the “story” is being recorded for the benefit of an explorer who is unfamiliar with the narrator’s world… yet there’s a level of familiarity in the opening paragraphs which suggests that the intended audience does indeed know how the world works.

    That’s fascinating, because I had exactly the opposite reaction. When I read

    For most of history, the proposition that we drew life from air was so obvious that there was no need to assert it. Every day we consume two lungs heavy with air; every day we remove the empty ones from our chest and replace them with full ones. If a person is careless and lets his air level run too low, he feels the heaviness of his limbs and the growing need for replenishment….

    my thought was, “why is the narrator explaining this? Anyone who might possibly read it already knows. This is a disappointing contrivance.” And then, of course, it turns out that he is consciously thinking of an audience outside his experience, which gave me that satisfaction I mentioned earlier.

    Martin, again:

    Pretty much every story about a lone survivor or a dying race ends with a similar “I hope these words make my immortal” sentiment.

    True, but in the context of “Exhalation” I think that familiarity works for it, rather than against it. It’s interesting; I can appreciate, intellectually, that Matt is right about the pattern of similarities and differences to humans not being completely coherent, but it’s something I can think, not something I feel. In the story, when I get to that passage, it feels like a familiar human moment — and the right human moment — for me to latch onto, following the strangeness of the previous pages.

  21. Ian Sales Says:

    For most of history, the proposition that we drew life from air was so obvious that there was no need to assert it.

    See, that sentence illustrates exactly what I mean. If it were aimed at a stranger, it would surely read something like:

    For most of our history, the proposition that we drew life from air was so obvious to us that there was no need for us to assert it.

    To me, Chiang’s original implies an understanding of the universe of the story, whereas as my clumsy insertions make it clear that the intended audience is wholly unfamiliar.

  22. Niall Says:

    Ian, I agree that your version more clearly indicates that the intended audience is unfamiliar, but the content of the original version implies it strongly enough for me.

    I would be more susceptible to an argument that you might expect some sort of explicit greeting or acknowledgment of audience at the start of the essay.

  23. Ian Sales Says:

    I’m giving Chiang the benefit of the doubt inasmuch as he’s trying to produce a readable – and compelling – narrative and not the actual document the narrator claims to be creating. So I recognise that, as a construct, the actual presentation doesn’t match the presented intent. But I still felt there was an implied conspiracy with the reader which contradicted the intent.

  24. Martin Says:

    I would have thought you’d be more positive about the stories you ranked above it on your ballot, then…

    Egan, Rickert and McAuley are head and shoulders above most short story writers too. That doesn’t necessarily mean I got excited about any of them and, as I said, there wasn’t much to pick between the stories.

  25. Eric Says:

    I’m (firmly) in the positive camp, and Niall’s lengthy comment above articulates my reasons much more cogently than I could do. I certainly understand others’ impatience, because it isn’t a story in any conventional sense. But by the end I was quite deeply moved.

    I’m intrigued by the parallel to “Understand,” because that’s the single Chiang work I dislike. As Niall says, there are no proper characters in either story, but “Exhalation” involves a sort of beautiful recasting or univeralisation (not, in any case, a metaphor) of bittersweet core realities. For me, “Understand” offers nothing conceptually novel and completely fails to move, so the absence of a persuasive personality is more keenly felt.

  26. David Says:

    OK, I’ve read ‘Understand’ and… I really enjoyed it. But I don’t know how much I’d compare it with ‘Exhalation’. Point taken about ‘rudimentary’ plot and character (though I think the latter is actually quite subtle in ‘Understand’); but I found the effect and the discoveries of the two stories different enough that I wouldn’t call one a better version of the other (not that I think that’s what you were implying, Niall, but I trust you take my point).

    Hmm, I think I might put together a longer blog post on ‘Understand’…

  27. ‘Understand’ by Ted Chiang (1991) « Follow the Thread Says:

    [...] Tags: science fiction, short fiction, Ted Chiang, Understand | I’ve been contributing to a discussion over at Torque Control about Ted Chiang’s BSFA- and Hugo-nominated story ‘Exhalation’, which I liked, [...]

  28. Peter Wilkinson Says:

    I am still not certain about Exhalation. Where it suffers, I think, is by comparison with Ted Chiang’s other stories. Every Ted Chiang story has been good, and Exhalation is no exception. Likewise, Exhalation is unmistakeably a Chiang story – it simply couldn’t have been written by anyone else.

    However, Chiang stories have usually also managed to do something completely orthogonal to every other Chiang story – but I don’t think that Exhalation does. Successful end-to-end infodump? Hell is the Absence of God (where, unlike Exhalation, I think it’s absolutely essential to the story). Pocket universe? Tower of Babel. And so on. The combination is new and each of the ideas is completely rethought but…

    Still, I’m certainly going to read it again (and probably again), and I might change my mind later.

  29. Donna Royston Says:

    I like the story. It’s interesting and ingenious, first — in other words, readable, so it satisfies the sine qua non for literature of being entertaining. And it portrays the human condition by means of looking at something very alien, who feels our awe at life and who shares our existential grief of foreseeing ourselves and our fellow living beings and our world coming to an end. Simple and well crafted. Beautiful.

  30. Niall Says:

    David: I’ll hop over and read your post about “Understand” later.

    Peter: You’re right, but that feels like a slightly unfair way to evaluate a story, even a Ted Chiang story. Novelty is a wonderful thing, but it’s not something I value above all else — although having said that, I think one reason I prefer “Exhalation” to “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” is that the latter, while conceptually new, did seem to be treading thematic ground Chiang had covered more than adequately in earlier stories.

  31. BSFA Short Fiction Award Reprise « Everything Is Nice Says:

    [...] ‘Little Lost Robot’ #2 ‘Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment’ #3 ‘Exhalation’ #4 ‘Crystal [...]

  32. Judy Says:

    I loved “Exhalation”. Great story! I like “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” as well. And “Understand”and just about everything else Chiang has published. But I think “Exhalation” is the best yet.

  33. BSFA Awards Voting — Final Reminder « Torque Control Says:

    [...] BSFA/Hugo nominee: “Exhalation” [...]

  34. Alvaro Zinos-Amaro Says:

    Just received the April issue of Locus. In “Editorial Matters” Charles Brown comments, among other things, on the Hugo nominees and writes: “The Ted Chiang story is so far above the other short stories, it should be no contest (but it will be.)” Interesting.

  35. Upsalafandom » Påsknoveller Says:

    [...] “Exhalation” av Ted Chiang är en sån där typisk tankelek som han brukar skriva — lite av ett pussel för läsaren att lista ut vad det är för sorts värld den utspelar sig i. Slutar med att berättaren utbrister i en utläggning av sense of wonder. Ganska charmig, men absolut inte någon av hans intressantaste noveller. Text här (längst ner på sidan finns länkar till olika format), ljud här, och vad folk säger. [...]

  36. Reminder: “Shoggoths in Bloom” discussion, and future schedule « Torque Control Says:

    [...] a weekly discussion pattern would get us through only seven of the remaining nine (having already discussed “Exhalation“) short fiction nominees. My proposal, therefore, is to do the novellas [...]

  37. Reminder: “Truth” discussion and short story schedule « Torque Control Says:

    [...] the remaining short stories before the voting deadline (”Exhalation” having been already covered): 17 June: “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson 21 June: “Article of [...]

  38. The 2009 Hugo Short Fiction Nominees « Torque Control Says:

    [...] “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang [...]

  39. Vladimir Says:

    First post on this site. Hello everybody!

    I’m volunteering for the “meh” camp. The plot is fine. But as soon as the plot has been layed out the story became too slow. The contemplations of that alien weren’t all that deep, interesting or smart I feel. But at least he wasn’t affraid of death nor did he feel pity for himself. I like strong characters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 91 other followers

%d bloggers like this: