Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Like the previous story, this one is compressed -- very compressed. Here it is successful.

Jettisoned are most of the things a genre reader might expect in a short story: dialog, a cast of characters, action, etc. Instead, it is simply a first-person meditation about life and thought, where the reader is left to piece together a picture of the unusual narrator and his situation.

The miniature world recalls Theodore Sturgeon’s “Microcosmic God” (1941), although in this telling it is an apparently “godless” universe, Sturgeon’s deity being merely a human, manipulating tiny sentient life.

Chiang’s narrator is a scientist who rigorously deduces the danger his world is in and examines his own anatomy in an attempt to confirm his theory. The scene of his dissection of his own brain, and metaphorically his dissection of his own ability to reason, is thrilling.

This story, short as it is, opens out in all directions. It manages to address the nature of consciousness, life, and death. For the scientist narrator this process of investigation and insight is the very purpose of life.

Those who have read Chiang’s other fiction will not be surprised to hear that this is a masterful story, deservedly winning the best short story Hugo a few months ago at the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal.

“Exhalation” by Ted Chiang originally appeared in the anthology Eclipse 2 (Night Shade Books, 2008) edited by Jonathan Strahan
Link: Year’s Best SF 14 summation and table of contents

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