Ted Chiang’s collection of speculative short stories, “Exhalation: Stories” makes readers rethink how they view the world. Chiang successfully takes common science fiction tropes like time travel, aliens, and artificial intelligence and transforms them into heart-touching stories.
One of my favorite pieces in the collection, titled “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” investigates the development of AI and how people connect to them. It even brings up the topic of legal rights for AI — a debate that may become a reality for us in the future. Chiang’s fiction explores this curious topic while sprinkling in humor every once in a while, prompting smiles from readers.
“Omphalos” explores the intersections of religion and science, presenting a fictional world where the existence of God is a widely accepted fact. In our world, many scientists are atheists, and topics like evolution and the creation of life are seen as places where faith and science clash.
However, in “Omphalos,” secular scientists are often the ones ridiculed. As both an atheist and someone passionate about science myself, I found this story fascinating. Chiang cleverly exposes contradictions within religion while presenting an honest moral that humans should not view themselves as superior.
This collection finishes with “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”, which delves into the subject of alternate universes. With a box called a “prism,” people are able to communicate with their alternate selves. Many characters fall into the trap of constantly monitoring what choices their other-selves make and evaluate the morality of their own actions.
This short story suggests that there are an infinite amount of possibilities for the future and prompts these questions for our own world. Do our choices really matter? Are there other universes out there with different timelines and outcomes?
Ted Chiang presents a thoughtful narrative throughout his whole collection. With a total of nine stories, “Exhalation: Stories” is a must-read for everyone looking for a new book over quarantine.