• The Good: Smart scifi short stories with heart
  • The Bad: <Intentionally left blank>
  • The Literary: Highly decorated writer presents a few new gems

A fantastically thoughtful new collection of short stories from one of my favorite authors is here… and it’s a delight. You’ll know Ted Chiang from his previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, the title story of which formed the basis for the Academy Award-nominated film Arrival. This collection features nine provocative original stories.

My favorite include:

  • In “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad attempts to alter his past when he finds a portal through time.  This One Thousand and One Nights-inspired time travel explores themes of fate.
  • In “Exhalation”, a robot explores his own internal mechanisms, the physics of his universe, and the decline of his race.
  • In the Hugo-winning novella, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects”, a former zoo keeper develops a relationship with an AI, whom she eventually adopts and raises as her own child.
  • In “Omphalos” scientists perform experiments in support the great accepted theory that binds our world. God and evidence of his creation are everywhere.
  • In “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”, several characters interact through a prism support group. The invention of prisms allows us to make contact with alternate dimensions, and now that they are inexpensive enough that everyone can buy one, you can talk to your self in an alternate universe where you didn’t break off that old relationship and now your paraself is happily married with kids, and you’re still all alone.

I think this collection spans a wider thematic range than his previous one, and it’s a joy to see Chiang exploring new ideas. Through stories of free will, memory, AI learning, the impact of oral and written language on the development of the brain, religion, and alternate realities, Chiang anchors his work in the human desires to learn, connect with others, and accept things we cannot change.

In fact, the brief concluding chapter of story notes is a highlight unto itself, and reading Chiang’s thought processes and inspiration lends an even greater appreciation to his stories.

If you enjoy well-crafted idea-based science fiction, I highly recommended any of Chiang’s deceptively simple short stories!