Book reviews / Science Fiction / Top picks

Book review: Exhalation

I remember first reading Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang and being utterly amazed and blown away by it. I must have told lots of people about it and leant it out….and bought it again because I forgot who now had it. Anyway, I was thrilled by his new collection, Exhalation, and have rapidly hoovered up the book in two sittings.

I think what I love about the stories is that they feel like they should be real. Maybe not real in our universe but they feel like they should exist somewhere. The worlds and people are so wonderfully crafted and the ethical and moral questions are ones that genuinely made me feel anxious.

This was especially the case with “The Lifecycle of Software Objects.” In this particular story the problems of ethics in AI are highlighted but not from the perspective of the humans using AI but from those AI consciousness themselves. The problems we face were so beautifully turned on their head and it genuinely made me feel like we were going to create horrible ethical dilemmas in the future. It also really made me think of the episode of Science Fiction Double Feature where I interviewed Blay Whitby and we talked a little bit about this.

All the stories felt like they had took some common concept, belief or understanding of our universe and then just twisted them in a slightly different way.  “Omphalos” took the idea of Creationism being real, that they had scientific proof that the world was created…but then their own understanding of their centrality in God’s plan was shaken as well, but not in the way our world experienced it with the scientific revolution. It was so good, like genuinely making faces while finishing it and swearing at an empty room good.

I also supremely enjoyed the title story, “Exhalation” which again is about scientific discovery but from a whole different perspective. It was just so beautifully conceived and written. I loved it.

The really amazing thing is that while I genuinely felt anxious and a bit stressed by some of the stories, I’m ultimately feeling so joyous about that book. Some of the stories also made me think about real world implications of things, which you don’t get quite so often with some science fiction. It was so great to read and just reminds me of how wonderful science fiction and speculative fiction can be at its best.

Basically, just go buy it. Treat yourself.

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