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Summary

This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’, a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary ‘Exhalation’, an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people but for all of reality. And in ‘The Lifecycle of Software Objects’, a woman cares for an artificial intelligence over 20 years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: ‘Omphalos’ and ‘Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom’.

In Exhalation, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth - what is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human? - and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning and compassion.

©2019 Ted Chiang (P)2019 Macmillan Digital Audio

What listeners say about Exhalation

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A collection to revisit

It's almost inevitable that a collection will miss a five star rating because some part of it doesn't appeal and that's the case here. These are stories with the nature of parables - and so slightly moralistic at times - but that, wherever they're set, have a science/speculative fiction slant. The title story, Exhalation, is superb and The Lifecycle of Software Objects is a dissection of difference, AI, and what constitutes sentience in virtual world entities. Sentience comes up again in The Great Silence, this time in a tale spanning Arecibo, the Fermi Paradox, and parrots, while Omphalos gently and carefully challenges one person's profound faith in a deity. Humanity with its strengths and failings is the driving force for all of these stories; how we think and feel and relate to others and what happens when technology becomes a part of the picture. It isn't dystopian, it doesn't preach, and nor does it labour its message of who and what we are; but it does make us think.

The stories vary considerably in length (I listened on Audible where they ranged from around six minutes to over three hours) and the style is often an account delivered from a particular and singular perspective. It's one of the books I will return to because there's likely to be much that I've missed.

I'll just add that the Author's notes, which pop up at the end of each story and are delivered by the author and give a little bit of the background theoretical context, are slightly jarring in audio but will be much less so in text. I will re-visit these too.

15 people found this helpful

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Entrancing

I've read some negative reviews of this collection, but I loved it. Each story is carefully developed, beautifully written and completely absorbing. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is one of the best things I've read in ages. I even loved the parrot story, which people say is the weakest in the book. From the first, beautifully crafted Arabian Nights-style tale about time, and redemption, I was engaged. Every page of this collection is suffused with optimism. It's clever, kind, thoughtful and thought provoking and I highly recommend it. Yes, even the parrots.

7 people found this helpful

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Fascinating ideas, plodding storytelling.

A fascinating exploration of ideas, just don't expect gripping storylines or intresting characters. . .

6 people found this helpful

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Short stories from Ted Chiang's bottom drawer.

Performance lacked lustre. Notes from the author were used to pad out a collection of works that failed to live up to Ted Chiang's reputation. Unsatisfactory conclusions and no effort to develop characters other than that of the narrator. A disappointment.

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good but slow

I do realise that Ted's stories can be slow over a novel, but I hoped these may have been less of a plod. several chapters were given to one arc about AI which seemed a real waste of potential, whereas others lost the plot as they meandered along.

this isn't punchy short sci-fi, but worth listening to if you're a fan

3 people found this helpful

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Thought provoking

Incredibly refreshing perspectives and imaginative concepts all tied to very human stories that are important in today's world

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Absolutely fantastic

This was a really good! I'd had so many people recommend this book to me, and now I understand why.

Stories were very engaging. Themes were extremely clever. And the mechanism of using fiction as a way to explore the philosophical aspects of AI, parallel universes, pre-destination, etc. was flawless.

Highly recommended.

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Mind expanding stories for philosophical

The ideas here are complex and some of the stories required more than one listen.

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Fantastic stories

I really enjoyed this anthology. Amy Landon's reading was overly robotic for me however.

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  • R
  • 06-04-22

Ranked list of stories.

Below is a ranked list of stories from best to worst (in my opinion!)
1. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate
2. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling
3. The Lifecycle of Software Objects
4. Anxiety Is The Dizziness of Freedom
5. Exhalation
6. What's Expected of Us
7. Omphalos
8. The Great Silence
9. Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny

I preferred Ted Chiang's previous collection of short stories ("Stories of Your Life and Others"), but at the time of writing this review, no audiobook version is available.

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  • Magnus M. Hustveit
  • 13-09-19

Anthology thought experiments perfectly executed

Ted Chiang combines excellent writing with interesting scenarios in a way which engages deeply. If you are not thinking after listening to this book, it's on you.

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  • Daniel Smith
  • 11-12-21

Don't narrate the weird story first up

Amy Landon narrated a number of stories. And it just so happened, the next book I tried to listen to.
But she also narrated the retarded digimons in one of the first stories. And try as she might, her voice is very very similar. It was not great experience.
I would place a story like that, at the back of the book.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-04-21

Ted Chiang is great

I really enjoyed this book, the storys are fun to follow and really trigger deeper thoughts, a must read for sure.

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  • Panashe
  • 01-01-21

Simple ideas

The author does a great job of taking simple or rather well known ideas to their not so obvious conclusions- a nice sci-fi collection.

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  • Seamus Fagan
  • 23-09-20

Different

I liked the ideas and the way they are woven into stories. well worth a listen.

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  • Ed Dowding
  • 17-10-19

contains lots of content from previous books

so alas it is not as good value as I'd hoped, but still sufficiently entertaining