I am a big Ted Chiang fan, and this collection did not disappoint. I found it a bit more uneven than Stories of Your Life and Others, but the good ones are really good. I don’t want to talk about each story, but I do want to talk about my three favorites!
The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate: Time travel, historical Middle East setting, alchemy? Sign me up. This was a really heartfelt story that hit all the right notes for me. I love how it dealt with the usual time travel tropes (like the inability to change what has already happened, despite the ability to travel to the future or past) and turned it into a heartbreakingly loving story about Fuwaad, the titular merchant, and his choice to intervene as much as possible in a mistake he made 20 years ago. Really great, A+, recommend.
Exhalation: Written in the form of a scientist’s diary. The writer is a member of a race of air-driven mechanical beings. The race obtains air from swappable lungs filled with pressurized air from underground. When all the clocks begin slowing down, the scientist, on a hunch, begins experimenting on himself to get to the bottom of their very existence. Magical, inventive, coherent, and elegant. I loved it.
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling: In the future, a journalist observes how the world, his daughter, and he himself are affected by Remem, a form of live-blogging that incorporates search algorithms to piece together memories of the past, via video. This “effectively grants users eidetic memory of everything that ever happened to them, and the ability to perfectly and objectively share those memories.” The author does not use Remem, but his daughter does, and his perusal of her memories leads to some shocking things about the reliability of his own memory. I didn’t think the structure of this one was as tight as other stories, and the parallel narrative–of an African man first learning to read and write in colonial times–is a little abrupt. But the themes are really compellingly explored, and I thought about this for a long time afterwards.
4 instead of 5 stars due to some plodding, imo, stories – The Great Silence was a little on the nose, and therefore not as thought-provoking as I expect from Chiang.