Completed 1/6/2021, Reviewed 1/6/2021
Like his first collection of short stories, Stories of Your Life and Others, this collection was well written. The prose is phenomenal. His concepts are well researched and fairly easy to comprehend. I liked all the stories, some more than others. As a collection, they seemed a little uneven. I believe this was because these stories were written over quite a large period of years, some coming from early in his career, others more recent. But overall, as a writer, I think Chiang is tremendous.
My favorite story was first
one, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”.
It’s a time travel novel set in the Middle East. An alchemist creates gates that send you 20 years
into the future or the past, depending on which way you enter. A merchant goes through to right a wrong, finds
he can’t change the past no matter what he does, but finds reconciliation.
The title story was another
favorite. It’s about a robot or
automaton performing brain surgery on itself to find the secret to memory, but
instead finding the answer to the beginning and end of existence. It takes place in an enclosed world of
automatons that have their own mythology.
It’s an interesting spin on AI and self-awareness.
“The Great Silence” was
a very cool, very short story about a parrot explaining how they are
intelligent and on the brink of extinction.
It questions why humans don’t study parrots in their search for
intelligent life as it ponders the role of the great Aricebo radio telescope in
Puerto Rico. It was interesting and sad reading
this story just a few weeks after the telescope collapsed on itself. The Chiang wrote this as part of a multimedia
piece in conjunction with performance artists that involved the endangered
parrots and the radio telescope.
The last story I’ll
mention is “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”. It was a morality tale in a world where there
are devices that let you see parallel universes where you can communicate with
your parallel self. A young woman works
at a store that buys, sells, and rents these devices, called prisms. She and her boss run scams to make extra
money, preying on people who use the prisms to feel better about the decisions
they are making in life. It’s one of Chiang’s more complex stories, explaining the
quantum physics that creates the parallel timelines and the laws that govern interaction
I really enjoyed this
book, though not quite as much as the first collection. I still give it four stars out of five
because the writing is terrific, even while explaining the hard science and in
one case, the hard philosophy. I think
his stories are very original, even when he gets ideas from other fiction
sources, as noted in the afterword where he describes how he came up with the
ideas for each story. I’ll definitely continue
reading his output.