Wednesday, January 6, 2021


Ted Chiang
Completed 1/6/2021, Reviewed 1/6/2021
4 stars

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 with them. 

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.


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