Exhalation is a collection of nine science fiction short tales by Ted Chiang. The stories published in 2019 contain time travel, robots, artificial intelligence, and humans coping with an ever-changing environment. Seven of the nine tales had previously been published and had gone on to win Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. Exhalation delves into forgiveness, parenthood, technology ethics, free will, and climate change via the lens of science fiction (Chiang, 4). Following the publication of Stories of Life and Others in 2002, this is Ted Chiang’s second anthology.
The narrator of Exhalation dissects his brain and discovers that its thoughts are fueled by air. Ana Alvarado, a former zookeeper, obtains a position as an artificial intelligence trainer (Chiang, 33). Lionel Dacey’s youngster develops a solid attachment to machines and is unable to identify other people. He tells two stories on memory and technology in “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” A parrot in “The Great Silence” questions why humans seek the stars for life to communicate with when parrots live on the same planet (Chiang, 2019). Dorothea, an archaeologist and firm believer in God, is the subject of “Omphalos.”
Two stories on memory and how technology might influence cognition are told in “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” First, a journalist puts Remem, a memory-recording app, to the test (Chiang, 57). The journalist discovers that he misremembered a conflict he had with his daughter years before and that the machine-assisted memory might help him become a better father. In the second, a Tivland man named Jijingi is introduced to the written language by a missionary (Chiang 42). Jijingi subsequently decides to respect his tribe’s oral traditions. “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom,” a novella in which the main heroine, Dorothea, challenges her faith in God and brings the collection to a close (Chiang, 2019). Prisms are gadgets that allow people to communicate with parallel temporal versions of themselves in our reality. The story illustrates how difficult personal growth may be, yet the more we attempt, the simpler it becomes to become a part of who we are.
Chiang, Ted. Exhalation: Stories. 1st Edition, Knopf, 2019.