A handful of living science fiction writers have attained godlike status—N.K. Jemisin, Cixin Liu, and Ann Leckie, to name a few. But Ted Chiang is the only one who’s done it without writing a novel ... oh, his stories. They’re a religious experience ... In Exhalation, which could be subtitled 'Black Mirror For Optimists,' every story seems crafted with one objective in mind—pure awe ... The three longer stories in Exhalation are Chiang’s finest work to date ... Savor all nine of these stories. Read them one sitting at a time, somewhere still and quiet, and let them sink in.
Contemporary issues relating to bioethics, virtual reality, free will and determinism, time travel, and the uses of robotic forms of A.I. are addressed in plain, forthright prose. If Chiang’s stories can strike us as riddles, concerned with asking rather than with answering difficult questions, there is little ambiguity about his language ...
The new collection starts with 'The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,' a quirkily original exploration of time travel set in a mythical, ancient Baghdad ... An ingenious turn-of-the-twentieth-century automaton is the subject of 'Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny' ... It is both a surprise and a relief to encounter fiction that explores counterfactual worlds like these with something of the ardor and earnestness of much young-adult fiction, asking anew philosophical questions that have been posed repeatedly through millennia to no avail ... Chiang spends a good deal of time describing the science behind the device, with an almost Rube Goldbergian delight in elucidating the improbable ... The stories in Exhalation are mostly not so magically inventive as those in Chiang’s first collection, but each is still likely to linger in the memory the way riddles may linger.
Chiang’s stories are uniformly notable for a fusion of pure intellect and molten emotion. At the core of each is some deep conceptual notion rich with arcane metaphysical or scientific allure ... The two stories original to this collection are both masterful and striking ... challenging and rewarding ... [Chiang] plucks both heartstrings and gray matter in equal measure.
There are books so jammed with brilliant, mind-exploding ideas it's like the author packed fireworks between the covers, all strung together on a very short fuse. There are others that take a single fascinating notion and walk all the way around it ... to read Ted Chiang is to do both at the same time. Chiang is, among other things, a short story specialist ... His voice and style are so beautifully trim it makes you think that, like one of his characters, he has a magical looking-box hidden in his basement that shows him nothing except the final texts of stories ... Like Annie Proulx or Jim Harrison, he has that tool in his box that makes him capable of telling a story of decades in a handful of words.
Chiang’s stories are among the most complex and fascinating in modern science fiction, and each one creates a tremor when it first appears ... Each of his stories, from microfiction to novella, is a thought experiment played out through human lives ... Chiang’s prose is liquid and seductive, and his emotional entanglements create subtle agony. His writing shows how crucial written fiction still is ... If Jorge Luis Borges’ fables had deep human dimension, they would read like Chiang’s tales; Chiang’s writing deserves to be treated with equal respect and reverence.
Reading a Ted Chiang anthology is an experience that slowly claims little corners of your brain until eventually your whole head is devoted to it ... each tale is so compelling and complex ... One after another, Chiang’s stories claim their place in your mind until you’re completely swept up in his provocative and at times even charming world ... Each story is a carefully considered, finely honed machine designed to entertain, but this collection also forces you to look at things like your smartphone or your pet with new eyes. What makes Exhalation particularly brilliant is that not one of the stories feels like it’s designed to be thought-provoking in a stilted, academic way ... a must-read.
... not jewel-like. It’s closer to a grand machine. And this machine is made up of intricately connected parts, all moving in a pattern of such complexity that you can’t always be sure that you’re following it. But you can always trust that the machine’s inventor has plotted out that pattern with exquisite precision ... Chiang is thoughtful about the rules of his imagined technologies. They have the kind of precise, airtight internal logic that makes a tech geek shiver with happiness ... he will never, ever veer away from the laws he’s set for himself ... The other big robot book of the spring, Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me, comes off as clumsy in comparison ... The stories in Exhalation are a shining example of science fiction at its best. They take both science and humanism deeply seriously, which is why it’s so satisfying to watch Chiang’s shining, intricate machine at work: You know that whatever the machine builds, it will tell you something new about human beings.
The greatness of the latest collection of stories by Ted Chiang isn’t in the answers to the big questions that he asks. It’s the questions themselves ... His prose is smooth and guileless, artful without pretension, always propelling the story forward. Page after page, the reader is drawn deeper into his worlds as he carefully considers a variety of hypotheses ... Here, every little bit is believable, conceived carefully and thoughtfully ... Sure, there are some complicated, scientific-sounding passages, but it never impedes the narrative; Chiang’s prose always remains accessible. Size helps, too — most of the stories are short and easily digestible.
...luminous ... New work from the notoriously non-prolific Chiang is, to put it mildly, an event ... Exhalation is the sort of book that’s so good it’s hard to know what to say about it besides 'read it.' Every sentence fits; every word glimmers; the level of precision, like an engineer crafting a line of code, is evident in every line. It’s immediately clear, too, why Chiang is so revered in genre circles, or why his small body of work has swept just about every science fiction award you can name ... For the true brilliance of Chiang’s work lies in his range and versatility as a storyteller. No two of Exhalation’s stories are alike ... Each page of Exhalation bursts with color, with heart, with probing curiosity about faith, parenthood, free will, and their place in the universe.
[Chiang] continues to explore emotional and metaphysical landscapes with precise and incisive prose ... Chiang remains one of the most skilled stylists in sf, and this will appeal to genre and literary-fiction fans alike.
...groundbreaking ... nine stunningly original, provocative and poignant stories. These are tales that tackle some of humanity’s oldest questions along with new quandaries only Ted Chiang could imagine ... Ted Chiang at his best: profound, sympathetic—revelatory.
[A] stellar collection ... Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, 'The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,' which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008 ... Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.
[A] standout second collection ... In each, Chiang produces deeply moving drama from fascinating first premises ... Chiang’s rigorous worldbuilding makes hard science fiction out of stories that would otherwise be fable ... these stories are brilliant experiments, and his commitment to exploring deep human questions elevates them to among the very best science fiction.