Home > Recommendations > “Exhalation”, by Ted Chiang

“Exhalation”, by Ted Chiang

There’s a quote on Wikipedia that John W. Campbell was supposed to have said to his writers: “Write me a creature that thinks as well as a man, or better than a man, but not like a man.”  I think “Exhalation” is the complete opposite of that request. 

The viewpoint character of the story, an unnamed anatomist and scientist, does not react all that differently from a courageous scientist of our world, but the problem he faces–in his very alien world–is one unlike any we could ever face.  His world is like ours in very few ways.  His assumptions and lemmas about life are different than ours.  And the experiments that he is able to perform–because he is mechanical and pneumatic, instead of flesh and blood–are both fascinating and horrifying.

When I recommended “Impossible Dreams”, it was my favorite story.  I still adore that story from an emotional point of view, but “Exhalation” is a greater intellectual thrill–an exercise in understanding a completely alien problem.

Ted Chiang is a writer with a very small body of work, as he is employed as a technical writer, and finds himself unable to write fiction while writing non-fiction.  However, despite having published just over a dozen pieces of fiction in the last twenty years, he has won three Hugos and four Nebulas, as well as being nominated for six more major awards.  I don’t have numbers available, but it’s my belief that he has a higher rate of converting publication into award than any other writer in the field.

Ted Chiang doesn’t seem to have a web site, but there is a listing of all his freely available stories.

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