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Posts Tagged ‘ted chiang

2008 BSFA Awards: Short Fiction

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The latest mailing from the BSFA came with not just the usual issues of Vector and Focus but also a booklet containing all four of the stories nominated for the BSFA Award. This is welcome because all th estories are available online (see links below) the printed page is infinitely preferable to the screen. The only problem is none of the stories are any good. They all cleave very tightly to the SF story archetype: take one idea and then pound it flat. So, here is my ballot (in reverse order):

#4 ‘Exhalation’ by Ted Chiang (Eclipse 2)

If you had told me before I had read the stories that I would be rating the Chiang bottom I would have told you to pull the other one. Generally, it is much as you would expect a Chiang story to be: typically rigourous, taking a single idea and working it through. Unfortunately it is a lame idea. Chiang sits us down and explains the terrible beauty of, er, entropy. Great. Oh, and it contains no dialogue which must make it slipstream.

#3 ‘Crystal Nights’ by Greg Egan (Interzone 215)

Likewise this is a typical Egan story. Some good stuff about artificial life let down by the total implausibility of the characters. At least it has got some cool bits in it.

#2 ‘Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment’ by M. Rickert (F&SF, Oct/Nov 2008)

This is the complete opposite. Like ‘Exhalation’ it is a well executed take on an extremely unlikely and not very interesting idea. The only thing that bumps it up over Chiang and Egan is that contains characters who are recognisably human. Niall Harrison has a typically lengthy, articulate and wrong review. God knows how he managed to write for so long about a story that, as others have pointed out, is like a modern version ‘The Lottery’ by Shelley Jackson. That isn’t a good thing, by the way.

#1 ‘Little Lost Robot’ by Paul McAuley (Interzone 217)

This is very much the winner by default. There is nothing massively interesting about it – a giant robot flies around the universe exterminating humanity before being confronted by its origins – but at least it isn’t completely bloodless. The stories by Chiang and Rickert are icily perfect and pointless, the story by Egan could have done with being a bit more abstract, out of all of them only McAuley is having fun and being serious at the same time.

Not much to pick between them all, really. They are all worth a read but only once and on another day their order on my ballot might have been completely different.

Written by Martin

26 March 2009 at 19:47

‘Hell Is The Absence Of God’ by Ted Chiang

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This is one of the two stories in this collection that I’d read previously. It is also pretty much what I would consider to be the anti-thesis of slipstream.

Chiang’s premise is that God exists and Heaven and Hell are empirical facts. From here everything unfolds rationally and rigourously; it is an essentially science fictional mode of storytelling which is in opposition to slipstream with its emphasis on the inexplicable. At the same time though this is very much a story about the inexplicable because what else could God be? Chiang’s story is rational but the acts of the creator are not:

Perhaps, he thought, it’d be better to live in a story where the righteous were rewarded and the sinners were punished, even if the criteria for righteousness and sinfulness eluded him, than to live in a reality where there was no justice at all.

The power and the beauty of the story is in the confrontation of the inexplicable. I can’t see any reason for it to be included in this collection though (and as far as I can tell Kessel and Kelly offer no justification either.)

Quality: ****
Slipperiness: *

Part of Feeling Very Strange

Written by Martin

27 September 2008 at 19:03