the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Ted Chiang’ Category

My local book group is reading Exhalation, the new collection of short stories from Ted Chiang. All of the stories previously appeared in anthologies or magazines, this is the first time these stories are all appearing in one place, with story notes at the end. Chiang’s prose is thoughtful,quietly powerful, and without agenda. He is giving you characters, challenges, and environment, and leaves it entirely up to the reader to decide how (if at all) to react to what is presented. In my experience, much of his work reads like a diary, or a private essay, or a longform article. He is telling fiction, but in a way that makes it feel like you’ve travelled ten years into the future where this technology is just how life is, now. Or in the case of “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny”, that you’ve travelled into the past.


Exhalation gives me reason to return to two of my favorite Chiang stories, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” (Subterranean Press 2010), and “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” (Subterranean Online, 2013), both of which I have written about before.  These two short stories have been in my brain for 5+ years now, it’s been fun to chew on them during the years, to discover all the layers as time goes by.

“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” reminds me of Blackberries and the online game Second Life.  It reminds me of people who don’t have children, but instead have spoiled pets referred to as “fur-babies”. It reminds me of Asimov’s Bicentennial Man.   At a SciFi Convention a few years ago, in a panel that I was on, we were talking about Artificial Intelligence, and this story came up (I may have been the one to bring it up).  I said the story “was about what happens when our children grow up, and discover adult things”, and a well meaning person in the audience let me know that “that’s not what that story is about.”


On the top layer,  “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” is about Ana, who is a programmer at a company that makes “digients”.  They want to make AIs that can learn, and are able to easily interact with people, so the programmers and others within the company “raise” the digients, much as you would the world’s smartest puppy – socializing them, teaching them games, teaching them to be patient  when an adult is busy. If you go on vacation, or get bored, just put your digient in suspension until you’re ready to play with it again. Remember Tamagochi’s? Like that, times a million. Technology changes over the years, and not only are the socialized and raised digients ready for sale to the masses, there are now robot bodies that your digient can be downloaded into, so it can experience the real world, and walk around with you.


The story jumps ahead –  most of Ana’s friends move on,  they have children of their own, and no time or interest in what to them was never more than a digital pet they were being paid to raise. A friend who is planning family says she doesn’t need digients anymore, because “now she has the real thing”.  Ana feels left behind.


Technology changes yet more – the online server where the digients are hosted is so far in the technical past that its user must self fund it. And there are only a few people left.  Is the digient experient over? Should Ana give up on the digient she has raised for over 15 years? If software is not of use, if it can not be monetized, what is the purpose of its existence?  What if you, the “parent” of the software, don’t agree with how it is being monetized?

Read the rest of this entry »


Wow, it’s been a while since I reviewed Hugo stuff! Moving in the Novelette category, I’m going to start with Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”.  You can read this story over at the Subterranean Magazine site.

What should you follow? facts, or your feelings? It’s not a matter of which is better, it’’ a matter of which will make the world around you better.

Over his lifetime, the narrator has seen drastic changes in how people communicate, and how people record what happened to them. Everything from hand written journals and photography of his youth to the assistive software and subvocalization his daughter uses when she wants to “write” something. That is in italics because he doesn’t view what she does as writing. There’s no paper, there’s no pen, her hands aren’t moving. To him, it’s not writing. In this near future story there are also “lifelogs”, a googleglass meets blog thing, where you can record important moments of your life for the purpose of playing them back later. Some people record their entire lives, thus the market for a product called Remem, that helps you sift through your lifelog to find the moment you’re looking for.

Perfect factual memory, it’s the invention we’ve been waiting forever for, right? You could finally find out who laughed at you at your high school cheerleading audition, or if it was you or your spouse who forgot to lock the front door. This is the epitome of personal record keeping. The narrator is excited to use this new technology to repair his relationship with his daughter. He can go back and review their conversations and fights, see where everything went wrong. Is a perfect memory a gift? or a curse?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

Published July 2011

Where I got it: rec’d  a review copy from Harper Voyager

Why I read it: have been following this doctor for a while, and I want to get my hands on anything Jeff VanderMeer is involved in







In homage of the Neatorama game that would have an utter nerdgasm if faced with Dr Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities, I offer you the ultimate meta’d “What is it?” game: The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities itself.

Well, what is it? Exhibition? Self guided museum tour? Self referential satire? A massive inside joke? Eulogy? An unearthing of the madness of a harmless eccentric? I think a line from the movie Catch Me if You Can, (which coincidentally came out the year before Lambshead’s death) sums it up nicely: “people only know what you tell ‘em”.

Dr Thackery T Lambshead was born in 1900. Trained as a physician and scientist, but a true renaissance man, Dr. Lambshead travelled the world, collecting things here and there, making sure other things got back to their home countries, filling countless diaries with descriptions along the way. Briefly married in the 1950’s, the doctor may have never fully recovered from his wife’s tragic death in a car accident. Filling his home with collectibles and oddities, and occasionally culling the collection by permanently lending items out to museums, he became more and more eccentric. After his death in 2003, appraisers made their way through his home, discovering wonder after bizarre wonder, and trying to connect the objects to descriptions and references found in Thackery’s diaries. And then they happened on the secret underground bunker, a cabinet of curiosities that made the upstairs collection look like nothing more than a museum gift shop.

The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities then, is a collection of remembrances of the doctor himself, descriptions (and some outright guesses) of the strange items found in his home, and most importantly it is an attempt to discover what would cause a man to fill his home with such strange and disturbing things. With entries by Ted Chiang, Rachel Swirsky, Charles Yu, Michael Cisco and Reza Negarestani, Lev Grossman, Naomi Novik among many, many others, along with corresponding artwork and photographs, this is a book that’s more than a book. It’s a curiosity unto itself, an experience, a portal, a self guided tour through the mind of someone whose collection created him as much as he created his collection.

Read the rest of this entry »

Subterranean Press, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

– beautiful cover art
– you publish a lot of stuff that I really, really want to read!!
– limited editions with even more beautiful artwork at very reasonable prices
– reprints of older stuff that is impossible to find
– your newsletter is timely, and not annoying
and you blurbed me. in one of your front page articles on your site for reviews I wrote for Neal Stephenson’s Zodiac, and Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects.

this is one of those things that makes a reviewer very, very happy. You read a great book, attempt to write a really good review, and then the publisher blurbs you on their site.

Granted, I wrote these reviews for SFRevu, a well known speculative fiction e-zine, so they are credited to SFRevu and not me, but still! A publisher noticed something I wrote!

What are these articles, you ask? Behold!
Subterranean blurb

Full review for Ted Chiang’s Lifecycle of Software Objects is here.

Full review for Neal Stephenson’s Zodiac is here

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,615 other subscribers
Follow the Little Red Reviewer on



FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.