BSFA Award Short Stories 1

Since the BSFA has given me the chance to catch up on the candidates for its short story award for 2009, I decided to give them all a whirl. Starting with:-

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang has garnered a reputation as a writer of excellent SF short stories but has not as far as I know produced a novel length work. Since he has mostly been published in the US I have not previously actually read anything of his.

Exhalation at first reminded me a bit of Cordwainer Smith’s Scanners Live In Vain dealing as it does with attachments to/in the chest area but it rapidly devolved from this template to become something quite other (its world’s inhabitants are clearly not human) while still retaining the sense of detachment I remember from that work.

While the story here is well written, there is a good deal of information dumping and, more unfortunately, absolutely no character interaction, the whole being almost declaimed, in a lecturing tone, by the agonist. (I could not call [it?] a protagonist as there is no one else for it to protag against or with.)

The idea that existence is merely one long exhalation, a running down, is nicely fashioned but in essence harks back to the New Worlds era of the 1960s and its preoccupation with entropy. There is obviously a sense of environmental decay running through stories such as these which, of course, has resonances with our (globally warmer) times.

There were unfortunately some typos or mis-edits. I always find this annoying as, for me, they mar the reading experience. It made me wonder if these appeared in the original or were introduced in the transcription to the BSFA publication (admittedly unlikely in this electronic age.)

I can see why others would nominate this story for an award as the writing is polished and the narrative strives for significance. My own thought was that this was all just too contrived and the author trying too hard. In the end, Exhalation didn’t satisfy the way an award winner ought to.

Exhalation has also been nominated for the Hugo Award (effectively the World Science Fiction Award.) Ian Sales reviews those candidates here.

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