The SFFaudio Podcast #542 – What’s Expected Of Us from Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang; This is an unabridged reading of What’s Expected Of Us (6 minutes) followed by a discussion of the Penguin Random House Audio audiobook of Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang.
participants in the discussion include Jesse, Paul Weimer, Maissa Bessada, Evan Lampe, Wayne June, and Terence Blake
Talked about on today’s show:
his second collection, 17 years to come out, The Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate, squint hard, a lot of them have a focus on children, he had some kids?, a theme, teaching and growing, parenting, Anxiety Is The Dizziness Of Freedom, a science fiction story with mimetic fiction problems, Dacy’s Patent Automatic Nanny, childrearing, not the major theme, background thought processes, fate and destiny, an abiding theme, care and caring, finding truths closer to home, The Great Silence, dissecting one’s own brain, straight up science fiction, Kim Stanley Robinson, you fools, you’re wasting your life, Paul could rant, set on spaceships, making sense of reality, a test subject for another star, they’re all standouts, its not our universe, a creationist universe, a dread discovery, the center of the universe is elsewhere, Earth as a prototype for someone else, an epistolary manner, a crisis of faith, Poul Anderson, a mixed relationship, life after death, finding a way to be comfortable with that fact, approaching the subject of entropy, the universe is winding down, nobody is going to live forever, comforting ideas, all just whistling past the graveyard, a positive conclusion about it, how do you look into the abyss and come away with a happy attitude, be happy on the way down, Oomphalos, I’m in charge now, now she has free will, he explores free will from every direction, the audiobook from Tantor, it took a long time for audiobooks to become the dominant medium for people who actually read, I don’t get many ideas, most reviewers on YouTube: booktubers?, a whole universe of people, people who read books are really weird, every week you wanna be reading a new book? what a weirdo, the New York Times bestseller, books not designed to be read, overwritten, as any right thinking person would, these should be longer, very presumptuous, I want more of this, throwing down idea much bigger than the package he places them in, Wayne liked the shortest stories best, educated super-intelligent, deep thought, rigorous self-examination, tedious, on and on and on, 48 minutes, The Lifecycle Of Software Of Objects, concentrated science fiction, two drops in a cup of water, what it means, navel, center, a role playing anecdote, the enemy is the they (the center of the universe), we’re the center of the universe, The Middle Kingdom, Middle Sea, everywhere is the center, everybody’s stupid because their vision is so limited, a young earth, a parallel in our own history, reason for belief, mummies with no navels, obviously not created, his guiding philosophy, if there was a miracle, its on rails, preodomites, other people, The Truth Of Fact The Truth Of Feeling, deeply profound, a Black Mirror episode, some colonial guy getting colonized, writing and reading, auto text generator, no periods, Roman monuments used dots not spaces, pre-modern Chinese, getting it from context, cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, right in Jesse’s zone, Bros. Grimm concertizing, once in book form, Jesse doesn’t really take notes, one of the things going on, going back to an oral culture, Socrates, cost effective, the Romans were into copying and photo-copying each other’s works, questioning the nature of truth and reality, really cool, what truth is, Scott and Jesse conversations on truth, people complaining about truth, he’s more truthful about his lying, politician lying, not a wise man, wiser than some of the fools that have been so smart in the past, he was not the same, name recognition, you know exactly what his motivation is, truth is not one thing, your own memory of what reality was, science as being replicable, that whole diatribe, truth is that what is, there is an objective truth, we hope, touch the Eiffel Tower, a subjective conclusion, the objective truth, defining truth, relativistic, its subtle, tirade harangue fulmination, discursive, who designed it?, maybe he stole that plan, the more you don’t examine and are unable to reexamine stuff…, religious truth, truths which motivation action, William James, pragmatism, because it was false, smoke sacrifice to the gods was meaningless, intersecting with other science fiction stories, Living Space by Isaac Asimov, king of your own planet, a real estate story, jack hammering off the coast of Labrador, a Nazi universe, Genghis Khan, mythological pseudo-historical figure, the universe does and doesn’t care about you, making a connection with science, those most interested in religion were scientists, Isaac Newton, the original Bible Code person, the impact might have been diluted, these people don’t die, there is no biology, this culture built up around air-stations, eating as a cultural event, if you get this you can tell the story, The Nine Billion Names Of God and The Star by Arthur C. Clarke, sacrificed, hits Paul in the feels, the three narcissistic wounds, Sigmund Freud, the Earth is not the center, Darwin and evolution, that the ego thinks it is free is an illusion, strong with archaeological proofs, freedom, no final answer, interesting concepts, Olaf Stapledon, a whole book from one paragraph of Starmaker, Jorge Luis Borges, The Library Of Babel, standing room for sleeping, why this illusory duplication, this is not our world, there’s no food, they’re more like robots in a certain sense, all the argon is coming to them from something beneath them, who invented the robots?, a blank slate, the robot equivalent, an analogy of the heat death of the universe, “we existed we were real”, a self contained universe, a navel gazing story, working the same theme, Jesus in South America (the God of Dreams) [The Circular Ruins], teaching the A.I.s consciousness, self-dissecting, a good example that doesn’t exist in the same way as ours does, the transference between universes, the prism, Anxiety Is The Dizziness Of Freedom, Until The End Of The World (1999), replaying your dreams, so much about them, the perfect obsessive movie for you, gazing into who you are, the machine allows you to navel gaze, fomo = fear of missing out, the grass is greener, a simple idea, fragmenting kaleidoscopic versions of reality, only a few months old and it was going up in value, diminishing returns, amazing sparky thoughts, pirated songs, I’d make so much money, information is the only thing passed between universes, copyrighted specifically for you, the same wound, possible yous, not being paralyzed, why not?, one of me is going to do it, destroys your ordinary criteria for action, a high dose of neg-entropy, the school shooters, what effect would it have, Jesse derives solace from being (sort of) a determinist, science fiction about the difficulty of weather prediction, are there more murders now?, outliers, fads, more of the same, All The Myriad Ways by Larry Niven, you might lose your will to do things, What’s Expected Of Us, whichever universe you’re in, Vanessa, an unstable person, Counterpart, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, as Evan pointed out on his podcast, the universe is very small, seeing what’s going on outside, they’re all blending together, he thought he had done so much work, that’s much to harsh, words can sometimes resonate very deeply, the non-simple truth, a reality we are distantly connected to, poor connections, emergent things, to know what truth is (is tough), a longer meditation, the longest thing he’s ever written, either these people are wasting their lives or we’re all wasting our lives, where’s the truth there WAYNE?, to leap into agnosticism, relate to our interpretation of reality, we can only do what we can do, the motif of harmful sensation, The Imp Of The Perverse, physical or mental damage you can suffer, explicitly shoutsout to H.P. Lovecraft, akinetic mutism, won’t or can’t speak or won’t or can’t move, the motif of harmful sensation, a truly convincing argument that life is pointless might qualify, it doesn’t matter, a thread running through (or more than one), Ted Chiang has got a brain, the Lovecraftian horror, like a cognitive plague, a thought that explores the thinker, a Godel sentence, I try to act as if or rather action happens, pretend you have free will, believing the lie is the only way to avoid this waking coma, civilization relies on self-deception (perhaps it always has), The Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate, living it, this universe might have slipped into equilibrium with nothing more than a quiet hiss, that in itself is beauty, in the next bottle over, the Complete Works of Shakespeare except it’s “Shmamlet”, the meaning is fake, Paul’s fear, robot descendants,
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
not a horror story but a science fiction truth, truths always in refinement, David Hume, past behavior, Robert Wright’s interview with Ted Chiang, The Story Of Your Life, a silly seeming story, Arrival, are you going to roll up into a little ball or are you going to affirm it?, the pharmacon, poison and medicine, make you a paralyzed mute or a creative, it takes all that time or that care to make that stuff literary, Wayne’s in a little ball, Wayne’s gonna complain, some stuff’s going to happen, get some jokes in there, WTF, we’re all gonna be specks in a layer of basalt, Tony C. Smith’s StarShipSofa, a Ted Chiang fan forever now, four stories, nested stories, Arabian Nights, Scheherazade, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, The Garden Of Forking Paths, you can read it forever, a story that’s circular, in the exact middle you have a point around which everything swirls, the knowledge for where the treasure under the tree came from, super symmetrical, so wonderful, a time travel story in which there’s no technological difference, no traditional time travel tropes, there’s no predicting eclipse, he steals from himself, he predicts the albino baby and gets out of prison, The Diamond Necklace or The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant, there’s the pit of despair, the story is the treasure, we as the prince get the benefit, why the title is Exhalation: Stories, The Great Silence, John Paul Sartre with possible worlds, Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny, whatever works is true, the suppression of this technology because of the ruling class, nowhere for that to go, a remaking of humanity, thinking about childrearing while childrearing, mimetic fiction is all about divorces, my experience with my marriage, different parents have different levels of interest in their own child’s rearing, would have benefited the working class, the washing machine is liberatory, television as the babysitter, smartphones, is that wrong, a typical Ted Chiang thing, an actual syndrome: psychosocial dwarfism, growth hormones stop operating, emotional malnutrition, not an ideal human state, really bougie, homeschooling, unschooling, the class dimension, a survival strategy, a metaphor for public schooling, The Electric Ant by Philip K. Dick, Nanny by Philip K. Dick, the planned obsolescence angle, aloof parents, more attached to the nanny than to the parents, gladiatorial nannies, what if they trigger while raising the kids, if you follow police state logic, hands are dangerous weapons, tape their mouths up, and kill everybody (to be safe), the rational childcare device, a more cutesy vignette
reading, or being read, Ted Chiang stories, is like quaffing pure liters of undiluted SCIENCE FICTION from the fount in which it was first forged. And I tell you, without hyperbole, that Science Fiction absolutely cannot die as long as TED CHIANG lives and writes it.
asking and posing the big questions, natural science, parallel universes, asking questions, collecting and systematizing, that guy we didn’t like, The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn, “proving things”, weapons of mass destruction, 17 intelligence agencies, how can we falsify this?, holy shit he was right!, thought experiments, thinking them through completely, exploring a philosophical point, you can’t do it with mimetic fiction, what happens if…, that’s what they all are, the author afterwords offer insight, that I’m taking my head apart scene, a reverse infodump, we can’t understand ourselves, arguments like proverbs (suck), limiting understanding, refusing that limit, there’s no Godellian self-impossibility, what Dick does, almost like a drug metaphor, the thought’s he’s having and the thoughts he’s expressing, if you want to get into a big fight, tell me my hand is not my hand, memory, Hal, the difference, Ted Chiang doesn’t have this paranoia, adjacent to technology, the guy measuring the ether, how do we know what we know, the art installation for The Great Silence, Alex the talking parrot, very emotional, their beak is kind of their hand, emotional realities, those Alex videos, a whole other mind we have access to through regular English, these humans are looking for intelligence in the universe, the search for terrestrial intelligence, pretty cool, kinda heartbreaking, the whole Alex thing, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish by Douglas Adams, Arecibo, it hears the voice of creation, the lasting breath, spirit as the breath of God, the breath is not me, he’s having it both ways, these copper plates, audio versus text, in another five years, Wayne would personally recommend the book and the audiobook, here’s where I got the idea, at the end of every story, as a collection, this book we can hand off to people, I feel stupid when I’m reading stupid, reading this makes me feel like I’m the genius that I am, I’m sophisticated, I’m so stupid, not having brilliant ideas all day long, a guy practicing his words for his sermon, thinking on aloud, thinking on paper, writing therapy, cast them out of you, people are made of stories.
Posted by Jesse Willis