Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Short Reviews of Short Stories

A few short bits-
Ted Chiang:
'Hell is the Absence of God' - terse, good pacing, and nonsensical. The plot, such as it is, depends upon the universe that Ted makes being very literally illogical.

'Division by Zero'- the writing wasn't as good as in HitAoG, but still quite good. The central idea is ludicrous. Any competent mathematician knows that math is just a model, a tool, not reality. The idea that a mathematician would be driven to suicide by discovering the Godel was right is is silly as the idea of a cartographer becoming suicidal upon learning a street had been added in Brooklyn.

'What's Expected of Us'- good writing, again. Again, bone-deep stupidity in the idea. The core premise - a device is invented that proves people have no free will; this results in despair, etc. My problem? If humans lack all free will then learning that wouldn't change anything; we couldn't decide anything, after all - we would lack free will. I find it as ridiculous as a man who writes books about the total lack of free will being proud of his test scores.

  I find Chiang to be a rather odd duck - his writing is competent but his ideas.... They strike me as the sort of ideas that stupid people think are profound. Or the sorts of ideas you hear from someone smoking weed.
  'What if God did something we didn't understand?'
  'Ooooh. Deep, man.'

Ken Liu:
'Single Bit Error'- Here because it is explicitly written because HitAoG was written. The writing is yeomanlike, and OK. But the story is nothing more than the statement 'no amount of evidence, direct or indirect, will convince me God is real, not even an angel meeting me face to face'. When I first read it I re-read it because I could not imagine anyone saying something like that on purpose. I think he was aiming for profundity, but each time I re-read it I am gripped with fremdschämen.

In much of recent work that I read, particularly in short fiction, I see a lot of what appears to be an author believing they are saying something profound when they are, instead, revealing their own shallowness of thought. That is the closest I can come to the feeling much of contemporary SF/F instills in me.

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