Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s Exhalation is one of my favourite short stories. Its centrepiece is a meticulous description of the protagonist’s self-dissection of his own brain. It’s a mechanical being (although the word mechanical seems too crude) so rather than blood and bone, it’s an assemblage of intricate mechanisms. Reading it takes some concentration — you really have to pay attention to each word and try to hold the image in your head as each detail is added — but it’s well worth the the effort.

When I was done, my brain looked like an explosion frozen an infinitesimal fraction of a second after the detonation, and again I felt dizzy when I thought about it. But at last the cognition engine itself was exposed, supported on a pillar of hoses and actuating rods leading down into my torso. I now also had room to rotate my microscope around a full three hundred and sixty degrees and pass my gaze across the inner faces of the subassemblies I had moved. What I saw was a microcosm of auric machinery, a landscape of tiny spinning rotors and miniature reciprocating cylinders.

You can find the story online at the Night Shade Books site, or in Chiang’s recent collection, also called Exhalation.

Published on Wednesday, December 11 2019