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The informal TechCrunch book club is now venturing into the short story Exhalation, the second piece in Ted Chiang’s eponymous collection.
Today’s story gets at the meaning of existence, climate change, community, and connection all within a beautifully intricate story that runs for just a few handfuls of pages. I was hooked, and so let’s talk about some of the messages Chiang wants to send as part of the piece.
Some quick notes:
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Chiang - Story - Substances - Air - Story
Chiang has constructed a magnificent story around the most basic and forgettable of substances: air. He starts the story with what otherwise appears to be a normal day in the life of an everyday human, but within a few paragraphs, we learn that the narrator is “going to the filling stations” and it slowly dawns on us that the narrator — and all the people that populate this imaginative world — are actually some form of cybernetic beings, dependent on a mechanical supply of air for their machined bodies.
We learn that these filling stations where people pick up their air supply aren’t just refueling utilities, but are key community outposts where connections are formed between people. “For the filling stations are the primary venue for social conversation, the places from which we draw emotional sustenance as well as physical.” But that’s not all, Chiang writes. “… there is camaraderie derived from the awareness that all our air comes from the same source…”
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