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Exhalation: Stories

Ted Chiang

This much-anticipated second collection of stories is signature Ted Chiang, full of revelatory ideas and deeply sympathetic characters. In "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and the temptation of second chances. In the epistolary "Exhalation," an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications not just for his own people, but for all of reality. And in "The Lifecycle of Software Objects," a woman cares for an artificial intelligence over twenty years, elevating a faddish digital pet into what might be a true living being. Also included are two brand-new stories: "Omphalos" and "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom."

In this fantastical and elegant collection, Ted Chiang wrestles with the oldest questions on earth--What is the nature of the universe? What does it mean to be human?--and ones that no one else has even imagined. And, each in its own way, the stories prove that complex and thoughtful science fiction can rise to new heights of beauty, meaning, and compassion.

Table of Contents:

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Gregg Press Science Fiction Series: Book 69

Philip K. Dick

The Three Stigmata hid a secret that could transform the world - or end it...

When the mysterious Palmer Eldritch returned from a distant galaxy, he claimed to have brought a gift for mankind. Chew-Z was a drug capable of transporting people into an illusory world, a world the could linger in for years wihout losing a second of Earth time. For the lonely colonists living out their dreary term on Mars, here was the ultimate trip, a pastime that could deliver immortality, wish fulfillment... the twin-power over time and space.

But in return, Palmer Eldritch exacted a terrible price. He would enter, control and be a god in everyone's private universe - a universe from which there was no escape, not even death...

A Choice of Gods

Clifford D. Simak

One night in July, 2135, there were some eight billion people on Earth. The next morning there were perhaps 400. There was no clue to what had happened to the world's population -- but, over the centuries that followed, still stranger things occurred.

The human lifespan now stretched to millenia instead of decades, and much of the remaining population developed the ability to move at will among the stars -- and abandoned their homeworld for a life in deep space.

Then, after 3000 years, a star-rover discovered what had happened to Earth's original inhabitants -- and that they were coming to reclaim their heritage. Those who had stayed behind knew, with a growing fear, that the mystery of what had been done to Earth and why was about to be solved ... in a way that would change humanity forever.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob)

Bobiverse: Book 1

Dennis E. Taylor

Bob Johansson has just sold his software company and is looking forward to a life of leisure. There are places to go, books to read, and movies to watch. So it's a little unfair when he gets himself killed crossing the street. Bob wakes up a century later to find that corpsicles have been declared to be without rights, and he is now the property of the state. He has been uploaded into computer hardware and is slated to be the controlling AI in an interstellar probe looking for habitable planets. The stakes are high: no less than the first claim to entire worlds. If he declines the honor, he'll be switched off, and they'll try again with someone else. If he accepts, he becomes a prime target. There are at least three other countries trying to get their own probes launched first, and they play dirty. The safest place for Bob is in space, heading away from Earth at top speed. Or so he thinks. Because the universe is full of nasties, and trespassers make them mad - very mad.

The Android's Dream

John Scalzi

A human diplomat creates an interstellar incident when he kills an alien diplomat in a most... unusual... way. To avoid war, Earth's government must find an equally unusual object: A type of sheep ("The Android's Dream"), used in the alien race's coronation ceremony.

To find the sheep, the government turns to Harry Creek, ex-cop, war hero and hacker extraordinare, who with the help of Brian Javna, a childhood friend turned artificial intelligence, scours the earth looking for the rare creature. And they find it, in the unknowing form of Robin Baker, pet store owner, whose genes contain traces of the sheep DNA.

But there are others with plans for the sheep as well: Mercenaries employed by the military. Adherents of a secret religion based on the writings of a 21st century science fiction author. And alien races, eager to start a revolution on their home world and a war on Earth.

To keep our planet from being enslaved, Harry will have to pull off the greatest diplomatic coup in history, a grand gambit that will take him from the halls of power to the lava-strewn battlefields of alien worlds. There's only one chance to get it right, to save the life of Robin Baker -- and to protect the future of humanity.

Mona Lisa Overdrive

The Sprawl Trilogy: Book 3

William Gibson

William Gibson, author of the extraordinary multiaward-winning novel Neuromancer, has written his most brilliant and thrilling work to date... The Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Enter Gibson's unique world--lyric and mechanical, erotic and violent, sobering and exciting--where multinational corporations and high tech outlaws vie for power, traveling into the computer-generated universe known as cyberspace.

Into this world comes Mona, a young girl with a murky past and an uncertain future whose life is on a collision course with internationally famous Sense/Net star Angie Mitchell.

Since childhood, Angie has been able to tap into cyberspace without a computer.

Now, from inside cyberspace, a kidnapping plot is masterminded by a phantom entity who has plans for Mona, Angie, and all humanity, plans that cannot be controlled... or even known.

And behind the intrigue lurks the shadowy Yazuka, the powerful Japanese underworld, whose leaders ruthlessly manipulate people and events to suit their own purposes... or so they think.

For We Are Many

Bobiverse: Book 2

Dennis E. Taylor

Bob Johansson didn't believe in an afterlife, so waking up after being killed in a car accident was a shock. To add to the surprise, he is now a sentient computer and the controlling intelligence for a Von Neumann probe.

Bob and his copies have been spreading out from Earth for 40 years now, looking for habitable planets. But that's the only part of the plan that's still in one piece. A system-wide war has killed off 99.9% of the human race; nuclear winter is slowly making the Earth uninhabitable; a radical group wants to finish the job on the remnants of humanity; the Brazilian space probes are still out there, still trying to blow up the competition; And the Bobs have discovered a spacefaring species that sees all other life as food.

Bob left Earth anticipating a life of exploration and blissful solitude. Instead he's become a sky god to a primitive native species, the only hope for getting humanity to a new home, and possibly the only thing that can prevent every living thing in the local sphere from ending up as dinner.

The Phoenix Exultant

The Golden Age: Book 2

John C. Wright

The Phoenix Exultant is a continuation of the story begun in The Golden Age and like it, a grand space opera in the tradition of Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny (with a touch of Cordwainer Smith-style invention).

At the conclusion of the first book, Phaethon of Radamanthus House, was left an exile from his life of power and privilege. Now he embarks upon a quest across the transformed solar system--Jupiter is a second sun, Mars and Venus terraformed, humanity immortal--among humans, intelligent machines, and bizarre life forms, to recover his memory, to regain his place in society and to move that society away from stagnation and toward the stars. And most of all Phaethon's quest is to regain ownership of the magnificent starship, the Phoenix Exultant, the most wonderful ship ever built, and fly her to the stars.

The Phoenix Exultantis an astounding story of super science, a thrilling wonder story that recaptures the verve of SF's golden age writers It is a suitably grand and stirring fulfillment of the promise shown in The Golden Age and confirms John C. Wright as a major new talent in the field. He concludes the Golden Age trilogy in The Golden Transcendence.

The Jesus Incident

WorShip: Book 2

Frank Herbert
Bill Ransom

A sentient Ship with godlike powers (and aspirations) delivers the last survivors of humanity to a horrific, poisonous planet, Pandora--rife with deadly Nerve-Runners, Hooded Dashers, airborne jellyfish, and intelligent kelp. Chaplain/Psychiatrist Raja Lon Flattery is brought back out of hybernation to witness Ship's machinations as well as the schemes of human scientists manipulating the genetic structure of humanity. Sequel to Frank Herbert's Destination: Void, the first book in Herbert & Ransom's Pandora Sequence.

The Terminal Experiment

Robert J. Sawyer

To test his theories of immortality and life after death, Dr. Peter Hobson has created three electronic simulations of his own personality. The first has all knowledge of physical existence edited out, to simulate life after death. The second is without knowledge of aging or death, to simulate immortality. The third is unmodified, a control.

Now they are free. One is a killer.

Software

Ware: Book 1

Rudy Rucker

It was Cobb Anderson who built the"boppers"--the first robots with real brains. Now, in 2020, Cobb is just another aged "pheezer" with a bad heart, drinking and grooving an the old tunes in Florida retirement hell. His "bops" have came a long way, though, rebelling against their subjugation to set up their own society an the moon. And now they're offering creator Cobb immortality but at a stiff price: his body his soul... and his world.

Mother of Storms

John Barnes

In the middle of the Pacific, a gigantic hurricane accidentally triggered by nuclear explosions spawns dozens more in its wake.A world linked by a virtual-reality network experiences the devastation first hand, witnessing the death of civilization as we know it and the violent birth of an emerging global consciousness.

Vast in scope, yet intimate in personal detail, Mother of Storms is a visionary fusion of cutting-edge cyberspace fiction and heart-stopping storytelling in the grand tradition, filled with passion, tragedy, and the triumph of the human spirit.

Silently and Very Fast

Catherynne M. Valente

Hugo- and Nebula-nominated Novella

Fantastist Catherynne M. Valente takes on the folklore of artificial intelligence in this brand new, original novella of technology, identity, and an uncertain mechanized future.

Neva is dreaming. But she is not alone. A mysterious machine entity called Elefsis haunts her and the members of her family, back through the generations to her great-great grandmother-a gifted computer programmer who changed the world. Together Neva and Elefsis navigate their history and their future, an uneasy, unwilling symbiote. But what they discover in their dreamworld might change them forever...


Read this story online for free at Clarkesworld: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Prophets

Apotheosis: Book 1

S. Andrew Swann

It's been nearly 200 years since the collapse of the Confederacy, the last government to claim humanity's colonies. So when signals come in revealing lost human colonies that could shift the power balance, the race is on between the Caliphate ships and a small team of scientists and mercenarys. But what awaits them all is a threat far beyond the scope of any human government.

Hybrids

The Neanderthal Parallax: Book 3

Robert J. Sawyer

Ponter Boddit and his Homo sapiens lover, geneticist Mary Vaughan, are torn between two worlds, struggling to find a way to make their star-crossed relationship work. Aided by banned Neanderthal technology, they plan to conceive the first hybrid child, a symbol of hope for the joining of their two versions of reality.

But after an experiment shows that Mary's religious faith - something completely absent in Neanderthals - is a quirk of the neurological wiring of Homo sapiens brains, Ponter and Mary must decide whether their child should be predisposed to atheism or belief. Meanwhile, as Mary's Earth is dealing with a collapse of its planetary magnetic field, her boss, the enigmatic Jock Krieger, has turned envious eyes on the unspoiled Eden that is the Neanderthal world...

Fall, or Dodge in Hell

Neal Stephenson

In his youth, Richard "Dodge" Forthrast founded Corporation 9592, a gaming company that made him a multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia.

One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge's family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived.

In the coming years, technology allows Dodge's brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife--the Bitworld--is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls.

But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem.

Silver Screen

Justina Robson

When Ray Croft dies he leaves behind a mystery that can only be solved by Anjuli O'Connell who has the memory of a machine. It's a mystery whose solution brings into question what it really means to be human. And it will reveal who Ray really was. Will Anjuli go through with it?

Queen of Angels

Queen of Angels: Book 1

Greg Bear

Los Angeles 2047, a city on the eve of the Binary Millennium. Public Defender Mary Choy faces her toughest assignment yet - to bring back Emanuel Goldsmith, acclaimed poet turned mass killer, from the heart of a Caribbean island that is about to explode in revolution.

The Computer Connection

Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester's first science fiction novel since The Stars My Destination was a major event. A fast-moving adventure story set in Earth's future. A band of immortals - as charming a bunch of eccentrics as you'll ever come across - recruit a new member, the brilliant Cherokee physicist Sequoya Guess. Dr. Guess, with group's help, gain control of Extro, the supercomputer that controls all mechanical activity on Earth. They plan to rid Earth of political repression and to further Guess's researches - which may lead to a great leap in human evolution to produce a race of supermen. But Extro takes over Guess instead and turns malevolent. The task of the merry band suddenly becomes a fight in deadly earnest for the future of Earth.

Sequoya Guess, whom they love, must be killed. And how do you kill an immortal?