Chiang's written some of the best science-fiction short stories of the last fifteen years. But his high-concept and hard-science riffs avoid the gee-whiz and the jaded snarl, instead finding a melancholic chord underlying the genre. His stories repeatedly return to loss. Each new tech (or fantastic conceit) reengages problems we can never escape: death, self, soul, mind, others.
Here we track the design--and then, over a fast-track passage of years, the development--of digital organisms (digients). Chiang takes seriously Turing's argument that we won't program our way into AI, that instead new minds will require (as they always do) bodies, environments, experiences, relationships. This brief, condensed tale rigorously explores the implications -- our responsibilities for life online, the tangles of corporate & carnal & cultural influences. I was particularly struck by this fantasy's intersections with the implications of disability: how do we engage with minds that do not develop like "normal"?
This'll likely end up in anthologies at year's end, too--and it'd be fine to wait. I'm hesitant to recommend the limited edition hardcover for such a frustratingly brief story, and it's not quite the astonishment of a couple of his earlier stories. But it's good, and I strongly recommend Chiang's earlier collection.