A Bad Place Full Of Bad Jerks

Gawrker Literary Corner: Stories of Your Life and Others

Hell is the Absence of God is the finest story I’ve ever read. It is one of 8 stories in the collection above-named by Ted Chiang.

To be perfectly honest, without Hell is the Absence of God, I might have given the collection 4 out of 5 stars. I am in no way delusional about the impact, in the real word, of such a “demotion.” Utter meaninglessness is the true consequence of whatever rating I give this book. However, I prefer to remain at least internally consistent, you know? It’s all I’ve got. As they say, a man has got to have a code.

And now that we’re done with my investigation of my cosmological importance, I can say again that Hell is the Absence of God is the finest story I’ve ever read. I wish it was a thousand pages long. I wish it was a million pages long. Ted Chiang creates a world where wild new rules apply and barely scratches the surface of the implications. But he explores the world—and all of the weirdness therein—enough that it made a seriously lasting impact on me.

I’m not particularly religious, in that I honestly haven’t made my mind up on the issue (or, for that matter, done much thinking on the subject at all) but Ted Chiang’s view of God is probably the most well thought out I’ve read. It is, for that matter, devastatingly funny.

Humorously, there is a part of the story where truly devoted individuals (in this world the existence of God is proven—no doubts, verifiable, etc. etc.—so the only measure of holiness in a person is devotion) describe the experience of when they found the love of God. These individuals usually cannot say anything that convinces a non-believer. They tend to simply end up describing their moment of rapture in glowing terms. They convince the already devoted and mostly exasperate the non-devoted. I suspect my review of the story would end up more like that than anything else were I to continue further.

The rest of the stories range from fairly good to extremely good. There are no bad stories; no wasted reading. Some of them are merely acceptable but not particularly insightful or interesting. Upon further reflection I probably still would’ve given the book 5 stars without Hell is the Absence of God. But I probably wouldn’t have been too distracted to think about much of anything else 6 hours later, like I am now.


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