Hell Is the Absence of God

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"Hell Is the Absence of God"
Author Ted Chiang
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Starlight #3

"Hell Is the Absence of God" is a 2001 novelette by Ted Chiang, first published in Starlight #3; in 2002, the story won a Hugo Award,[1] a Nebula Award,[2] and a Locus Award.[3] It was also a finalist for the 2002 Theodore Sturgeon Award,[4] and won the 2004 Seiun Award.[5]


The novelette is set in a world where the existence of God, souls, and hell are provable, and where miracles and angelic visitations are commonplace—albeit not necessarily benevolent: for instance, the protagonist's wife is killed by the collateral damage of an angel's presence, having been "hit by flying glass when the angel's billowing curtain of flame shattered the storefront window of the café in which she was eating. She bled to death within minutes." Chiang has explicitly stated that the story is "straight fantasy,"[6] because it takes place in a universe "in which the scientific method doesn't work."[7]


Robert J. Sawyer and David G. Hartwell described Hell Is the Absence of God as the "best single SF story of 2002".[8] Conversely, John C. Wright has described it as "trite antichristian propaganda".[9] Elf Sternberg has compared the novelette to C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, saying that although Lewis is a supporter of God, Chiang is "far more ambivalent".[10]

It was reprinted in Chiang's 2002 anthology, Stories of Your Life and Others, in Year's Best Fantasy 2, and in Fantasy: The Best of 2001.

Ken Liu wrote "Single-Bit Error", a short story published in 2009, in response to Hell Is the Absence of God.


  1. ^ "2002 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. 
  2. ^ "2003 Nebula Awards". The Locus Index to SF Awards. Locus. 
  3. ^ "News Log, July 2002". Locus Online. Locus. 
  4. ^ Honors for Starlight 3 stories at Patrick Nielsen Hayden's official site
  5. ^ 2004 Awards (Japanese)
  6. ^ Ted Chiang interviewed at Infinity Plus
  7. ^ Locus, July 2011, Issue 606 (vol. 67, no.1), "Scientific Method: Interview with Ted Chiang"
  8. ^ Robert J. Sawyer, FictionWise Recommender at Fictionwise (via archive.org)
  9. ^ John C. Wright's review of Stories of Your Life and Others; by John C. Wright; at Amazon.com; published February 13, 2003; retrieved March 11, 2014
  10. ^ Oh, what the harsh light of reason hath wrought: Elf Sternberg's Livejournal for January 11, 2006