Exhalation (short story)

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Author Ted Chiang
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Eclipse 2: New Science Fiction and Fantasy
Publication type Book
Publication date November 15, 2008[1]

"Exhalation" is a science fiction short story by American writer Ted Chiang. It was first published in 2008 in the anthology Eclipse 2: New Science Fiction and Fantas, edited by Jonathan Strahan. It won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.[2]


The story is epistolary in nature, taking the form of a scientist's journal entry. The scientist is a member of a race of air-driven mechanical beings. The race obtains air from swappable lungs filled with pressurized air from underground. When it is realized that a number of clocks simultaneously appear to be running fast but they do not appear to be malfunctioning, the narrator decides to explore the explanation that people's brains are computing slower.

The scientist dissects his or her own brain and discovers that it operates based on the movement of air through gold leaves. The scientist hypothesizes that others' brains are computing slower because rising atmospheric pressure causes air to pass through the leaves at a slower rate. As the people pump air from underground, they are increasing the air pressure above ground. The scientist realizes that eventually, when the air pressure is the same above and below ground, all computation and time itself will cease. The hypothesis is confirmed and becomes mainstream. The narrator ponders the possible existence of other universes and how equilibrium is the fate of all universes. The scientist concludes that though equilibrium is inevitable, the beauty of life and civilization is not and rather is a miracle.


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