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


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,"[1] because it takes place in a universe "in which the scientific method doesn't work."[2]


"Hell Is" won the 2002 Hugo Award for Best Novelette,[3] the 2002 Nebula Award for Best Novelette,[4] and the Locus Award for Best Novelette.[5] It was also a finalist for the 2002 Theodore Sturgeon Award,[6] and won the 2004 Seiun Award.[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]

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


  1. ^ Ted Chiang interviewed at Infinity Plus
  2. ^ Locus, July 2011, Issue 606 (vol. 67, no.1), "Scientific Method: Interview with Ted Chiang"
  3. ^ "2002 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. 
  4. ^ "2003 Nebula Awards". The Locus Index to SF Awards. Locus. 
  5. ^ "News Log, July 2002". Locus Online. Locus. 
  6. ^ Honors for Starlight 3 stories at Patrick Nielsen Hayden's official site
  7. ^ 2004 Awards (Japanese)
  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; originally published at Amazon.com, February 13, 2003; archived at SciFiWright.com, November 16, 2009; retrieved September 1, 2015
  10. ^ Oh, what the harsh light of reason hath wrought: Elf Sternberg's Livejournal for January 11, 2006