Hell is the Absence of God • 2001 • Fantasy novelette by Ted Chiang



Heaven, Hell, angels, and souls are observable facts in Neil Fisk’s contemporary world leaving no room for disbelief. He lost his wife in a collateral incident of one of those indifferent angels’ visit (or crashdown) to a downtown shopping district. Now, he tracks angels like one of those hurricane watchers, just to see the light, rise to heaven, and thus get to his wife once again. Because those who see the light, are grotesquely disfigured and guaranteed a passage to heaven.


Low on plot, high on religion and philosophy, this is Chiang’s satire on Theodicy; it is a direct response to the climax of the Book of Job. A solid story, but very boring and heavy-weight, even preachery in its message:

God is not just, God is not kind, God is not merciful, and understanding that is essential to true devotion.

I liked the narrative style: tight third person without direct speech, switching from protagonist to protagonist like a documentary, taut and well-constructed. It has an omniscient narrator, who knows internal struggles or thoughts.

From my personal point of view, it is one of Chiang’s weaker stories – I’m not that invested in his theological opinion. I found it profoundly weaker than his linguistic or computer science extrapolations in other stories. It works fine as a satire, but fails on Chiang’s usual cleverness to incorporate many different streams of knowledge when he tackles one specific science – in this case religion.

Meta: isfdb. This Fantasy novelette was published July 2001 in Starlight 3. I read it as part of Chiang’s collection Stories of Your Life and Others. It won Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards in 2002.



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