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Einstein once described his life as a series of attempts to free himself from the chains of the "merely personal." That's an interesting phrase: "merely personal." Does the personal deserve to be prefaced by the word "merely"? There's a sense in which that question lies at the heart of the divide between SF and mainstream fiction; SF readers routinely criticize mainstream fiction for focusing too tightly on the personal, while mainstream readers criticize SF for giving short shrift to the personal.

Which is the greater tragedy: the fall of an empire, or the end of your marriage? Is it more important to make a major scientific discovery, or to be a good parent to your child? It's a false dichotomy to say that fiction should only concern itself with one or the other; all of these issues are worthy subjects for fiction. Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell stories on a grand scale and an intimate scale simultaneously, and most fiction prioritizes one over the other. Science fiction has traditionally opted for the fall of empires and the scientific discoveries, but that preference is not intrinsic to the genre.

One of the writers who helped me realize that was Edward Bryant. The stories in his collection Particle Theory showed me that science could be used metaphorically to illuminate human experience, and that the personal could reinforce the "big ideas" rather than compete with them. I discovered him when I was in college, at the same time I first started reading writers like William Gibson and Gene Wolfe and John Crowley. They all expanded my ideas of what SF could do, but the one whose influence on my work is clearest is Bryant.


Read "Particle Theory," by Edward Bryant




Ted Chiang is the author of the collection Stories of Your Life and Others and, most recently, the novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects. His fiction has won the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and Locus awards.
Current Issue
24 Feb 2020

tight braids coiled into isles and continents against our scalps
By: Mayra Paris
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Mayra Paris's “New York, 2009.”
This Mind and Body Cyborg as a queer figure raises its head in Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s 2019 epistolary novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, as two Cyborg bodies shed their previous subjectivities in order to find a queer understanding of one another.
Carl just said ‘if the skull wants to break out, it will have to come to me for the key’, which makes me think that Carl doesn’t really understand how breaking out of a place works.
Wednesday: The Heart of the Circle by Keren Landsman 
Friday: Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren 
Issue 17 Feb 2020
By: Priya Sridhar
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: E. F. Schraeder
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 10 Feb 2020
By: Shannon Sanders
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
Issue 3 Feb 2020
By: Ada Hoffmann
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: S.R. Tombran
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 27 Jan 2020
By: Weston Richey
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 20 Jan 2020
By: Justin C. Key
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jessica P. Wick
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 13 Jan 2020
By: Julianna Baggott
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Terese Mason Pierre
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Terese Mason Pierre
Issue 6 Jan 2020
By: Mitchell Shanklin
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Nikoline Kaiser
Podcast read by: Nikoline Kaiser
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Issue 23 Dec 2019
By: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Maya Chhabra
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 16 Dec 2019
By: Osahon Ize-Iyamu
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Liu Chengyu
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 9 Dec 2019
By: SL Harris
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jessy Randall
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
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