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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
18 May 2020

“Have you seen the DEATH/GRIP Challenge meme?” Benito Oliveira said. “Yeah, it’s pretty funny,” she said. “It’s people pretending not to kill something with their off hand,” he said, as though she hadn’t responded.
By: Johnny Compton
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Anaea Lay presents Johnny Compton's “The DEATH/GRIP Challenge.”
One spring day, My grandfather caught the universe that just revived.
By: Jong-Ki Lim
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
In this episode of the Strange Horizons podcast, editor Ciro Faienza presents Jong-Ki Lim's “The Fall of Snakes.”
Issue 11 May 2020
By: Gabriela Santiago
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Ashley Bao
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 4 May 2020
By: Vida Cruz
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Raimo Kangasniemi
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 20 Apr 2020
By: Tamara Jerée
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: L. D. Lewis
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: L. D. Lewis
Issue 13 Apr 2020
By: Jo Miles
Art by: Galen Dara
By: Jo Miles
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jasmeet Dosanjh
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Jasmeet Dosanjh
Issue 6 Apr 2020
By: Elizabeth Crowe
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Shuyi Yin
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Shuyi Yin
By: Nome Emeka Patrick
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Issue 30 Mar 2020
By: Jason P Burnham
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Tara Calaby
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Kaily Dorfman
By: Camille Louise Goering
By: Brian Beatty
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
Podcast read by: Kaily Dorfman
Podcast read by: Brian Beatty
Issue 23 Mar 2020
Issue 16 Mar 2020
By: Lisa Nan Joo
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Jenny Thompson
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
100 African Writers of SFF - Part Fifteen: Ghana
Issue 9 Mar 2020
By: Leah Bobet
Podcast read by: Anaea Lay
By: Emily Smith
Podcast read by: Ciro Faienza
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