Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling, by Ted Chiang

It is almost a crime that Ted Chiang doesn't write more.  He addresses deep philosophical questions in every topic he addresses, from religion, to the nature of intelligence, to our relationship to new technology.  He visits this last topic again in The Truth of Fact...and it's another home run.

He also hits my favorite scary topic, which is to speculate just a very little bit about where technology might go.  Imagine wearing Google Glass, and having it record constantly.  That's a "lifelog", which Chiang speculates many of us will be keeping in the near future.  In the story, people are keeping lifelogs but they are cumbersome to search--only worth it if you REALLY want the answer (like forensics).  But an app company comes along and offers easy, fast searchability.  All past events that are in any way recordable can be brought back within seconds.

Our protagonist is to do a story on the app company and the software.  He's pretty nervous about trying it out.  His ensuing journey through his past, as remembered and as actually happened, is realistically tangled.  And his conclusion on where this could go is rich and deeply satisfying.  I would tell you, but I really want you to go read it for yourself.  You think he's going one way and then he doubles back so artfully it's completely convincing.

We are within a few years of this, so it isn't a story for the ages.  It's a story for right now, and everyone should read it as it is a much better exposition of the situation than any factual article or editorial. 

It's just a crime that Ted Chiang does not write full time (he is a sysadmin). In a just world he would have a MacArthur grant or some such to just talk to people and write, even if it's only a few articles a year.  We very much need this kind of thinking about the world.  Come on, Ted, what do you say?  Be a pro! 
Four stars from me.

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