Ted Chiang, as they say, needs no introduction — if you follow the contemporary science fiction and fantasy short story scene. In case you don’t, Chiang is a powerhouse, not only one of the masters of the short form, but also someone whose work can always be relied on to be strong. Is some better than others? Sure. But it all shows his characteristic attention to detail and deep consideration and analysis.
My favorite of his is actually “The Short Story of Your Life and Others,” but alas, it’s not online. Instead I give you this one, to which it was my honor to lose the Hugo.
“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” by Ted Chiang:
Ana’s half expecting to see a fantastical landscape when the window refreshes, but instead her avatar shows up in what looks at first glance to be a daycare center. On second glance, it looks like a scene from a children’s book: there’s a little anthropomorphic tiger cub sliding colored beads along a frame of wires; a panda bear examining a toy car; a cartoon version of a chimpanzee rolling a foam rubber ball.
The onscreen annotations identify them as digients, digital organisms that live in environments like Data Earth, but they don’t look like any that Ana’s seen before. These aren’t the idealized pets marketed to people who can’t commit to a real animal; they lack the picture-perfect cuteness, and their movements are too awkward.