I recently picked up Ted Chiang’s collection of short stories and have been mind blown by most of his stories. Especially when I finally got the chance to read Story of Your Life, which is the novel that Denis Villeneuve used in one of my favorite movies, Arrival.
His stories definitely need to be to red to understand so this review is about Hell Is the Absence of God, which is what I think is the best story of the entire collection. The book is set in a world where the existence of God, Hell, Angels and Heaven exist indisputably and where angelic visitations and miracles are commonplace. The story focuses on a widower named Neil Fisk whose wife was killed accidentally when an visitation occurs in an urban environment. Since her soul visibly went to heaven, this forces the non devout Niel to come to terms on how to some day meet his wife, but he has an extremely tough time with coping with what he sees as a pointless loss. There are other characters that become interwoven with Neil’s story that I won’t go into for this review, I highly recommend you find the short story and read it for yourself.
.. if [people] wish to love God, they [must] be prepared to do so no matter what His intentions. God is not just, God is not kind, God is not merciful, and understanding that is essential to true devotion.
— “Hell Is the Absence of God”, page 189
What I found so eye opening about this story is the fact that God himself is never portrayed as the all good and all powerful deity, but as an unjust and uncompromising deity. There are characters in the story that are genuinely good people that are still punished or killed in horrible ways that will make anybody question their beliefs. The above quote encapsulates that feeling while reading and the number of theological conversations between characters made me think of what I would do if these situations happened to me or my very own family.
I would give this short story a score of an 8 out of 10, I give it that score due to how short it is, but the concepts are breathtaking and worth reading. Thank you for reading this short review and I hope to do more of these reviews from now on.