Review of “Understand” (1991)


Ted Chiang (writer).

Read in 2017.

Human super-intelligence.

Probably SF’s most intelligent take on intelligence. Chiang flirts with superhero tropes and stretches credibility but ultimately stays within hard boundaries to good effect. The ending recalls GEB (1979) and its analogy of destroying a mind by the mental equivalent of playing a record such that resonance breaks the record player.

I would have loved to see a novel-length treatment dealing with the protagonist’s past and his emotional development. This could have been a less conservative, more open-minded update to Flowers for Algernon (1966) and “The Nth Degree” (1991). It is an appropriately reductive alternative. As such it realizes the promise of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, without the morbidity of the “study in scarlet” metaphor.

References here: “Statistical Probabilities” (1997), The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010), Limitless (2011).

text fiction