PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God – PodCastle Giant

By Ted Chiang
Read by James Trimarco

It was an unexceptional visitation, smaller in magnitude than most but no different in kind, bringing blessings to some and disaster to others. In this instance the angel was Nathanael, making an appearance in a downtown shopping district. Four miracle cures were effected: the elimination of carcinomas in two individuals, the regeneration of the spinal cord in a paraplegic, and the restoration of sight to a recently blinded person. There were also two miracles that were not cures: a delivery van, whose driver had fainted at the sight of the angel, was halted before it could overrun a busy sidewalk; another man was caught in a shaft of Heaven’s light when the angel departed, erasing his eyes but ensuring his devotion.

Neil’s wife Sarah Fisk had been one of the eight casualties. She was hit by flying glass when the angel’s billowing curtain of flame shattered the storefront window of the café in which she was eating. She bled to death within minutes, and the other customers in the café — none of whom suffered even superficial injuries — could do nothing but listen to her cries of pain and fear, and eventually witness her soul’s ascension toward Heaven.

Nathanael hadn’t delivered any specific message; the angel’s parting words, which had boomed out across the entire visitation site, were the typical Behold the power of the Lord. Of the eight casualties that day, three souls were accepted into Heaven and five were not, a closer ratio than the average for deaths by all causes. Sixty-two people received medical treatment for injuries ranging from slight concussions to ruptured eardrums to burns requiring skin grafts. Total property damage was estimated at $8.1 million, all of it excluded by private insurance companies due to the cause. Scores of people became devout worshipers in the wake of the visitation, either out of gratitude or terror.

Alas, Neil Fisk was not one of them.

Rated R. Contemplates existential issues.

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54 Responses so far

  1. 1

    Scooter said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

    Wow, this seems like I’d love this, but I just don’t think that this piece worked in audio. I think that I’d love to read it, but I think that this is the first piece that podcastle has run that I couldn’t finish.

  2. 2

    CB in NOLA said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

    Seriously, I would love to hear this story, but I would have rejected the reading. I like my podcasts to at least be radio quality and all that room tone and his distance from the mic makes it hard to hear. I can’t believe you let your standards slip like this.

  3. 3

    A Few Cool Things I’ve Found - Tristan Johnson said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 8:50 pm

    […] meh (I’m not a big Fantasy guy) but I listened tot he most recent episode featuring the story Hell Is the Absence of God It’s long but I really good. It makes me have a new faith in Podcastle. This story stole my […]

  4. 4

    Vance M. said,

    February 6, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

    I listened to the whole story, but did not enjoy it. I consider myself open minded when it comes to religion. But the choices made by the characters seemed odd and a little confusing. It was a strange world they inhabited, indeed, but not one I would want to live in. The angelic manifestations did not really seem to care about the people they affected. Hell was neither scary or a place for punishment (good for the atheists I guess) but getting into heaven seemed almost arbitrary. Something about this tale got under my skin, but not in a good way. I have come to love Podcastle, and look forward to the fantastic tales each week. But this is not one of the better ones.

  5. 5

    Divya said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 6:13 am

    I did not like the reading of this story at all. The reader read it very drably – without any change in tone or inflection. And somehow, for me, this story does not fit into the fantasy genre. On the whole, not worth the wait !!!!

  6. 6

    Jundar said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

    I just don’t know what to say about this story. Some of its basic assumptions just don’t add up – wouldn’t there be more of an organized Church in this world? If it’s reflecting the Christian believe and traditions, where is the actual figure of the Christ (and the main teachings of the Gospels) or the Messiah? Are there any other religions at all?

    I can go with the story’s concept of living with the proven presence of angels, Heaven and Hell, but this seemed somehow bleak. Probably religion works different in a world where you get visitations on a almost-weekly basis, but this isn’t really addressed in the story. The ending was disappointing – personal opinion, of course.

    I really enjoy PodCastle and appreciate all the work the team puts into acquiring stories, getting people to read them and distribute them on the net; I also always enjoy the quality of the readings and the stories themselves. That said, this one was not a highlight. Still, thanks as always for the great podcast!

  7. 7

    Shaded Spriter said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 5:18 pm

    I like this, a more active god character in a modern world always interests me. While listening to it I was thinking about my thought process during the whole thing. and the church started up at the end really made me feel like it is something that would be very popular. I liked the ideas of the fallen angels not being evil in this because it seems in most literature they usually do that in a black or white, good or evil view of it.

  8. 8

    orion said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 7:14 pm

    i was disappointed by the audio quality. But the story was good, well written, and made me think more than most stories do, and that is a little more important to me than good audio. I didn’t like the ending much, though. The rest of the story I liked because it didn’t seem like the God of this story was a religious sort of thing. In the real world, no one really knows whether or not God exists, whereas in this story, God is a known fact, and the question is not whether he exists or not, but rather whether he is loved or not. the ending, though, really messed up the not-quite-religious quality of the story, and put a very hey-let’s-all-clap-our-hands-and-shout-AMEN! spin on it, that left me slightly annoyed. before i listened to it, the word “God” in the title worried me, because God is not high up there on the list of things i look for in fantasy, and to be honest, the fact that this story is about God at all made me expect to hate it. That, paired with the sub-par audio quality, and i almost stopped listening to it after the first minute or so. But something about the tone of the story made me keep listening to it, and i ended up really liking this one because it is different and well written.

  9. 9

    L33tminion said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

    I seem to be the only one who wasn’t bothered by the audio quality of this reading. In retrospect, it could have been crisper, but I didn’t find it hard to make out what the reader was saying and there wasn’t any background noise that I found distracting.

    At any rate, I thought this story was very good, or at least very interesting. After finishing the story, I spent quite a while pondering the point of the story.

    To me, it seems to be a thought exercise on an old humanist argument, related to the Argument from Evil: “Given the state of the world, if God exists, then God must be uncaring or cruel and therefore unworthy of worship.” The whole story plays with that idea, holding out the possibility that maybe something is missing that will reveal that there is some sort of cosmic justice in the world of the story. But in the end, the big reveal is that their God is really arbitrary and cruel after all. Given that, does the reader agree with Ethan, that all this cruelty and arbitrariness shouldn’t be an obstacle to the unconditional love of God? Or do they side with the fallen angels and assert their choice of whether or not God is worthy of worship?

  10. 10

    Jweich said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

    That was beyond words. I can’t express the idea of it in any form of language. I stuck with because I liked the idea of the life changing angels appearing in the world. I am in no way religious, but the idea of a god that both loved and didn’t care struck home to me. The way that it was read was phenomenal, just enough emotion to not sound like a robot, and less than to sound like an over-enthusiastic ten-year-old. The ending was very, well, depressing. I wouldn’t want every podcastle episode to be this deep, but it is a fairly good change in scenery. Good Job

  11. 11

    Old Man Parker said,

    February 7, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    Hell is having to listen to this boring and tedious story.
    Worst story ever!

  12. 12

    Benjamin said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 9:06 am

    Wow!

    I work in a Jewish community, with adult education and leading services. This story actually parallels a lot of my own thoughts on the nature of God and God’s relationship to humankind.

    No, I don’t believe in an uncaring and arbitrary God like the one portrayed in the story, but I do think the story illustrates some very important concepts about God.

    First off, I don’t KNOW whether God exists or not, but I BELIEVE God exists. Just as I can’t prove the existence of God to an atheist, he or she cannot prove to me that God doesn’t exist. Each of us will have to decide for ourselves onto which side of the fence we want to make our leap of faith.

    In the story, God’s existence was a fact, but that didn’t give everybody a great deal of certainty and peace of mind. Quite the opposite, the entire society was consumed by theological issues. Theology effected people’s births and deaths, their jobs and their love-life. How people related to the creator was THE issue, all the time. The author painted a picture of a very disturbing, fractured world, full of traumatized people.

    As a person who believes in the existence of God, I must wrestle with the issue of why God is seemingly hidden from us. I think this story answers this question in a very satisfactory way: we just can’t handle being too close to the divine.

    The Hebrew bible (Christians call it the Old Testament) tells this story over and over again. Why does Cain kill Abel? Why do the Israelites wandering in the desert revolt time and time again against Moses’ leadership? The people even build a golden calf, just days after meeting God face to face at Mt. Sinai and being told to not make and worship idols. Why do the prophets have to continuously exhort the people to keep faith in God and berate them for always turning to false, man-made deities?

    It’s clear that the closer God is to mankind, the worse off mankind is. I usually liken it to having an extremely overbearing parent, who, no matter how old you get, won’t let you live your own life. We need to revolt against that parent, even in irrational ways, in order to simply be ourselves.

    I believe that it is out of love and compassion for mankind that God hides away from us – it’s for our own good. If God’s existence were to become a fact in this world, it would screw us up big time.

    Jundar writes: “Some of [the story’s] basic assumptions just don’t add up – wouldn’t there be more of an organized Church in this world? If it’s reflecting the Christian believe and traditions, where is the actual figure of the Christ (and the main teachings of the Gospels) or the Messiah? Are there any other religions at all?”

    I think all organized religion (and I’m a part of the “industry”), need doubt. Just like the entire agriculture and food industry would collapse if sand and rocks became edible, so too organized religion would collapse if God’s existence became a fact. We’d no longer need priests, imams and rabbis, but we’d need a lot of shrinks!

    So I believe that God wants us to search for him/her/it and find God for ourselves, on our terms.

    And how do we search for the divine? I believe the Torah is clear on this. Leviticus chapter 19 is the code on how to strive for holiness and closeness with God, but the laws in it are 90% about inter-personal relationships (eg. “Love your neighbor as yourself”).

    We find holiness and closeness to God through our relationships with other people. The alternative, as the story points out, is quite a hell.

    All the best,
    Benjamin

    PS. Another association I got listening to this story was a song by Randy Newman, called God’s Song. For belivers like me, it’s quite a punch in the stomach, but well worth the listen.

    The best line in the song is:
    “Lord, if you won’t take care of us, won’t you please, please let us be.”

    Check it out here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWsHvsg36Dk

  13. 13

    Continuum said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

    First of all, the poor production qualities both technical and lack of emotion by the reader hindered appreciation of the reading.

    Secondly, the story itself seemed as a rehashed version of some young evangelical’s upbringing. The author seemed to have taken every bible thumbing sermon from his own preacher and regurgitated them.

    The quality of plot and emotional depth rivals that of the “Left Behind Series” of Christian novels. That’s where this poorly written piece belongs.

    Perhaps this is one of the worse podcasts that Podcastle has issued.

  14. 14

    scatterbrain said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

    The most brutal story I have ever come across or ever will. It seeks to illustate that fate is unknowable and even cannot be understood by anyone at all, a point which I must agree with. As a “strict” agnostic, what happens to me after death is so unbelivably sightless that to ponder on it would take a lifetime. I may even convert to a religion tomorrow after some hallucination(I am though pretty convinced about the lack of the supernatural in the world by this point) causes me to believe I have been been spoken to by God or Jesus or Allah or whoever. The religious themes are not paramount at all in the story and are there only to serve as a window to this interpretation.

    I’d also like to point out at this point that Chiang is in fact an atheist himself.

  15. 15

    louise said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 7:13 pm

    thank you again
    for your
    provoking
    poking prodding.
    picking a realm
    surrealism
    pricking
    idealism …

  16. 16

    Rachel said,

    February 8, 2009 @ 10:34 pm

    “I’d also like to point out at this point that Chiang is in fact an atheist himself.”

    Is he?

    I am, personally. The story made me uncomfortable in parts — particularly the ending. But I showed it to several people with various religious beliefs, both atheistic and theistic. It made us all uncomfortable (I think the story is profoundly uncomfortable, which is one of the things I like about it), but we couldn’t come up with a consistent reading on the story’s opinions about religion. I, personally, find it the opposite of preachy — it presents events (very uncomfortable ones) and draws conclusions in the voice of an unreliable narrator whose conclusions are, at best, biased. There’s an enormous space of strangeness, ambiguity, and discomfort in the narrative.

    In any case, I don’t know whether Chiang is an atheist or a theist. I’d find that information interesting, but I think the story works well in an ambiguous space without it.

  17. 17

    The Office Troll said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    I had a hard time with the wooden reading of this story and I found the story to be uncomfortable, but not engaging.

    The impersonal nature of the divine in the story was interesting to me and seemed to balance well with the clinical way the world seemed to accept the ‘visitations.’ The ending was ambiguous and left a lot of things which seem to be intended to make the reader think, but I found it falling flat. A long road to get to a painting made by a dadaist who has had too much nihilism.

  18. 18

    AdventureMom said,

    February 9, 2009 @ 11:13 pm

    The story was VERY uncomfortable, and I hated the ending! That said it was thought provoking.

    I am not particularly religious so I could not relate to the blind devotion bit. I agree with Benjamin’s assessment that it does make the case for having one’s deity FAR removed from day to day life.

    – AdventureMom

  19. 19

    Dave said,

    February 10, 2009 @ 2:27 am

    Loved it, loved it, loved it.

    It’s a really interesting story that brings to mind wisdom literature. It bears a lot of the elements of the Job story, and the goal of this type of literature is understanding. However, the point that gets reached (G-d is impossible to understand) invokes a sense of humility in some, anger in others, and apathy in what appears to be a good percentage of responders.

    Probably the most interesting thing I found in the story was the use of statistics. The people that inhabit this world are constantly trying to figure out the odds, the chances, and the historical precedent, but no such thing exists. It’s really fascinating: the search for purpose when the purpose can be deemed unknowable.

    The reading didn’t bother me, and this story engaged me fully. Keep ‘em coming.

  20. 20

    Jacob said,

    February 10, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    Great concept in the story. What I got from the basic premise of the story is that WE ARE IN HELL, Neil is now one of us. Did anyone else think this?

    Jacob

  21. 21

    Lane said,

    February 10, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

    Interesting reactions. Write a story about God and some people will instantly dislike it on principal I guess.
    Not me though. This may be my favorite story from Podcastle yet. And having attempted to read the Left Behind series (train wreck mentality, not out of any expectations of quality) I dispute the claim that this story is of the same family. If nothing else, Chiang can at least form a decent sentence.

  22. 22

    David said,

    February 10, 2009 @ 4:29 pm

    Interesting story, not the best choice for a giant though. Personally, I think it would have been better if it was half this length. The storyline seemed repetitive and I found some of the character interactions difficult to believe. However, the essential idea of a world where tangible proof of God was just as random and arbitrary as a world without it was very interesting and unusual.

    The characters actions reminded me of a quote from Dr. Gregory House “Interesting that religious devotion and insanity are so similar we can’t tell the difference.”

  23. 23

    phignewton said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 1:25 am

    ATTENTION:THIS STORY IS DESIGNED TO CAUSE DISCOMFORT. It takes what to a lot of people is an excepted part of the human belief structure and thru some skillfull manipulation makes it into something thats totally unexceptable.. rather like if you were to write a story in which all toilet paper is made from sandpaper… owtch owtch owtch… i found the entire process excrutiating from the deadpan flemie reading from inside a shoebox to the depressing ending but i must recognise it as a massive SUCCESS… HUZZAH!

  24. 24

    Paul Fischer said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 10:11 am

    This is the first episode that I deleted after only a few minutes. The poor quality of the audio was annoying, but I can usually get past that. The monotone delivery of the reader was mind numbing. I couldn’t get excited or even interested in the story. I hope it got better, but I just couldn’t hang in there.

    When the story is bad a good reader can still make it interesting. But the poor quality of the audio combined with the poor reading made the words slide off my brain. This episode failed to hold my attention for more than a few minutes. I’m a die hard listener and contributer to Podcastle. I hope you can keep this from happening again.

    There are tons of good readers out there with good audio setups would would love a chance to read for Podcastle, including myself and my wife. We and our friends have read for Escape Pod and Pseudopod. Podcastle seems to have tapped a completely different social circle for readers, which is great. It widens the entire base for all of Escape Artists. But in the future, I think you should consider kicking the story to a new reader if you detect problems with the quality of the sound or the reading.

    I really wish I could have stayed with it long enough to comment on the story. I’ve loved the Podcastle Giants you’ve released so far. I’ll be here next week, and the week after, and the week after that. One bad episode out of 39 good ones it still a huge success rate.

    -Paul

  25. 25

    susetheslowknitta said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

    A fascinating parody of US Evangelical churches? The twisted logic that some leading US preachers use seems to be mirrored here (inferring blame on their parents sin’s ,or their own, if someone is disabled, people earning their place in heaven people earning healing etc). From this side of the pond (the UK) US churches often seem to be far removed from the basic teachings of Jesus. It’s interesting how the society in this story often employes almost a medieaval mindset to account for events.
    An unusual story for podcastle, but interesting nonetheless.

  26. 26

    Librarian X said,

    February 11, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

    I regret sticking with this story to the end. Others have already noted the poor audio quality and monotone reading, but I stuck with it because I was interested in the fictional universe.

    The story would really have been helped by a dose of “show, don’t tell.” The narration was presented at such a distance from the characters that it was hard to identify with any of them. It felt like a long dull record of characters’ thoughts and decisions, with little action and no dialogue.

    The ending was creepy in a way that I don’t know if the author intended, and unsatisfying.

  27. 27

    Connor Moran said,

    February 12, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

    Well, I feel the need to stick up for this one . I remember reading it in a Years Best Fantasy volume probably six or seven years back, and the very fact that I remember it and remember thinking about it after this much time is itself a pretty strong recommendation. I also want to give a compliment to the reader. I think the deadpan delivery is absolutely perfect for this story about people who seem to move around in a sort of sleepwalk–I see that as part of the point of the story and a pretty realistic depiction of the numbness that comes from grief.

    One commenter compared the story to the “Left Behind” series, which I think is oddly appropriate. Except where the Left Behind books unintentionally create an image of a callous, uncaring god and are therefore bad books, this story does a fairly excellent job of creating that image deliberately and creating interesting question s from it.

  28. 28

    orion said,

    February 12, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    “…What I got from the basic premise of the story is that WE ARE IN HELL, Neil is now one of us…”

    oh, hey i didn’t even think of that! but now that you point it out, i totally agree with you on that one.

  29. 29

    potter said,

    February 12, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

    hi,

    being a long time listener to escape artists pod casting I am not pleased to say that this was by far the worse story ever to be included in your archives.

    I am not sensitive to the religious matter at all, but felt the story was some freshmen running thought experiment in philosophy and Christian religion, and I thought its contents did not make for an enjoyable story at any level.

    Just plain awful pod castle PLEASE lift your shocks up this is shameful !!

  30. 30

    Bingorage said,

    February 13, 2009 @ 7:17 am

    I had to make several attempts to get through this reading, being put off by the hamfisted religious bent. When, however, I did manage to finish listening to the whole piece; I felt that The Title Says It All. I appreciate the story as an allegory for Hell, rather than as some alternate-reality-“Christian Earth”.

    No God, here. Move along.

    :Eric

  31. 31

    dr-steve said,

    February 14, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

    Am I the only one who has heard this story on another podcast feed in the past year or two? Damned if I can find it (so to speak), but from the opening sentences, it rang familiar.

    And I’m pretty sure I didn’t read it in print…

    Anyone?

  32. 32

    valjean24601 said,

    February 14, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

    This is one of my favorite podcast so far. The characters and the world they lived in was ….. strange for lack of a better word. One of the good things in this story was that the setting wasn’t to complicated. Once some initial ideas were explained the story was easy to follow.

    I also love the theme of this story. The fact that you can live in a world where not only is the existence of god proven but still don’t go to heaven is fascinating. The only thing I don’t understand is why Neil went to hell. He never did anything to derserve that except not love god. Maybe that’s just another theme of the story that is, that god is not loving, but rather harsh and uncaring.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast despite the fact that Neil got sent to hell when he didn’t deserve it.

  33. 33

    lauren said,

    February 18, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    The scary thing is that this alternate universe is close to how many (including me) where raised to view reality ‘behind the curtain’ if you will. At first this put me off, because the way it was written/spoken was the very close to the lingo and mentality you had to have to stay sane within my particular fundamentalist christian culture. But than i got the feeling the author was getting to a point, and he did eventually, and it wasn’t some cheesy “and everyone went to heaven” ending that i had expected in the begining…but it wasn’t a crescendo of revalation like in “Cup and Table” (which i liked a lot). not my favorite, but always interested to hear peoples views of the christian religion (though i almost wasn’t interested enough to finish it). I’d like to read the other stories he wrote for comparison.

  34. 34

    Whm said,

    February 20, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

    I try to be open minded about fiction especially fantasy and sci-fi since so much of what is written is speculative but I didn’t like this. The audio quality was poor as other posters have indicated, but the idea of an open ended afterlife where people are sent to Heaven or Hell seemingly at random offends me. The idea that God somehow doesn’t care about humanity bothers me as well. God is presented as neither holy nor merciful but seems indifferent to everything created by His hand. That isn’t true. I know other listeners will indicate that this viewpoint of God and maybe even modern religion are part of the speculative nature of this fiction, but I’m offended and if more stories like this show up in my podcast feed I’ll quit listening to Podcastle.

  35. 35

    Brian Drumm said,

    February 22, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

    I must agree with the many posts here criticizing the reading and audio quality. That said, I would like to say I greatly enjoyed James Trimarco’s writing when I heard it read by Frank Key, (Escape Pod #90: “How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas”) Unfortunately, Trimarco’s presentation of this story failed miserably to pay forward Key’s favor of a dynamic reading.

    At first I was thinking, maybe hoping, the monotone was an interpretive choice to reflect Neal’s ambivalence toward God. Whatever the case, it didn’t work.

  36. 36

    Seraph said,

    February 22, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

    I liked the idea of the world very much. The visitations of the angels causing widespread havoc and disaster, the clear and unquestionable existence of ‘the other side’, miracles and curses, actually seeing a soul ascend of descend – amazing !

    I found the idea of ( what appears to be ) an uncaring jerk of a God though quite disturbing. I guess that bugs me a bit from the narrative view too. A serial rapist and murderer ascends via the light of heaven – but a guy who WANTED to be devout, whose only ‘sin’ was his selfish desire to be with the woman he loved gets the whole ‘ACCESS DENIED’ thing ? With the strong implication that his suffering in Hell was considerably worse than most of the souls there ?

    It seemed a bit of a literary sucker-punch to me – a bit of a cheap shot to yank the carpet out from under the reader. I don’t like the inconsistency with the apparent rules of the world ( see light of Heaven = instant salvation, do not pass go – do not collect $200 ). But that’s not to say I didn’t like the story. I was shocked at the end – but I guess that was the authors intent. And we ARE dealing with an omnipotent being here, one who can do whatever the heck he wants in his universe and no-one can do a damn thing about it.

    Kinda worrying thought though, huh ?

  37. 37

    PaulthePotter said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 8:23 pm

    Well, I do find it interesting how many people found the “arbitrary” acts of god to be so disturbing. What world do you live in?
    This was a fabulous story! As for the quality, it was fine if you’re used to listening to old time radio stuff.
    As far as I see it, it was our world exactly except that god and miracles and such dribble were actually real (unlike this world of course), still all the random good and bad. Still no fairness in our fates.
    I think the author (a good one too) just wanted us to see how silly a world with an existent god would be.
    PTP

  38. 38

    Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) said,

    February 28, 2009 @ 3:24 pm

    The sound quality, like that of all the EP family of casts, is gradually worsening. Heck if I know why.

    The story itself… I think if I had read it, it would have flown by faster (I read quickly), and therefore not have been as disappointing when I got to the end and had to wonder if I had somehow missed the point of the whole thing. I mean, I get the subtexts, I think… I just don’t know what the story was really meant to say.

    Now, I will admit that I am not much for stories where the author presents some stuff to think about and expects the audience to draw their own conclusions. I can do that on my own, and I already have a head full of ideas to muse and ponder. If I pick up your story to read or listen to, I want to know what YOU think. Rest assured that I will take your message and mull it over in my head- but if you don’t give me anything to react to, it just sort of falls flat.

    And, unfortunately, this one kinda did for me. I was really hoping for something dramatic and powerful to justify the somewhat overwrought narrative, and I just didn’t get it.

    Also, I’ll grant that the audio quality and the lackluster reading didn’t help. The narrator didn’t seem that interested in the story, so it was hard for me to be.

  39. 39

    Blaine Boy said,

    March 1, 2009 @ 2:30 pm

    I’m am so sorry I have to say this but I have no qualms about saying it: that was an abomination of literature! I mean no offense, but I must tell the truth. Mr. Trimarco was a horrible reader (sorry, Mr. Trimarco) for a boring and, quite honestly, worthless story with no philosophical statements that are of any significance whatsoever that you couldn’t learn better most anywhere else; to put it bluntly… IT SUCKED!

    The idea of God here and how He was endlessly interfering in people’s lives and randomly saving and damning people was absolute bullshit. God does not play with dice. I am Catholic (but not really) and I don’t think of myself as particularly religious, but this story just pissed me off.This story didn’t make me uncomfortable, it just pissed me off ! (Did I say that already?) That somehow, the Ultimate Being of God does not give a rat’s ass about us is a bullshit concept and I’m surprised anyone out there actually believed it even for a second.

    To Benjamin:
    I think you were hitting the nail on the head. You said everything exactly right.

    Sincerely,
    The Blaine Boy

  40. 40

    Craybe said,

    March 1, 2009 @ 4:42 pm

    As an atheist I expected to hate this story, I can say at they end I didn’t although I was conflicted. I can’t say I like how the characters reacted to their situations and to be honest the unbeliever turned devout follower gave me the hibi-jibis and a lot of the religiosity of the story made my stomach turn *shudder* but perhaps that was the authors intention. I did like that the author portrayed the fact that even in a society where God is a fact their would be those who would not follow “it” as I can associate with this sentiment.

    Hey who knows perhaps the world in the story mentioned exists and we are all living in Hell without God now :-) (damn I see others pointed that out hehe).

    I don’t think the audio quality was that bad and I although it clashes with the audiophile in me I don’t believe it impacted on the story, it is the words not how they are said that is important.

    Anyway good work on choosing a different sort of story, ignore the crap about the audio quality and keep up the good work!

    Craybe

  41. 41

    Jon said,

    March 4, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

    I quite liked the story, and the narration’s tone seemed to fit it quite well. The technical quality of the audio could have been better, though.

    Here’s my take on the story, as an atheist. The world in this story depicts the sort of world that theists believe in, though perhaps without realizing it. The reason they may not realize it is that our world has a veneer of “faith” over all of the divine activity, but in the story, that curtain is removed. God’s activity is transparent, and it becomes obvious at just how random and senseless he is.

    We pray for help, but for every miracle there are a dozen prayers who go unanswered. Some who never ask for help get it anyway. Divine activity is completely random. It is the people who keep searching for explanations, who keep guessing at what the plan is, who keep trying to find the deeper reasons. But in the end, it may as well be just random, unguided, natural events.

    What kind of world is this when angels help a handful, but hurt dozens, even hundreds more while they’re at it? That’s OUR world, if you truly believe that prayers work. One commenter noticed the constant references to statistics, and I think this is why. For every case of cured cancer, there may be a hundred more that pray and still die.

    We give god credit for saving the one, but if god really answered prayers the deaths of the others may as well be attributed to him as well. Because he didn’t answer those. Which is what the story illustrates, as angels burn through cities and destroy buildings on their way to cure a single amputee.

    We don’t see any of gods work directly in the real world, so we can use faith as a way to soften the blow. But if we really did see, directly, that this is how god works, we could only conclude that he’s completely unreliable and has given us no reason at all to love him.

    Then of course is the striking image that in order to love god unconditionally…. we must be made blind. It’s as if the only possible way to love this god is to be incapable of seeing how things work.

  42. 42

    koda said,

    March 10, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

    Jon sez:

    “Then of course is the striking image that in order to love god unconditionally…. we must be made blind. It’s as if the only possible way to love this god is to be incapable of seeing how things work.”

    Point! To you, sir! My thoughts precisely.

    The reading was fine, but it’s cute how peeps try to blame that for ceasing to finish a potentially enlightening story. From what I gathered, the author told us exactly what he thought.

    If hell is the absence of god
    and hell is supposed to be terrible
    then one must be aware of what it cannot have

    Wandering around hell without constant suffering wouldn’t make sense. If heaven is personal (what makes you happy), why wouldn’t hell be the same (what makes you sad)?

    It is a rather accurate description of what I was taught about god. He is totally wrathful. It wasn’t enough for Neil to be separated from his wife for eternity; god had to up the agony by showing him what he will never have. It is him loving his wife/finding a loop hole/loving god/rejection that makes this scenario so torturous. If he had just offed himself (selfish) and not attempted to *sneak* in to be with his wife (love) he would have been fine and a whole person in hell. The “what if” makes this so cruel.

    I interpreted this as god was jealous of the love Neil had for his wife. Why is that so far-fetched?

  43. 43

    Dark Icon said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

    I thought this was a good story… not great… and not my kind of tale. It wasn’t what I expected, and I mean that in a negative sense. Was it fantasy? Sure. It’s an alternate-universe tale set in a world where angels appear regularly and visitations of varying sorts are commonplace. But instead of actually exploring that world and showing us how it differs from our own, the author instead presents us with a modern tragedy, ending with the theme of “God is a Cruel Asshole”. That wasn’t what I wanted to encounter after such an investment of time and emotional energy. Honestly, I think the author accomplished exactly what he set out to do, which makes this a ‘good’ story. But what he wanted to accomplish wasn’t what I wanted to read/hear. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a HAPPY ending, but what I did get seemed to come out of left field and, once I’d wrapped my head around it, left me wishing I’d done something else with my hour.

  44. 44

    The Fix | From the Podosphere: February 2009 said,

    March 18, 2009 @ 8:42 am

    […] were only two PodCastle stories for February, but the sight of a PodCastle Giant, “Hell is the Absence of God,” appearing on my iPod caused me pleasurable anticipation—I looked forward to hearing […]

  45. 45

    Robin Sure said,

    March 18, 2009 @ 10:56 am

    While I (as it seems as are others) sceptical about the overt presence of a Judeo-Christian god in my fiction, believing that it can turn preachy (and often does), I was relieved to hear the story grow in a natural way, turning into a pleasant quest, about the pursuit of lost love. I was on tenterhooks, until the last five minutes.

    Where was the denouement in this story? Where is the great reward for the searching hero? The last sentences of the story became a sermon, and I was left unsatisfied with the result.

    A shame. It had been an excellent story, until that point.

  46. 46

    Michael Cule said,

    May 22, 2009 @ 11:09 am

    An interesting story and an interesting world. However as others have noticed there are two problems, one with the presentation and the other with the writing.

    With the presentation, you have someone with… to put it kindly, a tin ear reading the story. Even if you can’t afford actual actors to read the story you should be able to find better than this. (But perhaps I’m influenced by the fact that I’m an unemployed actor who can’t get work doing voice-overs or reading, at all, at all…)

    As to the writing: it took me a while to realise that there’s not a bit of direct speech in it. Peoples’ remarks are reported not quoted. There is no dialogue. It’s the very essence of ‘tell not show’. And that may work on the page but when read out it becomes very tedious.

  47. 47

    RajeshGoli.com » Hell is the absence of God said,

    May 26, 2009 @ 7:14 am

    […] of such a world was similar to our conceptions of God? Interesting idea explored by the story – Hell Is The Absence Of God. It reminds me of the “story” I wrote – The Quest. Let me know if you see any […]

  48. 48

    Science Fiction v. Fantasy « Words, Words, Words said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

    […] of its premise. SPOILERS FOLLOW. One of Liu’s influences was Ted Chiang’s story “Hell is the Absence of God.” Like Chiang’s story, “Single-Bit Error” asks whether someone who does not […]

  49. 49

    Not Fan Fiction « Words, Words, Words said,

    June 2, 2009 @ 9:09 pm

    […] published in the Thoughtcrime Experiments anthology, is related to Ted Chiang’s “Hell is the Absence of God.” (I discuss this relationship more extensively in yesterday’s post). Both stories are […]

  50. 50

    Parable of Desna? - EN World D&D / RPG News said,

    June 9, 2009 @ 6:50 am

    […] alien to most people living before the year 1700. In a way, that reminds of a the short story Hell is the Absence of God. It’s a modern story where angels regularly have "visitations" that involve people […]

  51. 51

    On the Awesomeness of Ted Chiang « Neville Park said,

    September 8, 2010 @ 11:30 pm

    […] “Hell Is the Absence of God” (2001), podcast. […]

  52. 52

    Hell Is the Absence of God by Ted Chiang | Kay's Bookshelf said,

    October 5, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

    […] Listen to it | Buy it from Fictionwise | It’s also in this book […]

  53. 53

    whaaales | Hell Is the Absence of God said,

    January 14, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

    […] stories several times and felt a different response on each reading: Hell Is the Absence of God (audiobook), which succeeds on all of the above counts, and is additionally weird, dark, and uncomfortable to […]

  54. 54

    Rachel Swirsky’s Novelette Recommendations, 2013 | Alas, a Blog said,

    February 14, 2014 @ 7:07 pm

    […] “A Rumor of Angels” by Dale Bailey – I don’t know whether or not this is fair, but in my head, this kind of became Biblical Dust Bowl. Closely observed, strong detail, and strongly well-woven language. Also reminds me of Chiang’s “Hell Is the Absence of God.” […]

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