Comments on: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God – PodCastle Giant The world's first audio fantasy magazine. Wed, 25 May 2016 00:20:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: Rachel Swirsky’s Novelette Recommendations, 2013 | Alas, a Blog Fri, 14 Feb 2014 23:07:15 +0000 […] “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.” […]

By: whaaales | Hell Is the Absence of God Tue, 14 Jan 2014 21:08:33 +0000 […] 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 […]

By: Hell Is the Absence of God by Ted Chiang | Kay's Bookshelf Fri, 05 Oct 2012 18:56:55 +0000 […] Listen to it | Buy it from Fictionwise | It’s also in this book […]

By: On the Awesomeness of Ted Chiang « Neville Park Thu, 09 Sep 2010 03:30:15 +0000 […] “Hell Is the Absence of God” (2001), podcast. […]

By: Parable of Desna? - EN World D&D / RPG News Tue, 09 Jun 2009 10:50:10 +0000 […] 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 […]

By: Not Fan Fiction « Words, Words, Words Wed, 03 Jun 2009 01:09:16 +0000 […] 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 […]

By: Science Fiction v. Fantasy « Words, Words, Words Tue, 02 Jun 2009 01:04:47 +0000 […] 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 […]

By: » Hell is the absence of God Tue, 26 May 2009 11:14:12 +0000 […] 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 […]

By: Michael Cule Fri, 22 May 2009 15:09:54 +0000 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.

By: Robin Sure Wed, 18 Mar 2009 14:56:25 +0000 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.

By: The Fix | From the Podosphere: February 2009 Wed, 18 Mar 2009 12:42:56 +0000 […] 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 […]

By: Dark Icon Wed, 11 Mar 2009 22:49:18 +0000 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.

By: koda Tue, 10 Mar 2009 17:47:18 +0000 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?

By: Jon Wed, 04 Mar 2009 16:04:01 +0000 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.

By: Craybe Sun, 01 Mar 2009 20:42:01 +0000 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!


By: Blaine Boy Sun, 01 Mar 2009 18:30:15 +0000 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.

The Blaine Boy

By: Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) Sat, 28 Feb 2009 19:24:31 +0000 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.

By: PaulthePotter Fri, 27 Feb 2009 00:23:35 +0000 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.

By: Seraph Mon, 23 Feb 2009 03:57:55 +0000 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 ?

By: Brian Drumm Mon, 23 Feb 2009 02:41:20 +0000 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.

By: Whm Fri, 20 Feb 2009 18:24:12 +0000 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.

By: lauren Thu, 19 Feb 2009 03:40:53 +0000 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.

By: valjean24601 Sun, 15 Feb 2009 03:47:36 +0000 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.

By: dr-steve Sat, 14 Feb 2009 21:03:37 +0000 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…


By: Bingorage Fri, 13 Feb 2009 11:17:36 +0000 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.


By: potter Fri, 13 Feb 2009 00:32:30 +0000 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 !!

By: orion Fri, 13 Feb 2009 00:32:03 +0000 “…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.

By: Connor Moran Thu, 12 Feb 2009 18:09:37 +0000 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.

By: Librarian X Wed, 11 Feb 2009 17:51:34 +0000 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.

By: susetheslowknitta Wed, 11 Feb 2009 16:12:48 +0000 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.

By: Paul Fischer Wed, 11 Feb 2009 14:11:22 +0000 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.


By: phignewton Wed, 11 Feb 2009 05:25:36 +0000 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!

By: David Tue, 10 Feb 2009 20:29:26 +0000 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.”

By: Lane Tue, 10 Feb 2009 17:56:44 +0000 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.

By: Jacob Tue, 10 Feb 2009 17:17:15 +0000 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?


By: Dave Tue, 10 Feb 2009 06:27:59 +0000 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.

By: AdventureMom Tue, 10 Feb 2009 03:13:01 +0000 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

By: The Office Troll Mon, 09 Feb 2009 19:49:55 +0000 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.

By: Rachel Mon, 09 Feb 2009 02:34:28 +0000 “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.

By: louise Sun, 08 Feb 2009 23:13:20 +0000 thank you again
for your
poking prodding.
picking a realm
idealism …