Rated R. Contemplates existential issues.
Hell Is the Absence of God
by Ted Chiang
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.
About the Author
Ted Chiang is the author of Stories of Your Life and Others. He was born and raised in Port Jefferson, New York, and attended Brown University, where he received a degree in computer science. His debut story “Tower of Babylon” won the Nebula in 1990. Since then, he has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992, a Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for “Story of Your Life” (1998), a Sidewise Award for “Seventy-Two Letters” (2000), a Nebula Award, a Locus Award, and a Hugo Award for his novelette “Hell Is the Absence of God” (2002), a Nebula Award and a Hugo Award for his novelette “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” (2007), a Hugo Award and a Locus Award for his short story “Exhalation” (2008), and most recently, a Hugo Award and a Locus Award for his novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects(2010). He lives outside of Seattle, Washington.
About the Narrator
James Trimarco is rumored to exist.