Study Questions for Ted Chiang's "Hell is the Absence of God" [2001], initially published in Starlight 3, edited by Patrick Nielson Hayden for Tor Books. Chiang also authored "Story of Your Life" [1998], which is the basis for the recent film, Arrival [2016]. We will, of course, consider the fundamental aspects of fiction in general and slipstream fiction in particular as we consider Chiang's story. Here are a few questions to consider:

  1. As you read this story, consider Chiang's depiction of the angels and their "visitations." How do Chiang's angels alter our expectations about spiritual belief and values? How do their visitations and the effects of their visitations prepare us for the story's end and the final state of his protagonist, Neil Fisk.
  2. In what ways is Chiang's story a critique of various aspects of commercial culture, thereby conforming to comments made by Sterling, Spinrad, and others about how the marketplace distorts values? [Note his brief reference to property damage and the response of insurance companies on 125.] Are there other references to commerce and value in the story?
  3. Does the story ultimately critique or condemn traditional spiritual beliefs or confirm and support those beliefs?