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Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books

The Great Silence

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The Great Silence

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Author: Ted Chiang
Allora
Calzadilla
Publisher: Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2016
Original English publication, 2015
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Book Type: Short Story
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

The Great Silence was a special project by Puerto Rico-based artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla in collaboration with science fiction author Ted Chiang. It was a three-channel video art installation presented for the first time in 2014 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, focusing on the world's largest single aperture radio telescope, located in Esperanza (Hope), Puerto Rico, which transmits and captures radio waves to and from the farthest edges of the universe. The site of the Arecibo Observatory is also home to the last remaining wild population of critically endangered Puerto Rican Parrots, Amazona vittata, who make their habitat in the surrounding Rio Abajo forest. The video's subtitled script explores translation as a device to trace and ponder the irreducible gaps between living, nonliving, human, animal, technological, and cosmic actors. In the spirit of a fable, the subtitled story presents the bird's observations on humans' search for life outside this planet, while using the concept of vocal learning – something that both parrots and humans, and few other species have in common – as a source of reflection upon acousmatic voices, ventriloquisms, and the vibrations that form the basis of speech and the universe itself.

"Ted Chiang's very short story, 'The Great Silence' adds another set of questions to the Fermi Paradox speculations. Why, he asks, are we so interested in finding intelligence in the stars and so deaf to the many species who manifest it here on earth? And also: why have we demanded that, as proof of intelligence, non-human animals communicate to us in human language, and then dismissed those creatures that actually do so?" - Karen Joy Fowler

This short story originally appeared in eflux journal, May 8, 2015, and was reprinted in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, May-June 2016. It can also be found in the anthology The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, edited by Karen Joy Fowler and John Jospeh Adams. The story is included in the collection Exhalation: Stories (2019).

Read the full story for free at Electric Literature or eflux. View the video on YouTube.


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