Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Published by Vintage on June 14, 2016 (first published July 2002)
Genre(s): fiction, fantasy, science fiction
Format & Pages: paperback, 281
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Ted Chiang’s first published story, “Tower of Babylon,” won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov’s SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.
Now, collected here for the first time are all seven of this extraordinary writer’s stories so far-plus an eighth story written especially for this volume.
What if men built a tower from Earth to Heaven-and broke through to Heaven’s other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if there were a science of naming things that calls life into being from inanimate matter? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? What if all the beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity were literally true, and the sight of sinners being swallowed into fiery pits were a routine event on city streets? These are the kinds of outrageous questions posed by the stories of Ted Chiang. Stories of your life . . . and others.
This collection of short stories is, quite simply, brilliant.
I discovered this book after seeing the movie Arrival, which blew my mind and sent me into a tizzy of internet stalking when I found out it was based on a short story called Story of Your Life. Upon starting to read the book, I began to realize there was so much more to this author and his work. Each story is unique in plot, tone, and style as they explore humanity through a variety of lenses and angles.
Chiang really has a way with words. No word is extraneous; each is placed perfectly to further the story. And each work is incredibly thought-provoking. Even in the one story that wasn’t to my taste, I couldn’t find much technical fault and found myself contemplating its ideas days later. It is quite obvious why he’s won so many awards for his writing.
Originally, I was planning on listing each story, along with a description and my individual rating of each, but when I began writing it out, it seemed to do a disservice to this book. Instead, I suggest you read the questions posed in the blurb and if you find an interest in exploring them, I urge you to pick up this collection.
I do, however, want to take a moment to discuss Story of Your Life (the story) versus Arrival (the movie). While they both have the same underlying premise and they explore the same concepts, there are several differences. This is a case where the movie is a true adaptation of the story applied to a different medium; if Arrival had been produced to be an exact replication of Story of Your Life, it would have created a movie that not many people would have sat down to watch for a full two hours. While I usually prefer to read a book before seeing the movie, this time I was glad to have seen the movie first. Not only did it make for a more enjoyable experience to not know anything going in, but reading the story after helped me to more fully understand the ideas presented.
Long story short: this is not only one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, but also has become an all-time favorite. I can’t recommend this highly enough.