Thursday, June 2, 2016

Book Review: Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others
By: Ted Chiang
Published By: Vintage
Publication Date: June 14, 2016
Page Count: 281
Source: Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult - Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction

I don’t usually choose to read short stories. I think it’s because I don’t know whose short stories are any good. Dear reader, you don’t need to worry about that, because I am here to tell you that Ted Chiang’s short story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, is good. Really good. Completely deserving of the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards these stories have won good. 

 The theme of humanity’s relationship with the larger universe unites most of the stories in this volume, and my favorites are “Tower of Babylon” and “Story of Your Life. In “Tower of Babylon,” Chiang imagines the building of the biblical tower and what happens when they eventually reach the vault of the sky. I loved the idea of taking Babylonian science as fact, extending it to a conclusion, and seeing what they might have discovered about the universe. “Story of Your Life” is about the thorny problems of first alien contact and whether perfect knowledge of the future annihilates free will. Stories like this are why I read science fiction in the first place! How the humans learn to communicate with the alien heptapods (who are really alien, by the way) is both creative and entertaining, and seeing how Dr. Louise Banks, the main character, changes really made me think about motherhood and the universe. [Side note, “Story of Your Life” has been made into a movie starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, and is scheduled to be out later this year.] 

Two other notable stories are “Seventy-Two Letters” and “Hell is the Absence of God.” The first, set in Victorian England, follows creators of golem-like automatons as they discover something unexpected about humans. Like “Tower of Babylon,” this story assumes that the scientific understanding of the era is correct and follows it to a logical conclusion. A fascinating story with social and class issues, as well as an intriguing premise. “Hell is the Absence of God” assumes God, Heaven and Hell are real, and that God is unknowable. Angelic visitations are accompanied by disastrous earthquakes, storms, floods, and other catastrophes. A good summary of the story would be a modern Job who doesn’t have a happy ending. Although I don’t necessarily buy into the theology of the story, it was a thought-provoking read and exploration of what lengths people will go to in order to find meaning in the world. 

Stories of Your Life and Others has been one of my favorite reads so far this year. If you have even the slightest inclination toward reading speculative fiction or science fiction, you must go read these stories!

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Amy Adams.

Combining the precision and scientific curiosity of Kim Stanley Robinson with Lorrie Moore's cool, clear love of language and narrative intricacy, this award-winning collection offers readers the dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar.

Stories of Your Life and Others presents characters who must confront sudden change—the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens—while striving to maintain some sense of normalcy. In the amazing and much-lauded title story, a grieving mother copes with divorce and the death of her daughter by drawing on her knowledge of alien languages and non-linear memory recollection. A clever pastiche of news reports and interviews chronicles a college's initiative to "turn off" the human ability to recognize beauty in "Liking What You See: A Documentary." With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty and constant change, and also by beauty and wonder.

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