Review: Stories of Your Life and others by Ted Chiang

Lovely Melfka mentioned this one on her blog and she posted photos of the author too as she was able to talk to him face to face – do visit and see all the goodies yourself! Thank you, my dear Iron Girl!

Summary (from Goodreads):

Here are eight astonishing science-fiction stories that explore the boundaries between science and religion, between determinism and our ability to choose, between words and the entities they describe. Here are stories of conceptual breakthrough … of making sense of the universe and our place in it.

My impressions:

Last time I read something so complex and brainy was when I bought an Ursula Le Guin book. Let me deal with those short stories one by one, as they deserve.

Tower of Babylon

A creative exercise based on one of the most known Bible stories: how did people build the tallest tower on Earth, reaching the sky? What were their impressions? It was interesting but not especially riveting. I suppose prehistoric times and sci-fi don’t fit together very well.

Division by Zero

Renee, a gifted mathematician, finds a new theorem which allows her to prove that 1=2. Or 1 equals any other number. Arithmetic and mathematics stop being science and turn into a quagmire of ‘maybes’. The discovery  doesn’t make Renee proud; it shatters her own belief in the sense of her entire career and indeed her life. Oh, and all of a sudden her husband finds out he doesn’t love her anymore. What to do when depression is winning over reason?

An intriguing story but without any sharp, concrete conclusion at the end. I would love to follow the fate of Renee but unfortunately, I was given just a short story. Still I enjoyed it enormously – a round of applause!

Understand

What would you do if your brain suddenly doubled or even tripled the number of neurons, making you far more intelligent than the best MENSA members ever? A hint: don’t inform anybody, let alone the CIA. Play dumb.

The story was a bit similar to the movie Lucy, trashed by me not so long ago; fortunately it was a lot more intelligent and intriguing – if only Luc Besson had consulted Mr. Chiang he would have made a far better film. The main hero acted in a logic and clever manner until he met his match. Once again I would love to see that story turned into a fully-fledged novel – it was so good that it seemed definitely too short. Still the ending made me a bit annoyed. Can’t you cooperate, people?

Story of Your Life

Does learning a new language can make you perceive your life and reality in a fresh way? You bet – especially when you try to learn an ALIEN language, used by creatures with seven eyes and seven limbs who don’t understand such notions as forward and backward. Does it make you happier? Well…

One of my favourites, along with Division by Zero. The author proved that science and linguistics are just one jump away waving a great, heartrending story of a mother grieving over the sudden death of her adult daughter. Just brilliant – I am not surprised this short story was Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award winner. It deserves those two and more.

The Evolution of Human Science

How much improvement and advance is ok and how much is too much? It sounded more like an essay or journal article written in a fictional world than a (very) short story. It is basically about posthumanism; I found it well worth reading and pondering afterward but a bit too dry.

Seventy-Two Letters

Wow. Steampunk meets golems and Kabala. Another firm favourite. A young scientist tries to prevent the extinction of human race by finding an alternative to parthenogenesis. If it was longer it would be a fantastic alternate history thriller; as it is it still qualifies as a fantastic short story, pun intended. I loved it.

Hell Is the Absence of God

A scary mixture of religious beliefs and philosophy. You visit a world where angel visitations are real and you can feel their influence. You can also get a glimpse of Hell and its inhabitants.  I was a bit wary to read it but overall I found it great. Still it was also one of the most emotionally demanding short stories in this book. Why do we have to suffer? Who is responsible for accidents, illnesses and sudden deaths of our beloved? Why some innocent children get cancer while some criminals and sadists live happily ever after? No matter whether you are religious or not, such questions must have crossed your mind. Don’t expect any answer in this one – expect a new set of questions.

Liking What You See: A Documentary

Appearances are deceptive. Don’t judge people by their looks. Easy to say. However what if a new nano-technology allowed you to switch off some parts of your brain, those responsible for deciding whether a face is attractive or ugly? Nothing permanent, mind you. Would you be tempted? Would you consider it an idea straight from a uniformity paradise or from the darkest dystopia?

Presented as a series of interviews on the political, ethical, and personal impacts if recognition of facial beauty could be flipped off. Fresh and intriguing. Also, the advertising industry is the blackest devil – yeah, nothing new.

Final verdict:

Ted Chiang is a brilliant storyteller. This collection of short  stories I found very readable, erudite, fascinating and memorable – with one or two exceptions. Anyway I feel a book like this is the reason most of us read sf/f books. Nothing I’ve managed to write here will do it full justice; you just have to read it on your own. Prepare yourself – you’ll be left gobsmacked. I was.

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10 Responses to Review: Stories of Your Life and others by Ted Chiang

  1. Melfka says:

    I see I need to recommend you more books like this (if there were more) because then I’m called “lovely”. But seriosuly, I’m glad you liked the book. “Story of Your Life” is my favourite one, but that’s a given since it’s about language.

  2. Carole Rae says:

    *claps* Yayy! I must read these. 🙂

  3. heidenkind says:

    Probably a little too sci-fi for my tastes, but definitely sounds excellent!

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