Monday, November 20, 2017

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

I don't read a ton of short stories or science fiction, but Stories of Your Life and Others has made me rethink that choice. Each of Ted Chiang's eight stories in the collection truly deserves its own post, they were all just. so. good. Unfortunately I don't have the time or the attention span for that. But I will tell you why this book was so amazing, and hopefully in the process convince you to read it for yourself.

Good fiction explores how humans react to challenges and dilemmas. Good science fiction also takes reality, tweaks couple details, and explores possibilities that could result. Chiang masterfully does both of these things in each of his stories. He brings to life deeper, more challenging philosophical and spiritual ideas than I've come across in ages. And he does by exploring topics in physics, mathematics, biology, linguistics, and cosmology that are some of the most arcane I've ever encountered. As a result, the satisfaction of contemplating deep philosophical ideas is amplified by the excitement of exploring truly novel scientific and mathematical concepts-- in every single story. This, my friends, is a stunt few writers can pull off. It's why the stories have won several awards, the book has gone through several printings, and why people like me are still raving about this book fifteen years after it was first published. To put it succinctly, Ted Chiang is in a league of his own.

If all this sounds nerdy, that's because it certainly is. Mind-blowingly, wonderfully so. Even Hollywood has started to figure this out, as they released Arrival last year, a major movie based on the title story. It got really good reviews, and from the sounds of it, they didn't even dumb the story down for mass consumption. A rare feat. I can't wait to watch it. But if you haven't seen it yet, read the book first. It's always better that way.

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