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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 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.


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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 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.

59 review for Stories of Your Life and Others

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    Update: Saturday the 12th, November 2016 I just watched the movie The Arrival and OMG it was amazing. :) :) :) I cried. Like, a lot. I had chills and sat on the edge of my seat and I was totally engaged. What's worse? The personal aspects of the movie just blew me away. And even worse? The mental ones were profound and beautiful and amazing. :) I AM SQUEEEING!!!! Now here's the big question: Am I a fanboy because the movie only improved my appreciation of the original story? Or am I just blown away Update: Saturday the 12th, November 2016 I just watched the movie The Arrival and OMG it was amazing. :) :) :) I cried. Like, a lot. I had chills and sat on the edge of my seat and I was totally engaged. What's worse? The personal aspects of the movie just blew me away. And even worse? The mental ones were profound and beautiful and amazing. :) I AM SQUEEEING!!!! Now here's the big question: Am I a fanboy because the movie only improved my appreciation of the original story? Or am I just blown away by the better presentation of the original story? The mathematical implications in the original story and the way it described what was going on is not to be discounted at all, mind you. I loved what the text could do and did. But the movie got me on a whole different level and I was laughing and crying and it was soooo damn bittersweet and glorious all at the same time. I was MOVED. Jeeze. I'm amazed, even. So? Best movie of the year? I think so. There were a lot of great ones out there, too, but this one took the cake. *shiver* :) Old Review: I can't believe that I took so long to check out this story collection. In fact, I don't believe it. For one good reason: I read one of his short stories when it came out and hadn't remembered that I had until a few pages in. AND I remembered loving it! Golems! Names of God! MURDER. :) That was one hell of a pleasant surprise. As for the rest, I admit to wanting to know the story that The Arrival is based on before I watched the movie this weekend. And here's the strange part: While I loved it, I loved all the other stories even more! *shock* Seriously, this man is a walking powerhouse of sharp-as-hell storytelling and erudition, all wrapped up in an utterly fascinating intensity and focus on singularly awesome issues. I'll skip discussion on the stories that didn't blow me away, but that still leaves almost all the stories in the book! What do I mean? Okay, take Tower of Babylon. If having a world where the building of the tower wasn't hampered, where reaching the city of God at the top takes more than a full year of pilgrimage, where we're immersed in ancient Babylon is twisted with one singular difference, can you guess what that difference is? I laughed-out-loud after I discovered it. Just imagine the old joke of half glass full/empty when applied to engineers. The glass didn't meet design specifications. Oh my god. Anyway. :) Then there was Understand, which made me think of Flowers for Algernon with a seriously different bent. Let's go ultimate intelligence with the focus on understanding the real nature of thought. Hell yeah. I mean, we didn't even need the techno-thriller aspects of this modern retelling or the fight between ultimate intelligences. Not really. But it was also fun as hell. What about Stories of Your Life? The one that is tied to the new movie? It's about linguistics and the nature of similar concepts linking the ways we think about higher physics and the fact that we need to make that bridge before we could even speak to this alien intelligence. Or how our conception of time, of cause and effect, is completely useless inside their language. If we actually begin to understand it that heavy concept, how can that change our lives? It really is gorgeous. Seventy-Two Letters: Golems as a great twist on artificial intelligence, featuring the problems of reproduction and natural selection as a linguistic issue, focusing on the Kabbalah as the key to unlock the power and creative force of God. And it's a great adventure, too! :) Liking What You See: A Documentary: Oh goodness, this was a blast. It's all focused on the nature and the use and misuse of beauty with a major twist. What if we could block the paths in our brains that let us see and feel the effects of beauty? Purpose: To see people as they really are below the skin. No more pre-judging assholes as really great people because they're pretty. No more ignoring the uglies who might be great people. Level the playing field and judge people by their actions. Great, huh? Well this documentary focuses on pilot schools and whole social movements for the treatment and the backlash of whole industries that want the slavery to continue. Really great thought-experiment, and beautifully written. Cult of personality, indeed! How much of it is skin-deep? Sorry. I got really excited about all this. :) I love it when I read really great books. :)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Kelsey

    Posted at Heradas Ted Chiang’s name continually comes up in lists of great short stories. He’s never written a novel, but his short fiction has won nearly every SF award that exists. 4 Nebulas, 4 Hugos, John W. Campbell, Locus, and on and on. He’s greatly admired among authors and almost entirely unknown by most readers. I’ve heard him referenced as an inspiration by several authors that I enjoy reading. Specifically Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (who collectively write the Expanse series under th Posted at Heradas Ted Chiang’s name continually comes up in lists of great short stories. He’s never written a novel, but his short fiction has won nearly every SF award that exists. 4 Nebulas, 4 Hugos, John W. Campbell, Locus, and on and on. He’s greatly admired among authors and almost entirely unknown by most readers. I’ve heard him referenced as an inspiration by several authors that I enjoy reading. Specifically Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham (who collectively write the Expanse series under the pseudonym James S. A. Corey) cite him as "the best SF writer". I figured I should probably do myself a service and check this collection out. After reading it, I have to agree that his writing is mind-blowing. High concept science fiction that is grounded heavily in the real world. A writer of ideas. Every single story is incredibly unique, tonally diverse and powerful in different ways. If the quality among these 8 stories wasn’t at such a consistently high level, I’d say that Chiang was merely a ghostwriting team, comprised of 8 different authors, all exceptionally talented, each with different interests, politics and prose styles. Every story genuinely feels like it could be penned by a different author. I’ve never come across a creative powerhouse like this guy. He impressed the hell out of me with every sentence. Tower of Babylon: 5/5 Killer story. The Old Testament cosmology was especially fun to hear described--passing beyond the moon, sun and stars, etc. A telling of the construction and journey up the tower of Babylon, and what lies beyond the vault of heaven. Blew my mind right open. Seriously creative. I get why it won all kinds of awards. Understand: 5/5 Again, with the unique approach to storytelling. While reading this one, I started realizing how some of these concepts have clearly influenced other stories. Most obviously, the movie ‘Limitless’ and the Max Barry novel Lexicon. I particularly liked how the language and vocabulary of the story evolves as the protagonist’s intelligence and recall increases. Division By Zero: 4/5 An examination of loss of belief, mental illness, suicide and math. What happens when everything you've worked for in your life, every kind of order that you've relied on, is suddenly incorrect? Story of Your Life: 6/5 Stop what you're doing now and read this. This is the absolute best short story I have ever read. Chiang's grasp on the English language is deeply integrated into the story itself, causality, and omniscience. It's insanely good. This was the basis for the Denis Villeneuve film Arrival. Seventy-Two Letters: 3/5 Interesting concepts, but storywise it was a little boring. The power of language to shape action and perception. Reminded me a lot of early 50s Asimov. All conceptual, not much character development. The Evolution of Human Science: 3/5 Interesting and extremely short little tale about a scientific understanding breaking down between regular humans and meta-humans. Conceptually cool, but too short to really be that interesting. Hell is the Absence of God: 5/5 The moral of the story? God is a maniacal motherfucker who doesn’t give a shit about humans, and you should love him unconditionally. This one was a real brain twister. I loved it. Liking What You See: A Documentary: 5/5 Advertisers, elective localized brain damage, culture jamming, politics, coming of age, concepts of beauty, love, relationships. This was terrific and heavily subversive.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily (Books with Emily Fox)

    I don't read very many short stories collection but after this one I feel like I now need to. This one contains the most mind bending and original sci-fi stories I've read in a while. My favorite what the last one! I don't read very many short stories collection but after this one I feel like I now need to. This one contains the most mind bending and original sci-fi stories I've read in a while. My favorite what the last one!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Kuhn

    Ted Chiang asks brilliant questions, of this there is no doubt. What if someone developed an undeniable proof that demonstrated that mathematics is unreliable? That everything we thought about geometry and physics was built on an inconsistent structure? What would that do to a brilliant, mathematical mind? What if science developed the ability to create ‘beauty blindness’? What if society were given the ability to turn on and off the ability to perceive physical attractiveness in others? What if t Ted Chiang asks brilliant questions, of this there is no doubt. What if someone developed an undeniable proof that demonstrated that mathematics is unreliable? That everything we thought about geometry and physics was built on an inconsistent structure? What would that do to a brilliant, mathematical mind? What if science developed the ability to create ‘beauty blindness’? What if society were given the ability to turn on and off the ability to perceive physical attractiveness in others? What if the Tower of Babylon was real? What would it be like to make the ascent? And what would mankind find when they reached the vault of heaven? What if a pharmaceutical treatment expanded intelligence to the maximum limit of the brain? What if it allowed full self-awareness, true enlightenment? What if evidence of Heaven and angels were regularly physically manifested on Earth? What if the existence of God was undeniable? I find this review maddening. Once again, I’m find myself up against the inadequacy of my own ability to control my expectations. This collection of short stories is full of Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. Reviews on the cover and inside of the book include phrases such as, “most anticipated short story collection of it’s generation”, “best and smartest writers working today”, and “explode into your awareness with shocking, devastating force.” So, forgive me if I went into this one with the highest of expectations. In some ways, the collection succeeds, but overall, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Again, Chiang’s ability to ask massive, thought provoking questions is clear-cut. His intelligence shines through his story, despite his unpretentious, straightforward prose. He discusses mathematics, linguistics, and physics with an ease that only one with a robust grasp can achieve. I adored some of the stories. “Liking What You See: A Documentary” is a fascinating exploration of human’s bias of beauty. The documentary format allows Chiang to explore it from every angle, like examining an idea through the many facets of a diamond. “Story of Your Life” is a brilliant tale of a language expert attempting to understand and translate alien communication. The aliens have an astonishingly different perception of reality that impacts the main character in profound ways. The story is also interspersed with a very tender and human backstory (sort of) of said main character. So, without my absurd expectations, these two stories alone might have carried the collection. However, the rest of the stories honestly disappointed me. While I believe a great writer asks more questions than they answer, I think it’s not enough to ask the big questions. I want an exceptional story to also provide some insights, whether they are explicit or implicit. “Tower of Babylon”” and “Hell is the Absence of God” dances around the implication of a verifiable God, but never really reach a conclusion. I found the ending of “Hell is the Absence of God” to be cold and disappointing (maybe that’s the point?). With “Seventy-Two Letters,” I kept waiting for a punchline that never came. “The Evolution of Human Sciences” read more to me like the author’s notes of a story, waiting to be written. “Understand” was smartly written, but I felt the ending was telegraphed and anti-climactic. In summary, an excellent collection of short speculative fiction stories that I found to be intriguing but in total did not live up to my (somewhat irrational) expectations of a near perfect collection.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Blake Crouch

    The greatest living short story writer in my humble opinion.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Apatt

    "Interfering Gremlin of GR" Alert! This review was originally of the anthology Stories of Your Life and Others, then recently I wrote a separate review for the individual story "Story of Your Life". Today I woke up to find GR have merged the two reviews. WTF? Now it looks super long-winded! OK, I'd better reorganize this review a bit. Review of the novella "Story of Your Life" Story of Your Life is one of Ted Chiang’s best stories. Ted Chiang is one of the greatest sci-fi short stories writers ever "Interfering Gremlin of GR" Alert! This review was originally of the anthology Stories of Your Life and Others, then recently I wrote a separate review for the individual story "Story of Your Life". Today I woke up to find GR have merged the two reviews. WTF? Now it looks super long-winded! OK, I'd better reorganize this review a bit. Review of the novella "Story of Your Life" Story of Your Life is one of Ted Chiang’s best stories. Ted Chiang is one of the greatest sci-fi short stories writers ever (in many SF readers’ estimation), he has won numerous Hugo and Nebula awards. This short(ish) story (novella) has been adapted into a into a film called Arrival. It is part of Chiang’s legendary anthology Stories of Your Life and Others. Story of Your Life has a twin narrative timelines or plot strands. Here is an example from each timeline: “There's no easy way for us to write our own sentences in their language. We can't simply cut their sentences into individual words and recombine them; we'll have to learn the rules of their script before we can write anything legible. It's the same continuity problem we'd have had splicing together speech fragments, except applied to writing.” “It'll be when you first learn to walk that I get daily demonstrations of the asymmetry in our relationship. You'll be incessantly running off somewhere, and each time you walk into a door frame or scrape your knee, the pain feels like it's my own.” The writing of the two timelines not only seems to be from different books, but also by different authors. One of the timelines deals with the main story arc. Aliens are orbiting Earth in their craft for unknown purposes (certainly not to invade), they initiate communication with humans through mysterious “looking glasses” devices. Neither humans or aliens have any understanding of each other’s language, so the military enlists ace linguist Dr. Louise Banks to study and somehow learn their language. It turns out that the “radially symmetrical aliens”, nicknamed “heptapods” by the humans, have separate spoken and written languages, called (by Louise) Heptapod A and Heptapod B respectively. The Heptapod B language is based on the aliens’ perception of time as simultaneous, not sequential like how humans perceive it*. In learning Heptapod B Louise also learns to perceive time as they do. The other timeline is a more intimate story of Louise’s life with her daughter, curiously written in second person future tense. The narrative switches back and forth between the two timelines. Diehard sci-fi fans are likely to find the business with the aliens more interesting than the story of Louise’s daughter’s life. Personally, I find both timelines interesting, with very different appeals. Fans of China Miéville’s excellent Embassytown will find the linguistic and philosophical explorations of this story quite fascinating. On the philosophical side, the story explores the idea of predestination, free will and how these things can affect the key decisions we make in life. Story of Your Life was previously legitimately available free to read online or download, but I suspect the movie studio has put a stop to that**. It is a well-deserved Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award winner. Ted Chiang is a wonderfully versatile writer he can be erudite, technical, philosophical, or lyrical as the story requires. I also highly recommend that you buy his amazing anthology Stories of Your Life and Others (see review further down this page). There are mind-boggling wonders to be found there. Notes: *Similar to how Kurt Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians aliens perceive time in Slaughterhouse-Five. ** There are still some great Ted Chiang stories that you can read online or download. One is The Lifecycle of Software Objects is a brilliant story that you should not miss. Try Googling for others. • Among other things, this story is also a nice tribute to Jorge Luis Borges, who is one of Chiang’s influences. • Ted Chiang reveals how Arrival went from page to screen. • Update Jan 22, 2017: The movie Arrival is not too shabby, more of a Departure than Arrival (͡° ͜ʖ ͡°), but the changes are tolerable. The military crisis they added on seems superfluous to me but the general filmgoers may need that kind of tension, I don’t know. I certainly think you would appreciate the movie better after reading “Story of Your Life” first. Quotes: “I remember once when we'll be driving to the mall to buy some new clothes for you. You'll be thirteen.” “It was strange trying to learn a language that had no spoken form. Instead of practicing my pronunciation, I had taken to squeezing my eyes shut and trying to paint semagrams on the insides of my eyelids.” “The semagrams seemed to be something more than language; they were almost like mandalas. I found myself in a meditative state, contemplating the way in which premises and conclusions were interchangeable. There was no direction inherent in the way propositions were connected, no “train of thought” moving along a particular route; all the components in an act of reasoning were equally powerful, all having identical precedence.” If you want to keep up with the Joneses in the sci-fi reading community you will have to read this short story collection. Considering he has published less than 50 stories and not a single novel Ted Chiang is one of today's best-known sf authors among sf readers, this does not make him a household name but he is a force to be reckoned with. It is also remarkable how many major sf awards he has won given the relatively small number of stories he has published. In other words, he is terrific without being prolific. Stories of Your Life and Others is the only collection Mr. Chiang has published at the time of writing, he also has a few other stories published which are not included in this volume. Having read this collection it is easy to see why he is so revered among the sf readership. All these stories are based on ideas which range from damn clever to ingenious, they are all beautifully written and most of them feature well-developed characters. I will just briefly comment on each one: "Tower of Babylon" (Nebula Award winner) The collection starts with a wonderful fantasy story that reads like sci-fi thanks to the logic employed. Imagine climbing the Biblical Tower of Babel to the very zenith, way above the clouds, all the way to where you would imagine heaven to be. Well, you don't have to imagine it, Mr. Chiang has done it for you with some amazingly visual description and immersive storytelling. "Understand" A sort of Flowers for Algernon crossed with the Cronenberg movie "Scanners" with a literally mind-blowing climax. It is very intelligently written and fast paced. I do wonder if Ted Chiang himself is a recipient of "Hormone K" therapy, his intellect does seem to be superhuman. A riveting novella-length tale. "Division by Zero" Obsession with maths can drive you mad. Not really my favorite story here, but like all the others it is clever and well written, short too! "Story of Your Life" (This is my original mini-review for this story, I'm keeping it!) One thing I hate about aliens on sci-fi TV is how goofy and anthropomorphic they tend to be. If they didn't have green skin or furry faces you would not know they are aliens. They are often just money grubbing, lusty, greedy, noble, heroic or vain as the human characters, and their language tends to be just as translatable into English as Chinese or Italian. The aliens in this story are very alien, they are beyond comprehension and if you want to speak their language you have to alter your entire way of looking at the world. This story is about more than just "first contact" however, it is also about the perception of time, fate, and predestination. "Seventy-Two Letters" (Sidewise Award winner) Another weird story set in a world where golems can be animated when embedded with names. This story is more about ideas than plot and moves at a stately pace. Again not a personal favorite but it is still interesting and not very long. "The Evolution of Human Science" More like an essay or journal article written in a fictional world than a (very) short story. It is basically about posthumanism and well worth reading and pondering afterward. "Hell Is the Absence of God" Another gobsmacking story, the fourth one in this short volume! A mind blowing fantasy set in a world where angel visitations and miracles are well known and documented facts. Religion, faith, good and evil are portrayed here in an intelligent, compassionate and logical manner. The most emotionally charged story in this collection. This one will stay with you for the rest of your days. "Liking What You See: A Documentary" Not really a documentary, but a story about how different our perception may be if we can filter out facial beauty and how "lookism" is ingrained in our lives. Written from multiple viewpoints and partly in journal style for that "macro" effect. Another excellent thought experiment. This collection of stories is generally very readable, erudite, fascinating and memorable. A book like this is the reason most of us read sf/f books. What we have here is a real "sensawunda" merchant, one of the all-time greats. After finishing this collection I immediately downloaded and read Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects which the author and publisher have kindly made available to be read online. It is also amazing and a must-read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Loving Imperfections If arithmetic were consistent, love could not exist. That is to say, if arithmetic were undeniably logical in its foundations, logic would rule the worild and love would be eliminated as the irrational thing it is. This is how I read the moral of Chiang‘s marvellous story. Mathematicians tend to view numbers as the natural constituents of the universe, existing independently in a Platonic realm of perfection. Such a universe is orderly, reliable and comprehensible even if it i Loving Imperfections If arithmetic were consistent, love could not exist. That is to say, if arithmetic were undeniably logical in its foundations, logic would rule the worild and love would be eliminated as the irrational thing it is. This is how I read the moral of Chiang‘s marvellous story. Mathematicians tend to view numbers as the natural constituents of the universe, existing independently in a Platonic realm of perfection. Such a universe is orderly, reliable and comprehensible even if it is more than occasionally painful. But the existence of love is overwhelming evidence that the universe is not constructed according to entirely consistent principles. Love appears to have no principles. It arrives randomly and dissipates the same way. Love contradicts itself by denying its own self-interest and inherent irrationality. The existence of love, therefore, brings into question the fundamentals of mathematics, even the most basic idea that 1+1=2. Love demonstrates that one number can be equivalent to any other number one wishes. Love exists, in short, because arithmetic is inconsistent.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    This is a story of love, and the devastating consequences of realising one’s love object is not as perfect as one thought. The opening paragraph reads like a maths textbook and the second is set in a psychiatric hospital. Don’t let either put you off. I married a man with a maths degree, and our child is now at university studying theoretical physics that is practically maths, but I am primarily a words person. This gave me a wonderful peek at the joy that can be found in numbers and patterns - This is a story of love, and the devastating consequences of realising one’s love object is not as perfect as one thought. The opening paragraph reads like a maths textbook and the second is set in a psychiatric hospital. Don’t let either put you off. I married a man with a maths degree, and our child is now at university studying theoretical physics that is practically maths, but I am primarily a words person. This gave me a wonderful peek at the joy that can be found in numbers and patterns - theoretical, and also physical - as well as the psychological risks. “As a child of seven… Renee had been spellbound at discovering the perfect squares in the smooth marble tiles of the floor. A single one, two rows of two, three rows of three… the tiles fit together in a square... No matter which side you looked at it from, ti came out the same. And more than that, each square was bigger than the last by an odd number of tiles. It was an epiphany. The conclusion was necessary; it had a rightness to it, confirmed by the smooth, cool feel of the tiles. And the way the tiles were fitted together… she had shivered at the precision.” She devoted her life to maths, was happy and successful, until she made a discovery that was “like a theologian proving that there was no God”. How to find meaning life after that? (And don’t say 42!) The mathematical ideas relevant to the story were explained clearly enough that I think I understood them sufficiently. If you want to delve deeper, Mark H recommended this, though I confess it went above my head: https://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~chaiti... For other stories in the collection, Stories of Your Life, see my review HERE. Image source: http://www.shelovesmath.com/ Merged review: Ted Chiang is a technical writer in the software industry (as many of the best people are). He occasionally publishes short stories, a remarkably high proportion of which have won major sci-fi awards, including 4 Nebulas and 4 Hugos for only 15 works. That indicates the quality of what’s within these pages, but may mislead about the genre, content, and style. Some are set in the far past, and the only aliens and space-faring are in the title story, though there is futuristic technology in most. Speculative fiction, more than sci-fi. Instead, these stories are primarily about inner space and ideas, especially seeking meaning by analysing patterns of language, maths, and nature. That leads to more theological and philosophical questions about good, evil, God, and what it means to be human - and at what point we cease to be such (see also Vonnegut’s Galapagos). The reviews of individual stories are in spoiler tags for easy scrolling, but don't contain spoilers. Tower of Babylon, 4* Drilling through the vault of heaven in ancient Babylon. (view spoiler)[ The first short story in a collection by a supposed sci-fi author is set in Old Testament Babylon, and features nothing futuristic or alien. It almost feels as if it were written in ancient times. If you want a label, you could use Atwood’s “speculative fiction”, or, perhaps less appealingly, maths-fiction. The Tower of Babylon has nearly reached the vault of heaven. Miners are recruited to drill through, so people can “know Yahweh better”. The tower is so high, it takes the team around four months of solid climbing, dragging tools on carts. The world-building was believably detailed, the mythology and psychology almost real. Whole communities live at levels on the tower, never coming down to earth, with ingenious ways of growing food. At higher levels, “the light of day shone upward” and plants grow sideways or down. At the very top, they walk among moving stars and “the sight of the vault inspired unease”. They question the theology and consequences of what they are doing: might Yahweh punish their arrogance, or be pleased at their aspiration and endeavour? They continue, cautiously, using ancient techniques of fire-setting and simple picks and drills, slowly creating huge chambers in the smooth granite vault. The dramatic conclusion causes a complete reappraisal of beliefs about God, man, and their relationship. Ultimately, “By this construction, Yahweh’s work was indicated, and Yahweh’s work was concealed.” Image source for ancient cylinder seal: http://www.ancient.eu/article/846/ (hide spoiler)] Understand, 4* Exponential intelligence enhancement. (view spoiler)[ If your intelligence was exponentially enhanced, almost overnight, how would you feel, and what use would you make of your new abilities and awareness? Would you seek knowledge and understanding for its own sake, or would you save the world? Is intelligence a means, or an end in itself? Leon recovers from near drowning and subsequent coma by being given the experimental Hormone K, which creates neural pathways to replace lost ones. More than he lost. If Only How many times have you wondered “If only I could do…”, but are hampered by lack of ability or knowledge, both of which are partly down to lack of time (cf Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule). Leon’s superbrain learns phenomenally quickly and remembers faultlessly, so he can accomplish in hours what “normals” would struggle to achieve in weeks, months, or a lifetime. Everything is intuitive, without conscious learning, he’s never indecisive, and “No matter what I study, I see patterns”. It’s equivalent to time dilation. When Leon realises his exceptional mind makes him of interest to others, he downplays his abilities in a test, just as gifted children often do. Selfish or self-preservation? Mind, Body, Spirit His powers are not purely intellectual - an aspect I hadn’t considered. He doesn’t get physically stronger, but he is more co-ordinated and more aware and in control of his body - even heart rate, kidney function and nutrient absorption. His ability to read body language, tics, subtext, and pheromones seem telepathic. Observing strangers on the street, he notes, a young couple “the adoration of one bouncing off the tolerance of the other” and that “a woman wears a mantle of simulated sophistication, but it slips when it brushes past the genuine article”. Leon’s quest is “enlightenment, not spiritual but rational”, and for understanding and self-awareness, he requires a new sort of language, written with ideograms. (It’s rather like semasiographic Heptapod B in The Story of Your Life aka Arrival, which I reviewed HERE.) His emotions are more complex and multi-faceted and “I know precisely how I know, and my understanding is recursive”. The downside is no subconscious, so “I witness my own delusions” rather than having dreams. There is no downtime. (Anti) Climax The weakest part was how he survived on the run, how he tried to evade and trick those who sought him, and a final confrontation. Too clichéd. Up till then, it was… mind-enhancing. Related Media The starting point of this neuro-psychological thriller from 1991 is remarkably similar to that of the 2011 film, Limitless (which I saw a few years ago), which is based on a 2001 novel, The Dark Fields, by Alan Glyn (which I have not read). Image source for superbrain: http://scontent.cdninstagram.com/t51.... (hide spoiler)] Division by Zero, 4* The devastating consequences of realising one’s love object is fundamentally flawed. (view spoiler)[ This is a story of love, and the devastating consequences of realising one’s love object is not as perfect as one thought. The opening paragraph reads like a maths textbook and the second is set in a psychiatric hospital. Don’t let either put you off. I married a man with a maths degree, and our child is now at university studying theoretical physics that is practically maths, but I am primarily a words person. This gave me a wonderful peek at the joy that can be found in numbers and patterns - theoretical, and also physical - as well as the psychological risks. “As a child of seven… Renee had been spellbound at discovering the perfect squares in the smooth marble tiles of the floor. A single one, two rows of two, three rows of three… the tiles fit together in a square... No matter which side you looked at it from, ti came out the same. And more than that, each square was bigger than the last by an odd number of tiles. It was an epiphany. The conclusion was necessary; it had a rightness to it, confirmed by the smooth, cool feel of the tiles. And the way the tiles were fitted together… she had shivered at the precision.” She devoted her life to maths, was happy and successful, until she made a discovery that was “like a theologian proving that there was no God”. How to find meaning life after that? (And don’t say 42!) The mathematical ideas relevant to the story were explained clearly enough that I think I understood them sufficiently. If you want to delve deeper, Mark H recommended this, though I confess it went above my head: https://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~chaiti... Image source: http://www.shelovesmath.com/ (hide spoiler)] The Story of Your Life, aka Arrival, 5* Language Whorfs (warps) your mind. ;) Made into a pretty good film. Full review of story HERE. Seventy-Two Letters, 2* Silly steampunk biotech. (view spoiler)[ It’s just a small step from ensuring a species’ survival to improving it. Sounds good. But is it? Steampunk biotech, with a good dose of ethical dilemmas and resulting life and death feuds and chases, but this short story felt long, certainly far longer than my interest. It’s about what it is that makes us human, the mystical power of names, replication versus sterility, gender and the potential redundancy of men, plus a bit of eugenics and… bleugh. I think it would work better on screen than it did on the page. Robert Stratton is a Victorian child with a passion for science. At university, he studies nomenclature, which is a sort of kabbalistic alchemy whereby inanimate things can be animated by the power of a very specific name (like golems). As an altruistic idealist, he founds a business to produce a variety of automata, with the aim of making them affordable for all, so easing the life of the working class. Dextrous automata are his target. Of course, some of those people fear automata will worsen their lives, by putting them out of work. And kabbalists don’t approve of the “secularization of a sacred ritual”. Meanwhile, others are secretly growing mega-foetuses in jars (from sperm, without eggs), investigating the doctrine of preformation, which assumes all living things were created at the moment of creation and therefore contain the necessary essence for all future generations. But they make a shocking discovery about the fate of humanity. “Men are no different from your automata; slip a bloke a piece of paper with the proper figures on it, and he’ll do your bidding.” Image sources: Steampunk gauntlet: http://thedarkpower.com/blog/wp-conte... Things in jars: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/BLNYdnwIOe0/hq... (hide spoiler)] The Evolution of Human Science, 3* What's the point of humans when there are metahumans? (view spoiler)[ “What is the role of human scientists in an age when the frontiers of scientific inquiry have moved beyond the comprehension of humans?” Metahumans were made possible by ordinary humans, there’s pride in that, but what’s the purpose of humans in such a world? In this future, one consequence is that human parents of metahuman babies have to decide whether to opt for embryonic gene therapy to enable digital neurological communication with other metahumans, but which means their child will become incomprehensible to them, or delay it, causing a possibly unbearable sensory deprivation to the child, who may never fully integrate with the metahuman community. What would you choose? What do you think most parents would choose, and what are the implications for humans and metahumans? That dilemma has contemporary parallels with the debate about whether deaf children should be given cochlear implants as young as possible, so they learn to speak with the hearing world, or not have invasive surgery until they’re able to decide for themselves. This is a short storyette (only three pages), originally published as Catching Crumbs from the Table. oodreads.com/review/show/1822230952&q... - work in progress. (hide spoiler)] Hell is the Absence of God, 3* Alpha Course studies Job in a world where angelic visitations are real. How to love God in an unjust world? (view spoiler)[ Which would you prefer: a judgemental God who causes suffering to sinners, or a reality where there is no justice at all? Calvin: “Do you believe in the Devil... dedicated to the temptation corruption, and destruction of man?” Hobbes: “I'm not sure man needs the help.” This short story is a rational exploration of supernatural belief. As an earnest teen, I remember being told that “Hell is the absence of God”. I think it was meant to be more unsettling than fire and brimstone. Perhaps it was, but only for as long as I strived to believe in God. Like many sincere would-be believers I couldn’t get past the issue of why a loving, omnipotent, and omniscient God allows suffering at all, particularly of the righteous (Theodicy). Angels intermittently visit this version of earth, trailing miracles and accidental tragedy in their wake, and people are sometimes glimpsed ascending to Heaven or descending to Hell. Even the non-devout see and acknowledge this, and the authorities collects stats. People seek patterns and meaning in these apparently random events. After each one, “scores of people became devout worshippers… either out of gratitude or terror”. The occasional fallen angels always answer the inevitable questions about God with “Decide for yourselves”. Neil Fisk is a rationalist who doesn’t blame God for his minor congenital leg deformity. He marries the devout (belief) but not especially religious (church) Sarah, and is utterly devastated when she dies in an angelic accident. He knows she has gone to Heaven, so wants more than anything to come to love God so that he will eventually be reunited with her. He attends a support group for those blessed or bereaved by the visitation that killed Sarah. It’s like an Alpha Course studying The Book of Job. William Blake’s illustration, Satan Smiting Job with Boils (Job 2:7). Job was a devout, wealthy, healthy man, blessed with sons. He lost everything, and was ostracised by all, who assumed God was punishing him for sins unknown to them. (Really, it was just a test of faith, to settle an argument between God and the Devil!) He railed against his unjust suffering, but ultimately accepted God’s greater power, and was rewarded. In contrast, Neil is a good man, but not devout. He doesn’t want to be angry at God; he just wants to love him. But how can he? It’s like a kidnapper demanding unconditional love as ransom. The ending packs a punch. I’m not sure what the devout will feel about it. Image sources Satan Smiting Job with Boils: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William... Calvin and Hobbes Discuss the Devil: http://theologyandchurch.com/wp-conte... (hide spoiler)] Liking What you See: A Documentary, 5* Eliminating lookism. (view spoiler)[ Mirror, mirror on the wall… I remember a childhood eureka moment when I realised that if there was no painful, nasty, evil, ugly stuff in the world, the least good things would just become the new bad (it was years before I learned the word “relativism”). But what if you neuter the ability to distinguish? “Reflections in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of ‘beauty’." Lookism This short story tackles lookism. People can have a reversible brain modification (calliagnosia, aka “calli”) so they can’t process the aesthetic qualities of faces, and therefore can’t act prejudicially or pridefully on that basis. They can still notice that eyes are blue, a nose is wonky, and tell Lisa and Amy apart, but they lack to the ability to rate qualities like symmetry and clear skin aesthetically. The resulting consequences, complications, and controversies are played out at a university in the run-up to and aftermath of a vote on whether all its students should have to try calli. The university’s motive is social justice, rather than the antithesis to the beauty industry that motivates the National Calli Association (NCA). There are short monologues from a variety of people (students, staff, parents, politicians, cosmetic corporations), each with vastly different experiences, opinions, and vested interests. Some are intransigent; others open to persuasion and experimentation. Is it better to take on a mild disability, or hope “maturity means seeing the differences, but realizing they don’t matter”? At the centre is Tamera, raised in a calli community. “Being pretty is fundamentally a passive quality...I wanted Tamera to value herself in terms of what she could do.” But on turning 18, Tamera decides to have calli disabled, though she is unsure whether it’ll be a permanent or temporary switch. Her awakening to seeing and thinking about the world in a new way is challenging, but somehow charming as well. And “charm” is a key word: Tamera is startled to learn that many of the words associated with attractiveness are etymologically related to magic, including "charm", “glamour” and most obviously, “enchanting”. Calli or Not? This story ra (hide spoiler)]

  9. 4 out of 5

    Candi

    3.5 stars I don’t often read science fiction, and when I do, those I’ve chosen in the past are more appropriately labeled as speculative fiction. Stories that take place right here on our planet, sans aliens. Or, if they do happen to occur in other worlds, what is being examined is not so much the ‘aliens’ themselves, but the nature of our own humanity in comparison to these other beings. These are the best kinds of stories, and I’ve found some of my very favorites in this genre. Having once read 3.5 stars I don’t often read science fiction, and when I do, those I’ve chosen in the past are more appropriately labeled as speculative fiction. Stories that take place right here on our planet, sans aliens. Or, if they do happen to occur in other worlds, what is being examined is not so much the ‘aliens’ themselves, but the nature of our own humanity in comparison to these other beings. These are the best kinds of stories, and I’ve found some of my very favorites in this genre. Having once read a short story by Ted Chiang in the past and finding it quite brilliant, I was game for giving this collection a go. What I discovered was that Chiang has an inquisitive mind and a love for math and science which I thoroughly admire! He makes you think and expand your mind to the point you will need to sit and ponder each story for quite some time before moving on to the next. Like an all-you-can eat buffet. You want to take it all in, but if you go too quickly, you will be overwhelmed by your overindulgence. Each story is so unique. Because I had very different reactions to each one, I'll share some thoughts on each one individually. "Tower of Babylon" (5 stars): Based on the Old Testament story, but with a fresh angle, this one transcends any time period. Men try to reach the vault of heaven in order to better understand the secrets and mysteries of God. The world building in this one was my favorite – so visual and rich in detail, especially for a short story. What happens when you break through the floor of heaven? I loved how this one ended. "Perhaps men were not meant to live in such a place. If their own natures restrained them from approaching heaven too closely, then men should remain on the earth." "Understand" (2.5 stars): After suffering from a traumatic brain injury, a man is given hormone K therapy to regenerate the damaged neurons. As a result, the man’s intelligence is enhanced exponentially. What does he do with this new gift, and how does it isolate him from others? I liked the concept of this one better than the actual execution. One of my favorite books ever, Flowers for Algernon, handles this idea with the added benefit of a pulling-at-the-heartstrings kind of emotional draw that I’ll never forget. Here, the constraints of the short story just don’t allow it to achieve that greatness. "I’m reminded of the Confucian concept of ren: inadequately conveyed by ‘benevolence,’ that quality which is quintessentially human, which can only be cultivated through interaction with others, and which a solitary person cannot manifest." "Division by Zero" (4 stars): 1 ≠ 2. What if you could prove otherwise? What if all number could be proved equal to one another?! A gifted mathematician grapples with a mathematical proof in conjunction with her ideas of love and marriage. If all that we believed about mathematics is proved false, then order no longer exists and chaos rules. This brought me back to my lonely days sitting in a math library pulling out obscure books in order to prove some confounding theorem. "She, like many, had always thought that mathematics did not derive its meaning from the universe, but rather imposed some meaning onto the universe." "Story of Your Life" (5 stars): This story contains more elements of what we naturally consider when we hear the term ‘science fiction.’ Aliens visit Earth, and teams of linguists and physicists, among others, are formed to communicate and learn from these so-called heptapods. This is the stuff that really intrigues me. So much of our own communication among humans is not conveyed properly, misunderstandings abound, and cultures and countries are always in discord with one another. How the hell are we supposed to ever truly understand an alien race should we ever make contact with one? The concept of time is brilliantly explored. Louise, the linguist, discovers more than she could ever imagine after breaking down some of the boundaries between these beings and our own species. A twist on time left me stunned. "I know how this story ends; I think about it a lot. I also think a lot about how it began, just a few years ago, when ships appeared in orbit and artifacts appeared in meadows." "Seventy-Two Letters" (2 stars): This story just tried to do a bit too much. It could have been made into two individual stories and been more impactful, perhaps. Victorian England automata combined with golems, ideas on preformation as a means of continuing the human species, and the practice of eugenics. Some of the ideas reminded me of certain tyrannical leaders of the past and present. Scary stuff indeed. "By exercising some judgment when choosing who may bear children or not, our government could preserve the nation’s racial stock." "The Evolution of Human Science": (1 star): A very brief story examining hermeneutics and the idea of metahumans. I think I fell asleep reading this one. Only this caught my attention: "… what is the role of human scientists in an age when the frontiers of scientific inquiry have moved beyond the comprehension of humans?" "Hell is the Absence of God": (4 stars): I wasn’t sure where this one was going initially, but once it clicked, I was delighted. Angels visit earth on a regular basis, inflicting pain on some and dispensing miracles to others. A thought-provoking insight into heaven and hell and the randomness of catastrophes, death, and the saving of souls. Believers beware! "… he’s always assumed his destination was Hell, and he accepted that. That was the way of things, and Hell, after all, was not physically worse than the mortal plane." "Liking What You See: A Documentary" (3 stars): If you could essentially turn off your capacity to see physical attractiveness, would you do so? That’s what calliagnosia can do for you. And vice versa – would it be better if others couldn’t see you based on your ‘beauty’ or lack thereof? One would see past the surface and into the depths of a person instead, eliminating discrimination based on looks alone. The idea was fascinating, but the style of this as a series of little interviews didn’t quite appeal to me as a straightforward narrative might. "When you see a smile that’s genuine, you’ll see beauty. When you see an act of courage or generosity, you’ll see beauty. Most of all, when you look at someone you love, you’ll see beauty." Ted Chiang is clearly an ‘ideas’ kind of writer. And those ideas are rather genius! Being a certain kind of reader, I found the emotionally charged language and dialogue I so love to be lacking in most of the stories. If you put characterization at the top of your list, you may be disappointed because that is not what Chiang is after here. He excels at challenging your mind to stretch itself farther than you could possibly imagine from a set of little stories. For that reason, I will most definitely read his work again.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gwern

    Moved to gwern.net. Moved to gwern.net.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adina

    3.5* for the 4 stories I read I am not the number 1 expert or fan of short stories so please take my review with a grain of salt. This is the first SF anthology that I read so I am basically a newbie in this genre. I will review 2-3 stories at the time as I am going through other books at the same time and I would not want to forget what I read. Tower of Babylon 2.5* As synopsis the story is about people in the Old Testament reality which are building a tower to heaven and a surprise waits when t 3.5* for the 4 stories I read I am not the number 1 expert or fan of short stories so please take my review with a grain of salt. This is the first SF anthology that I read so I am basically a newbie in this genre. I will review 2-3 stories at the time as I am going through other books at the same time and I would not want to forget what I read. Tower of Babylon 2.5* As synopsis the story is about people in the Old Testament reality which are building a tower to heaven and a surprise waits when they get there. The question behind this strange subject could be: How far should people go in the pursuit for knowledge? "Perhaps men were not meant to live in such a place. If their own natures restrained them from approaching heaven too closely, then men should remain on the earth." Understand 4* A guy left with brain damage from an accident is treated with an experimental drug in order to regain his normal functions. The results are far better than expected. This story reminded me of Flowers for Algernon, a book I recommend to anyone. The main question here is again about knowledge. I one would get infinite knowledge what it should do with it? The story is very sciency and dense. Division by Zero 3.5* A genius mathematician discovers that she can prove that 1=2 and realizes that all she knew about mathematics will never be the same. Story of Your Life 4* This one was the best of the 4 stories I read, the inspiration for the Arrival movie. Although I liked the stories I read, I wasn't to impressed. I lost the interest to continue with the other stories so I decided to give it up. I might come back to the remaining stories some other time but I doubt it. *** I just saw The Arrival which is based on Stories of Your Life story. It was amazing! You should go see it! Now I need to read the whole collection.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature: I had hazy memories of reading the title story of this collection, “Story of Your Life,” when it won the Nebula and was nominated for the Hugo in 1999, and have been wanting to reread it for ages. I finally got my hands on it again as part of this collection, and reread “Story of Your Life” first. It didn’t disappoint… in fact, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Chiang combines linguistics, psychology, and sociology with alien first contact an Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature: I had hazy memories of reading the title story of this collection, “Story of Your Life,” when it won the Nebula and was nominated for the Hugo in 1999, and have been wanting to reread it for ages. I finally got my hands on it again as part of this collection, and reread “Story of Your Life” first. It didn’t disappoint… in fact, I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Chiang combines linguistics, psychology, and sociology with alien first contact and loving vignettes about a mother’s relationship with her daughter. It blew my mind how well he did it. That novella was a clear five-star read for me (and now I really want to see the film Arrival). So I dove into the rest of this collection, which was, for the most part, a slight letdown. Chiang is still brilliant — his ideas sometimes fly a little over my head — but the actual storytelling frequently falters, with a few of the stories striking me more as focused on exploring a particular idea (in a thin fictional setting) than on telling a compelling story. Here’s the list of stories in this collection, along with my ratings and comments: 5 stars for “Tower of Babylon”: This novelette, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, retells the events of building the Biblical tower of Babel. A group of miners takes the months-long climb to the top of the tower so that they can cut through the “vault of Heaven,” which is a ceiling over the earth that the builders of the tower have reached. The twist is that, in this world, all of the beliefs about our cosmos that held sway thousands of years ago are actually real, including a flat earth. The normal rules of physics and what we know about our universe don’t apply. It’s not as mind-blowing as “Story of Your Life,” but came pretty close. I enjoyed it immensely. 4 stars for “Understand”: An introspective novelette and another Hugo Award winner, about a self-absorbed artistic man who is given a spinal injection of “hormone K” when he’s left brain-dead in the aftermath of an accident. It not only revives his brain but rebuilds his neurons in a far better way, giving him superhuman levels of intelligence. It felt rather remote and slow-paced until the rousing ending. Though that ending was fascinating, I couldn’t quite buy into the justification for the final conflict. 3 stars for “Division by Zero”: This story is an exploration of suicidal tendencies that can strike when a person’s worldview is completely upended. It’s told from a mathematician’s point of view, who discovers a proof that mathematics is inconsistent and illogical. The math elements whooshed over my head and, perhaps partly because of that lack of understanding, the rest of the story wasn’t compelling. 5 stars for “Story of Your Life,” as discussed above. It’s interesting that I loved this so much more the second time I read it. Maybe the ideas needed some time to seep into my brain. 5 stars for “Seventy-Two Letters”: In this Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning novella, Victorian steampunk is crossed with Jewish “golem” mythology, which is treated as serious science here. Chiang’s approach here is similar to that in “Tower of Babylon,” in that the way science (here, biology) works in this world is far different than in the real world. It can a while to really wrap your brain around that, and I’m not sure my brain ever entirely got there. “Seventy-Two Letters” contains several interesting ideas — especially when eugenics pops up its nasty head — but I got a little lost in the weeds. 3 stars for “The Evolution of Human Science”: This is a 3-page short-short in the form of a science journal article, discussing and analyzing what has happened to normal human scientific research now that there are “metahumans” (another subset of super-intelligent humans among us) whose scientific research and knowledge are unimaginable leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of humanity’s. The tone is highly analytical, as befits a scientific article; the subtext seems to be that normal humans are in a pathetic place now but trying to make the best of it. 5 stars for “Hell is the Absence of God”: Yet another “what if the world really worked in a different way that some people believe in” type of literary exploration (Chiang seems taken with this approach). In this disturbing novelette, yet another Hugo and Nebula winner, Chiang assumes the reality of old-style Judeo-Christian beliefs. Heaven and hell, as traditionally envisioned, are indisputably real. Powerful angels periodically appear, wreaking havoc and physical destruction whenever they do. Hell also puts in regular appearances: the ground becomes temporarily transparent every so often, and you can “see Hell as if you were looking through a hole in the ground.” But there’s very little spiritual comfort to be found in this world, along with physical blindness that’s a clear symbol of spiritual blindness. In the end we are faced with a God who is inconsistent, unfair and indifferent. It’s a well-crafted story, but personally I found the hostility to religion distasteful. 5 stars for “Liking What You See: A Documentary”: What happens when scientists figure out a way to sidestep “lookism,” turning off people’s ability in our brains to evaluate the physical attractiveness of others? It’s another piece of fiction that struck me as more of a thought experiment, built around a particular idea. Chiang goes down some less-expected paths, but here again I found the style of his story-telling to be overly analytical and remote.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Stories of Your Life and Others is a very interesting collection of stories. I think you really need to be into the “Sci” part of Sci-fi to truly enjoy them; they are thick with scientific terminology and theorems. For me, that reduced my enjoyment of a few of the stories while others had the perfect balance for me. My favorites were Tower of Babylon, Hell is the Absence of God, and Liking What You See: A Documentary. One story (The Evolution of Human Science) was only 3 pages and, therefore, too Stories of Your Life and Others is a very interesting collection of stories. I think you really need to be into the “Sci” part of Sci-fi to truly enjoy them; they are thick with scientific terminology and theorems. For me, that reduced my enjoyment of a few of the stories while others had the perfect balance for me. My favorites were Tower of Babylon, Hell is the Absence of God, and Liking What You See: A Documentary. One story (The Evolution of Human Science) was only 3 pages and, therefore, too short to rate. My least favorite story was The Story of Your Life, which is disappointing as it is the story the movie Arrival is based on and I was looking forward to seeing that. I took all my ratings for each story and got the average – I give this book 4 stars even! Tower of Babylon - 4.5 stars - A very strong start. The writing is great and comfortable to read. Chiang's speculative fiction set in biblical mythology is thought provoking and fascinating! Understand - 4 stars - An interesting but complex and heavy story. This what-if? scenario just might drive you insane! Limitless anyone? Division By Zero - 3 stars - Another story of mathematics and madness. I didn't really feel like a while lot happened here, but it was kind of interesting to think about what would happen if everything you have always fundamentally believed was proven, without a doubt, to be wrong. I believe if I was a little more into math, I would have connected to it more. The Story of Your Life - 2.5 Stars - Quite drawn out for so little resolution. Mysterious for the sake of being mysterious. Interesting premise, but the confusion that comes when it gets really technical is not balanced by an enthralling story. Seventy-two Letters - 4 stars - the premise of this story was fascinating and it was the first story in this collection with something that could be considered an action sequence. Still heavy on complex theorems, but still interesting when not too confusing. The Evolution of Human Science - no rating - 3 pages so too short to rate. Lots of big complicated words crammed together. I believe the concept is that the world where it takes place is so advanced, they have to restrict development so humans don't get too smart. Hell is the Absence of God – 5 Stars - Best story so far - pacing was great and the premise was fascinating: what if Heaven and Hell existed on the same plane as Earth and we had the potential to interact with angels on a frequent basis? This one got my brain juices flowing the most. Liking What You See: A Documentary - 5 stars - my favorite out of the collection. A perfect balance of speculative science and storytelling. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder . . . or is it?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    No accounting for taste especially your own. This book has had rave reviews and not from the usual sources. It has won a few well regarded awards. And I hated it. The overall writing style I found to be flat. The characterisation was awful. Has this author ever met another human and talked to them? It has the same warmth as an IT support manual. Quite a bit of science fiction is not exactly literary but it more than makes up for it by exploring ideas. This collection of short stories had ideas but No accounting for taste especially your own. This book has had rave reviews and not from the usual sources. It has won a few well regarded awards. And I hated it. The overall writing style I found to be flat. The characterisation was awful. Has this author ever met another human and talked to them? It has the same warmth as an IT support manual. Quite a bit of science fiction is not exactly literary but it more than makes up for it by exploring ideas. This collection of short stories had ideas but maybe a third had overt religious overtones. Not just the way religious ideas, philosophy and science may have a meeting point, no just straight up religion. There was no wit to the stories, no fun with ideas. The narrative voice was a flat monotone only relieved by vain attempts at horror. I just don't get this book but yet so many others do.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joe Valdez

    My introduction to the fiction of American author Ted Chiang comes with Stories of Your Life and Others, a 2002 collection of eight hard science fiction short stories published over the previous twelve years. My anticipation was to dust off one tale in particular, "Story of Your Life", the source material for a movie titled Arrival starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner that opens in the U.S. two months from the time I'm posting this book report. I dove into the collection due to Chiang's gift for My introduction to the fiction of American author Ted Chiang comes with Stories of Your Life and Others, a 2002 collection of eight hard science fiction short stories published over the previous twelve years. My anticipation was to dust off one tale in particular, "Story of Your Life", the source material for a movie titled Arrival starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner that opens in the U.S. two months from the time I'm posting this book report. I dove into the collection due to Chiang's gift for immersing me in worlds where physics, linguistics and engineering are used as tools for characters grasping at the very essential and emotional questions of what it means to be human. -- "Tower of Babylon" (Omni, 1990). In the world of the Old Testament, a miner named Hillalum from Elam arrives by caravan in the storied city of Babylon, where the fabled tower has extended to the vault of heaven itself and a team of miners has been contracted to tunnel through. Chiang's supplants biblical myth with physical and mechanical engineering to create a world where man is using tools and technology to create marvels and unlock the very secrets of God. This story is everything the Bible isn't when I try to read it: sensual, clear and full of wonder. The ending is one I'd like to think that Rod Serling would've appreciated. ***** (5 stars). -- "Understand" (Asmiov's, 1991). A graphic designer named Leon Greco revived after an hour drowned under the ice is treated with the experimental hormone K. Side effects for those who suffered major damage to their neural network turns out to be elevated levels of intelligence. Developing genius level skills in strategic thinking, Leon anticipates the CIA will attempt to recruit him so he goes on the run, discovering he's not the only test case to get that idea. This is an intellectually thrilling story in which Chiang very clearly and very cleverly depicts what might be capable and become of an average person who begins using their brain's capacity. ***** (5 stars). -- "Division By Zero" (Full Spectrum 3, 1991). Mathematician Renee Norwood checks out of a mental facility and returns home with her husband Carl, who anticipates he'll be able to help his wife recover from her suicide attempt due to hitting rock bottom himself in college. He doesn't anticipate that the formula Renee has discovered erodes the foundation of mathematics, forcing her to question the very nature of the reality she knows. I liked this story okay, which is more fiction with science in it than science fiction. Chiang documents the perils of a career in theory when the theories cease to be sufficient, creating a theological vacuum. I want to reread it with a dictionary. *** (3 stars). -- "Story of Your Life" (Starlight 2, 1998). When extraterrestrial ships appear in orbit and their "looking glasses" materialize in meadows around the world, linguist Louise Banks is recruited by the army for fieldwork. Working with physicist Gary Donnelly, Louise deploys to one of the screens in the U.S. Her assignment is to help establish communication with the aliens, which have seven limbs, seven eyes and are being called heptapods. Communicating with two heptapods they name Flapper and Raspberry, Louise and Gary determine that learning a new spoken language (Heptapod A) will take longer than communicating with a written one (Heptapod B). The idea of thinking in a linguistic yet nonphonological mode always intrigued me. I had a friend born of deaf parents; he grew up using American Sign Language, and he told me that he often thought in ASL instead of English. I used to wonder what it was like to have one’s thoughts be manually coded, to reason using an inner pair of hands instead of an inner voice. With Heptapod B, I was experiencing something just as foreign: my thoughts were becoming graphically coded. There were trance-like moments during the day when my thoughts weren’t expressed with my internal voice; instead, I saw semagrams with my mind’s eye, sprouting like frost on a windowpane. Louise unlocks heptapod communication, which is not based on the sequential consciousness of humans but simultaneous consciousness, which takes into account the future as well as the past and present. Louise becomes fluent in this alien consciousness, which has the side effect of (view spoiler)[illuminating the joyous life and tragic death of her own unborn daughter (hide spoiler)] and stripping Louise of what she once considered to be free will. Like the stories that precede it, this one is so good that my only criticism is that it could've been expanded into a novel. The characters seem too comfortable around the aliens, but the story is riveting and emotionally resounds. ***** (5 stars). -- "Seventy-Two Letters" (Vanishing Acts, 2000). I abandoned this story is muddled in fantasy and/or scientific concepts that I couldn't wrap my mind around. Worse, it's also the longest of the collection. I like knowing where I'm at and what the rules are quickly as opposed to belatedly. * (1 star). -- "The Evolution of Human Science" (Nature, 2000). I abandoned this story as well, the shortest in the collection, a three-page essay of some sort that doesn't attempt to tell a story but looked like jargon-filled writing to me. * (1 star) -- "Hell Is the Absence of God" (Starlight 3, 2001). The archangels (Nathaniel, Bardiel, Rashiel, etc.) exist and visit earth with the shock and awe of superheroes. Neil Fisk is forced to reevaluate his belief in God when his wife Sarah is killed by falling glass during a visitation. He seeks out a religious communicator named Janice Reilly who was not only born with flippers instead of legs, but as an adult, has her legs restored for unexplained reasons by God during a visitation. In addition, a family man named Ethan Mead has waited all of his life for a sign and struggles with what God wants from him based on the non-eventful visitation he witnessed. Ethan attended the support group meetings that followed and met other witnesses to Rashiel's visitation. Over the course of a few meetings, he became aware of certain patterns among the witnesses. Of course there were those who'd been injured and those who'd received miracle cures. But there were also those whose lives were changed in other ways: the man and woman he'd first met fell in love and were soon engaged; a woman who'd been pinned beneath a collapsed wall was inspired to become an EMT after being rescued. One business owner formed an alliance that averted her impending bankruptcy, while another whose business was destroyed saw it as a message that he change his ways. It seemed that everyone except Ethan had found a way to understand what had happened to them. This is my favorite story in the collection. The imaginative leaps and bounds Chiang takes to build a fully functioning world are staggering. Angels do exist in this world, but they're nothing like those in angel-themed movie or TV series we've seen before. In this story, as many innocent bystanders are killed or witnesses cast into lives of confusion as souls are saved. The designs of God and His messengers remains a mystery to man, who grasps at even more straws to determine their place in the world as we do in ours. Each of the three characters are taken on a spiritual journey filled with equal parts soul searching and levity. It's a truly amazing read. ***** (5 stars). -- "Liking What You See: A Documentary" (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002). Transcript of a "documentary" in which a college debates whether to ban "calliagnoisa," a medical procedure in which young people can be temporarily blocked from discriminating on the basis of physical appearance. They can see faces but have no reaction as to whether it's an attractive or unattractive face and are able to consider people on substance, not superficiality. It's "interesting," which means I didn't care for it. The transcript approach wasn't to my liking. A narrative about a college freshman who unblocks her "calli" protection and then has it reinstalled might've worked. ** (2 stars)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Leonard Gaya

    Ted Chiang is a frugal, yet many times awarded author. This collection of eight short stories, published in periodicals in the 1990s, has been republished upon the release of the motion picture Arrival (2016), adapted from one of these stories. These tales are built upon straightforward, almost minimalist ideas. What if the Tower of Babel was reaching the vault of the sky? What if there existed a drug that bestowed superhuman cognitive abilities? What if mathematics were proven inconsistent? What Ted Chiang is a frugal, yet many times awarded author. This collection of eight short stories, published in periodicals in the 1990s, has been republished upon the release of the motion picture Arrival (2016), adapted from one of these stories. These tales are built upon straightforward, almost minimalist ideas. What if the Tower of Babel was reaching the vault of the sky? What if there existed a drug that bestowed superhuman cognitive abilities? What if mathematics were proven inconsistent? What if we were visited by aliens using a language that enabled them to see time spatially? What if human copies could be made with the help of words? What would become of human science if superhuman people were able to make scientific progress incomprehensible to us? What if angels, heaven and hell had a physical presence in our world? What if there were some device that allowed us to be blind to beauty? The narrative elaborations are sometimes intellectually daunting, always painstakingly composed, always surprising, yet inevitable. Chiang is a remarkable author and, in my opinion, a worthy successor of the likes of Jorge Luis Borges. Edit: Watched Arrival, Denis Villeneuve's movie adaptation of one of these stories. Of course, they did sprinkle some conflict in there (the military are pretty much all douchebags), to accommodate for a two hours picture. I highly recommend it nonetheless. Another edit: Reread the graphic novel La Tour, by Belgian authors Shuiten and Peeters, and found a striking similarity of inspiration with Chiang's opening novelette, "Tower of Babylon".

  17. 4 out of 5

    Eh?Eh!

    These are amazing, more than 4 stars, and worth propping open on my steering wheel and glancing down to grab up a thought-ful of words at a time on straighaways and gentle curves.* As far as I can gather, Ted Chiang is an egghead scientist (technical writer?) who attended a fiction writing workshop and began belting out these incredibly well thought out short stories that have much more science than the typical science fiction. He's won enough awards that he once turned down a Hugo nomination for These are amazing, more than 4 stars, and worth propping open on my steering wheel and glancing down to grab up a thought-ful of words at a time on straighaways and gentle curves.* As far as I can gather, Ted Chiang is an egghead scientist (technical writer?) who attended a fiction writing workshop and began belting out these incredibly well thought out short stories that have much more science than the typical science fiction. He's won enough awards that he once turned down a Hugo nomination for a story that he felt wasn't just right. This collection holds 8 of his works. They're all gems with each facet edged razor-shart (I meant "sharp" but I'll leave what I typed, heh) to make you thinkthinkthink, not with difficulty but with wonder. Very much worth reading. At the end, Chiang offers a short explanation on what inspired each story. "Tower of Babylon" - A different take on the old story and the shape of the world. From a structural engineering perspective, I don't think so. "Division by Zero" - How the self can shatter when a core belief is proven false. Beautifully combined with a dissolving marriage and mismatch of empathy. Math-y. "Understand" - Cerebral action movie! Experimental treatments lead to what sounds like more than full brain use and a pursuit of gestalt, of everything. Then he learns he's not alone. "Story of Your Life" - It jumps between alien contact and a mother's memories about her child. The tense of the writing is odd until you realize that the linguistical (why isn't this a word? it should be and I want to use it) effort to understand the aliens' spoken and written languages is playing with the memories, casting doubt as to whether they're real or the thoughts of the linguist, the mother, as she pictures a child from beginning to death...whoa! I've garbled it terribly, but it's layered and that was one that caught me. "The Evolution of Human Science" - Very short piece on what it might be like if advances advanced beyond normal understanding. "Seventy-Two Letters" - Wow. I wish I'd paid better attention in history classes when we covered parthenogenesis and different early theories on reproduction. Set in Victorian times, referring to golems and steampunk-like ideas (I think?), it reminds me a little of the ending of the newer BSG series. "Hell Is the Absence of God" - The most eloquent instructor I'd ever had who spoke about creation and God in the classroom was a thermodynamics professor. Chiang's story reminds me of him. The world in this story witnesses regular angelic visitations, which bring miracles but also great havoc and often kill more people than benefit. The rules seem arbitrary and unfair. Fascinating. "Liking What You See: A Documentary" - Argh, another amazing one! Presented as a series of interviews on the political, ethical, and personal impacts if recognition of facial beauty could be flipped off. Also, the advertising industry is the devil. *Uh, if I was one who would be so irresponsible to do such a thing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Coding Languages vs. Natural Languages: “Story of Your Life and Others” by Ted Chiang Are you familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Back in the day when I was in college I remember writing a paper on applying this language paradigm to coding. It was so long ago I don’t really remember what I wrote, but I still remember agreeing with the fact that coding could also be a fitting subject to the Sapir-Whorf wisdom… Thinking it over once If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Coding Languages vs. Natural Languages: “Story of Your Life and Others” by Ted Chiang Are you familiar with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Back in the day when I was in college I remember writing a paper on applying this language paradigm to coding. It was so long ago I don’t really remember what I wrote, but I still remember agreeing with the fact that coding could also be a fitting subject to the Sapir-Whorf wisdom… Thinking it over once again, and being a “more mature human being” (meaning: “being advanced in years”), I still think we can draw some parallels between natural and programming languages. For starters, the way both types of languages are built allow coders to adapt and shift their ways of thinking more fluidly as they learn new programming languages than as they learn new spoken languages. It is that diversity that allowed me to both grow individually as a programmer and further advanced my own tastes when it came to choosing my favourite programming languages. The rest of this review can be found elsewhere.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kristijan

    Dok ne sročim nešto o ovoj kolekciji priča, evo mojih ocena: Vavilonska kula - 4 Shvati - 4 Deljenje nulom - 3 Priča tvog života - 5 Sedamdeset dva slova - 5 Razvoj ljudske nauke - 3 Pakao je odsustvo Boga - 5 Voleti ono što vidiš: Dokumentarac - 4 Dakle, prosečna ocena za celu zbirku je: 4,125 Ove tri priče koje su dobile peticu su baš baš baš odlične!!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    [UPDATED] This collection of short stories was quite insightful. There are seven stories here: Tower of Babylon was probably my favorite. It is based on the Biblical story but with great twists and insights about human pretentious at higher knowledge and how the universe conspires silently to confound them. Understand was an interesting one, but for me ended kind of abruptly. The idea of augmented intelligence was addressed famously (and better IMHO) in Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, but still this [UPDATED] This collection of short stories was quite insightful. There are seven stories here: Tower of Babylon was probably my favorite. It is based on the Biblical story but with great twists and insights about human pretentious at higher knowledge and how the universe conspires silently to confound them. Understand was an interesting one, but for me ended kind of abruptly. The idea of augmented intelligence was addressed famously (and better IMHO) in Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, but still this story does have some interesting ideas about the dangers of isolation and paranoia for particularly enhanced individuals. Story of Your Life was a beautiful, moving story about language and extra-terrestrials and different ways at looking at phenomena in the natural world. My second favorite. Apparently, it was shot as a movie in "Arrival", but I missed that one in the theaters. I watched it in an airplane and enjoyed it a lot despite the Hollywood modifications to the plot. I thought visually they did a good job of rendering the aliens, but they overplayed the military aspect that was not really a factor in the short story. The lesson was more about finding common ground. The coolest aspect of the story, besides the linguistic aspect, was the bit about non-linear time. No spoilers though, you’ll have to read it for yourself! Seventy-Two Letters was a sort of interesting story but I got hung up on the names idea and never really was fascinated with golems and cabalistic philosophy. Not my cup of tea perhaps, or over my head? Not sure: I really wanted to like this one, but it eluded me. The Evolution of Human Science is a really short report from a meta-human of human science. Kind of bizarre. Hell Is the Absence of God was a great story about angels and belief in God and I really enjoyed it. I used a similar idea in my first book, so it was nice to see someone else thinking along similar lines. Liking What You See: A Documentary was the last story in the collection about a calli, a technique for combatting what the author calls "lookism" or the discrimination against folks based on their looks. Set on a college campus, the debate rages over the benefits vs the costs of this technology. Interesting, but for me, not compelling. The stories are followed by story notes which provided insight into what inspired Ted Chiang to write each story. I find his writing fresh and interesting and will probably seek out other work (but not after making a dent in my current reading list). That being said, as interesting as his ideas are, for short fiction in the sci-fi arena, I still prefer Ken Liu and his The Paper Menagerie.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Carmen

    THIS STORY IS THE ORIGIN OF THE 2016 FILM "ARRIVAL" "God, of course I know that. Do you think I'm an idiot?" "No, of course not." What I'll think is that you are clearly, maddeningly not me. It will remind me, again, that you won't be a clone of me; you can be wonderful, a daily delight, but you won't be someone I could have created by myself." This is a brilliant short story. Basically the plot is (view spoiler)[learning an alien language allows the MC to see the future, because the aliens have thi THIS STORY IS THE ORIGIN OF THE 2016 FILM "ARRIVAL" "God, of course I know that. Do you think I'm an idiot?" "No, of course not." What I'll think is that you are clearly, maddeningly not me. It will remind me, again, that you won't be a clone of me; you can be wonderful, a daily delight, but you won't be someone I could have created by myself." This is a brilliant short story. Basically the plot is (view spoiler)[learning an alien language allows the MC to see the future, because the aliens have this ability and when she learns to think, dream, read, and speak Alien she gains this ability. (hide spoiler)] The good part is that Chiang is slow in revealing this. The story is very smart. The sprinkling of physics and linguistics in here is both delightful and clever, but Chiang neatly avoids becoming too professorial. Instead, he competently shows his grasp of human nature through the MC's relationship with her growing daughter. It'll be when you first learn to walk that I get daily demonstrations of the asymmetry in our relationship. You'll be incessantly running off somewhere, and each time you walk into a door frame or scrape your knee, the pain feels like it's my own. It'll be like growing an errant limb, and extension of myself whose sensory nerves report pain just fine, but whose motor nerves don't convey my commands at all. It's so unfair: I'm going to give birth to an animated voodoo doll of myself. I didn't see this in the contract when I signed up. Was this part of the deal? The story -both the human aspect and the alien aspect, the personal aspect and the science aspect - are fascinating and ripe with potential. It's hard not to want to see this as a full length novel. As someone who speaks two languages, it's hard not to get giddy with excitement at Chiang's representation of how learning other languages can expand your worldview in ways beyond your wildest imaginings. Tl;dr - Smart, sweet, short and full of fascinating concepts begging to be explored. UPDATE: I saw the film and I don't think it is as good as this short story. Usually that's not the case, usually I enjoy films LESS than the books they are based on but MORE than the short stories they are based on. But I think the film was a bit dull.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    Review once I'm home. For now, let's just say that the final story got me into trouble with some people at the train station. *lol* ... Now that I've had some time to reflect on all the stories I've listened to in this collection, I can honestly say that not one was bad. Sure, three were rather mediocre, but the others were either at least good or even so exceptional that they made up for the mediocre ones without much effort. There are 8 short stories in this book: 1) Tower of Babylon 2) Understand 3 Review once I'm home. For now, let's just say that the final story got me into trouble with some people at the train station. *lol* ... Now that I've had some time to reflect on all the stories I've listened to in this collection, I can honestly say that not one was bad. Sure, three were rather mediocre, but the others were either at least good or even so exceptional that they made up for the mediocre ones without much effort. There are 8 short stories in this book: 1) Tower of Babylon 2) Understand 3) Division by Zero 4) Story of Your Life 5) Seventy-Two Letters 6) The Evolution of Human Science 7) Hell Is the Absence of God 8) Liking What You See - A Documentary The first was good but not outstanding, the second and third were mediocre, the fourth (which is the basis for the movie Arrival that is now in theatres and the reason I read this book) was spectacular, the fifth was mediocre again, the sixth was as good as the first, and the last two were as fantastic as the fourth. For this review I'd like to focus on the three stories I found exceptional. Stories of Your Life: As a linguist, I was delighted to find a story where a linguist is the most important person. Because I can tell you from personal experience (and yes, I'm totally biased) that linguistics is NOT boring. Quite the contrary. Nevertheless, I often see people's eyes glaze over when I try to explain why not. To see Hollywood making linguistics popular (hopefully) is therefore a dream come true. The story did not progress the way I had expected but the concept as well as the execution were so stunningly beautiful that I'm still marvelling at both. Also, the emotional and moral implications are very heavy (in the best of ways). And the process of establishing communications with the aliens was fairly realistic (fairly because we're talking about aliens, realistic definitely in Terran terms like when the author explains the importance and difference between written and spoken language). Here is a link a friend here on GR posted, showing the opinion of a linguist who saw the movie (beware of spoilers!): http://gizmodo.com/what-arrival-gets-... I, personally, haven't read the article yet since it contains spoilers to the movie (which seems to be slightly different from the book so I wanted to wait) so I will get into more detail after having seen the movie. Hell Is the Absence of God: The story was fantastically sarcastic - or at least I chuckled and laughed out loud at it. It shows very clearly why I could never be religious and everything that is wrong about religion (which means some people should probably not read it). Again, very intelligently executed too. Also, which is very important especially with such a topic, the reader is not forced to accept the author's opinion because he doesn't exactly show it - instead we have all the facets and are given the choice whether we hold with this or that character in the story and the respective world view. Liking What You See - A Documentary: This was by far the funniest. A very important story especially nowadays that so many groups of people claim the moral high-ground, are constantly offended by everything so they constantly cry "ban this" or "ban that" and voluntarily hand over their rights and freedoms because they are desperate to feel "safe" (aka they are addicted to the illusion of being safe). I was very impressed with the different POVs here. Some of the ideas used in this book aren't new but the way they were presented was always intelligent (yes, even in the mediocre stories). What I also liked was that there were two narrators alternating in narrating the stories (except for in the last one where they both narrated together, depending on who "spoke"). Although every story was completely different from the others, the characters were always true to life, their fates moving, and every situation was portrayed in a sort of 360°-examination; I suspect so as not to influence the reader opinion-wise. Overall, this little collection proves that the author knows a lot about science and classic scifi themes and that he has a great talent for writing and making readers think critically about the world around them. I'm not surprised his stories have won several different awards and am now impatient to see the movie Arrival!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Montzalee Wittmann

    Arrival by Ted Chiang is an ebook I picked up from the library because everyone was talking about the movie and I wanted to watch it but I like to read the books before seeing the movies, I have a thing about that. I didn't know this was a book of short stories. Again, I have a thing about not reading blurbs if I can help it in books I have already. (If I am looking for a book, that is different.) This book is not a novel but a lot of short stories. Each one is drastically different and each mak Arrival by Ted Chiang is an ebook I picked up from the library because everyone was talking about the movie and I wanted to watch it but I like to read the books before seeing the movies, I have a thing about that. I didn't know this was a book of short stories. Again, I have a thing about not reading blurbs if I can help it in books I have already. (If I am looking for a book, that is different.) This book is not a novel but a lot of short stories. Each one is drastically different and each make the reader really think, think deep. I like that. The one that became the movie, wow. I enjoyed it too. I am glad someone told me about the movie so I tracked down this talented author. I really enjoyed these short stories. My emotions and brain was all over. It was stretched and it felt good. Now, I can't wait to go watch the movie! Can't wait to see how they made this short into a full length movie! I hope it did story justice.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    6.0 stars. Simply put, this is the single best collection of short fiction (science fiction or otherwise) that I have ever read. While my personal favorite is "Hell is the Absence of God," each and every story has something memorable, something original and something brilliant to offer. If you have not experienced Mr. Chiang's warmly intelligent and scientific yet emotional prose, then do yourself a favor and IMMEDIATELY go and get a copy of this collection. You will be very glad you did. HIGHES 6.0 stars. Simply put, this is the single best collection of short fiction (science fiction or otherwise) that I have ever read. While my personal favorite is "Hell is the Absence of God," each and every story has something memorable, something original and something brilliant to offer. If you have not experienced Mr. Chiang's warmly intelligent and scientific yet emotional prose, then do yourself a favor and IMMEDIATELY go and get a copy of this collection. You will be very glad you did. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!!! Winner: Hugo Award for Best Short Fiction Winner: Nebula Award for Best Short Fiction Winner: Locus Award for Best Collection

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dana Ilie

    Way to short. I liked the concept, but it was so short, I like big books....

  26. 4 out of 5

    Simeon

    Story of Your Life Told from the perspective of a mother remembering her child. Absolutely heartbreaking. And it was only 50 pages. The mother, a linguist, is recruited by the government to interpret the language of an alien species, and she adopts a new perception of reality. Easily one of the best short stories ever written. The Tower of Babylon A weird and mysterious way to start the short stories collection. Rewriting legend; as always with Chiang, best prefaced with the words: "Imagine if..." Un Story of Your Life Told from the perspective of a mother remembering her child. Absolutely heartbreaking. And it was only 50 pages. The mother, a linguist, is recruited by the government to interpret the language of an alien species, and she adopts a new perception of reality. Easily one of the best short stories ever written. The Tower of Babylon A weird and mysterious way to start the short stories collection. Rewriting legend; as always with Chiang, best prefaced with the words: "Imagine if..." Understand Mind-blowing for its brevity, Ted Chiang's best stories are so compact, less talented authors would be tempted to expanded them into novels. Understand begins with the harrowing experience of being trapped beneath the ice. A new treatment for brain damage turns into something unexpected. The story has parallels to the movie Limitless, but with the Hollywood crap replaced by meaningful, philosophical implications. Division by Zero This is a beautiful story inside the life of one of the world's foremost mathematicians as she discovers a new theorem... Hell is the Absence of God Ah, what if religion were based on scientific evidence, and the apparition of heavenly interference were something consequential... What if angels were a little more... [image error] Cognitive dissonance abounds.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    Stories of Your Life and Others: Sadly I couldn’t connect with these stories Originally posted at Fantasy Literature This is one of books that receives such universal praise and accolades from readers, critics, and award committees that it represents a real risk for a book reviewer. After all, if you love the book, you’re merely contributing to the overwhelming chorus of praise and not really adding much to the discussion, but at least you are “on the same page” as everyone. The alternative is m Stories of Your Life and Others: Sadly I couldn’t connect with these stories Originally posted at Fantasy Literature This is one of books that receives such universal praise and accolades from readers, critics, and award committees that it represents a real risk for a book reviewer. After all, if you love the book, you’re merely contributing to the overwhelming chorus of praise and not really adding much to the discussion, but at least you are “on the same page” as everyone. The alternative is much more frightening. If you didn’t like or connect with a certain book, then you are either 1) too insensitive to recognize genius when it confronts you, 2) a perverse contrarian who takes pleasure in criticizing what everyone else likes, or 3) clueless and have no credibility as a reviewer. Well, despite repeated listenings to the stories of Ted Chiang’s collection, I just didn’t get why they were so amazing and brilliant. I can certainly recognize their careful crafting, intellectual rigor, rationalism, and serious thought about religion and faith. But did I care about the characters or say “wow, amazing” at the end of each story? Not really. Instead, I found the heavy role of mathematics, theoretical physics, language theory, and cool rationalism to be an obstacle to developing an emotional connection to the characters. This was particularly true of “Story of Your Life”, which is all about mathematics, quantum physics, alien linguistics, sequential vs. simultaneous time, but overlays this onto the very human story of a mother recounting the various events of her daughter’s life from a unique perspective. This should be EXACTLY the type of story that I love, given that I find all those topics fascinating. So in terms of story DNA, it should be a perfect story for me, but I’m afraid its like a painting I can appreciate for its technical brilliance and delicate structure, but it didn’t move me. Since this story not only won awards but also served as the inspiration for the 2016 Academy Award-winning SF film Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, it is certainly a story that gained plenty of attention. I’ll have to watch the movie now, since many of the book reviewers also rave about it as “that rare creature, a SF film that relies on intellect rather than CG and space battles.” Again, usually exactly my cuppa tea, so I’m at a loss to understand why I didn’t care all that much for it. “Understand” is my favorite story in the collection, very much in the “Flowers for Algernon” mold but much more intense, about a man who in the process of being treated for a terrible accident is granted super intelligence, and his growing understanding of what it means to be smarter than the rest of the human race. The ending is quite dramatic and memorable. There are also several stories that examine religious faith, specifically Biblical themes like “Tower of Babylon” and a literal vision of a world in which Heaven and Hell are real, “Hell is the Absence of God”. Both of these stories take a famous religious idea like the Tower of Babel or Heaven/Hell and then treat it in the most literal and magic realist terms. “Tower of Babylon” describes that famous structure reaching into the stratosphere, and the construction workers who toil for generations to built it and what happens when they finally reach the Dome of Heaven. It is clearly a story about faith, but the conclusion and message was opaque to me. I tend to not respond to stories with religious themes, not being a believer myself, but still, I just didn’t get the point. “Hell is the Absence of God” was a much more pointed story about why people go to Heaven or Hell, whether God is just or capricious, and whether good deeds and thoughts go rewarded or not. It is actually a fairly interesting exploration of “why do bad things happen to good people, and vice versa”, but I have never heard a convincing explanation of this that involves divine will, the conclusion of this story only confirmed for me that rewards and punishments have no connection with belief or actions, though I don’t think that was the intended message. Again, I just am not wired to understand these things. “Seventy Two Letters” was a strong story, a very steampunk story of an inventor who creates a Golum that forms the basis of an alternate Industrial Revolution in England, and also has some interesting parallels with computer programming. It also raises some questions about creating life and the responsibilities that come with that. I’d say this was one of the stronger stories of the collection. “Liking What You See: A Documentary” is about our human obsession with physical appearances and what would happen if this could be removed via a medical procedure. What would happen if you no longer perceived others as “beautiful” or “ugly”? Would you then judge them for their character or actions, and would this create a more just society? Again, an interesting thought experiment that Chiang explores via a series of journalistic articles and snippets of college students’ opposing views of this procedure, much like a pro-anti type debate. It was a good idea, but I thought it dragged on far too long and I lost interest partway through. Overall, I think this collection will probably please more readers than not based on all the rave reviews and awards, even though I didn’t like it all that much. The audiobook was ably narrated by Abby Crayden and Todd McLaren, who convey the cool, cerebral tone of the stories.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachel (Kalanadi)

    I have a very emotional personal connection to this short story collection. It’s intense enough inside my head and unique to my experience, so that even talking about this feels like baring an uncomfortably sensitive part of one’s flesh… It’s like crying in public because you can’t stop, and hoping nobody laughs at you for being soppy when you are, in fact, grieving. I first read Stories of Your Life and Others in 2014, and I finished it the day before I had surgery. This was a very intense time I have a very emotional personal connection to this short story collection. It’s intense enough inside my head and unique to my experience, so that even talking about this feels like baring an uncomfortably sensitive part of one’s flesh… It’s like crying in public because you can’t stop, and hoping nobody laughs at you for being soppy when you are, in fact, grieving. I first read Stories of Your Life and Others in 2014, and I finished it the day before I had surgery. This was a very intense time – as I had been suffering anxiety attacks repeatedly that year, and this surgery was the dreaded culmination of all that anxiety and worry and problems I’d had. I was almost literally throwing myself into a reading frenzy to escape. In those last few days of horrible worry and trying to calm myself, I was reading this collection and Angelica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial. They were completely what I needed at the time – and they were SO GOOD. Here’s the thing: I wanted very badly to recommend this collection to someone in my life in 2014. With the way life went, between my surgery, recuperation, physical therapy, work, anxiety… a few months passed, and the person I wanted to share this with lost their battle with cancer. I didn’t think about this very much until now. Two years later, rereading this collection, and particularly the title piece, “Story of Your Life”, was like getting kicked in the gut. I was in the middle of this story and thought to myself “Oh, D. would love this, D. should use this story in that linguistics course, this is perfect…Oh.” Oh. There are weird parallels here. That story is about linguistics – spoken and written language, and logograms that shape one’s perception of time and of the universe. It’s about a mother telling the story of her child’s life and death, viewed from the past and the future. I want to share this story with a person who taught me a linguistics course, who once gave me an assignment to fashion a written message to send to aliens, and who isn’t here anymore. I love this story, and I am always going to associate it with grief. Let’s talk about the actual fiction now... When I first picked up Stories of Your Life, I was convinced I didn’t like reading short stories and that I was going to bounce off that length of fiction forever. And then “Tower of Babylon” grabbed me. I think this is when I had that first revelation: you can read a lot of decent short stories and enjoy them. You can read dozens and dozens of them and think “oh yeah, short fiction is just OK, I’m not really into them”… and then you will read your first amazing short story. From the opening paragraph, even from the initial sentence, you can tell a fantastically told story from a merely good one. Ted Chiang taught me that. In my original short review, I think I said he had single-handedly converted me to loving short stories. “Tower of Babylon” is biblical science fiction (“Babylonian” science fiction, per the author’s notes) about the creation of the Tower of Babylon, to reach the Vault of Heaven, and dig through to see what lies beyond. A story with a wonderful style and tone, and quite a science fictional ending. This is one of my favorites, and very memorable. “Understand” is about a hormone therapy for brain damage that creates superintelligent beings, whose heightened intellect quickly launch them into posthuman territory. To what extent can the human body and mind hold up under such immense intellectual strain? Can a human know and understand and comprehend everything, including their own mind? In “Division by Zero”, a brilliant mathematician discovers a proof that renders all mathematics meaningless. While she is crushed by this on a logical, intellectual level, her husband has to deal emotionally with her suicide attempt. A story that made me think about how little it might take to kick the legs out from underneath whatever you believe is constant. You already know my emotional thoughts on “Story of Your Life”, which is two interlinking narratives, one in the future tense and one in the past, one in second person and one in first. In the past tense, a woman works to learn the language of alien visitors, and in the other, she narrates to “you”, her daughter, the story of “your” life, flashing back (or really forward) to jumbled parts. The line that reduced me to ugly crying? “Yes, that’s her. She’s mine.” After the emotional high of “Story of Your Life”, it might be harder for me to commit myself to the following stories, but they’re good too! “Seventy-Two Letters” is about golems, preformation, and genetics. This concept is fascinating – another one just right for any person who loves the power of language, and the power it has on the physical world. “Hell Is the Absence of God” has the most provocative title in the whole collection. In it, angelic visitations are regular awe-inspiring phenomena, natural disasters that bestow miraculous cures on a few and kill or wound bystanders. Everyone knows who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. When a man’s wife dies horribly because of a visitation and then goes to heaven, he blames God at the same time that he wants to finally love God so that when he dies he can also go to heaven, and rejoin his wife. I find this story very challenging (ah, how my rational mind butts heads with arguments about belief and faith). I think it’s very interesting to see how people with different religious/areligious backgrounds respond to it. “The Evolution of Human Science” is brief; it’s one of the few stories in the collection I find unmemorable. The final piece, “Liking What You See: A Documentary”, is a documentary-style account of students debating and voting about whether all students at their school should be required to induce calliagnosia, an inability to “see” and respond to physical beauty in others. Does “not seeing” beauty guard people against the effects of the prejudices and privileges associated with beauty? Another great concept for a story, but the only one in the collection who’s structure and storytelling format I dislike. This is a great collection, and Ted Chiang deserves all the praise. We need another collection of his newer work now!

  29. 4 out of 5

    JV (semi-hiatus)

    Ted Chiang is a genius! This anthology is total brain candy. Although some of them are quite dense for my taste, it makes you think and re-read the paragraphs so that you can have a thorough grasp of what he's actually trying to say. Although this is tagged as "sci-fi", it lingers more on "hard science" since it discusses scientific theories and other jargons, which is also esoteric, by all means. "Tower of Babylon" - 5★ Tower of Babel by lindbalk Oh, dear miners and builders! For centuries, y Ted Chiang is a genius! This anthology is total brain candy. Although some of them are quite dense for my taste, it makes you think and re-read the paragraphs so that you can have a thorough grasp of what he's actually trying to say. Although this is tagged as "sci-fi", it lingers more on "hard science" since it discusses scientific theories and other jargons, which is also esoteric, by all means. "Tower of Babylon" - 5★ Tower of Babel by lindbalk Oh, dear miners and builders! For centuries, you all toil for such grandeur. Up, up, and up you all go, living and thriving in each part of the tower and refusing to set foot on humble earth. Better yet, you all had that enjoyment of piercing the magnificent veil of creation, even surpassing celestial bodies, and reaching heaven's vault. Might I say that "curiosity killed the cat"? That humanity's hubris would always lead to their demise. Boundaries exist for a reason. For if it were not to exist, then men would be God themselves. And also, did cracking the dome of heaven do any good? If it were, where did Hillalum end up to? (view spoiler)[Much thanks to Belinda Carlisle's fanciful song, but I'll let Master Yoda do the talking for the hilarity of such discovery: (hide spoiler)] "Understand" - 3★ Imagine that you're in such a vegetative state, barely clinging to life. Then, tada! Here comes Hormone K, an experimental drug that when infused into the body, repairs damaged neurological functions and even unlocks 100% of your intelligence. Apparently, Hormone K works best for those whose brain damage is the greatest: Alzheimer, stroke, and comatose patients. Such is the case for Leon. Yup, he's a lab rat wonder, but when he withdraws from the said experiment, everything goes awry and the CIA wants him for good and for whatever purpose. And thanks to his enhanced mind, he's able to surpass the "normals" due to his ingenuity. His intelligence is more than just an enhancement. It heavily augmented his motor, sensory, and cognitive skills. But what is truly more astounding is that he's able to read body language, interpret pheromones, and understand his heightened "self-awareness" flawlessly with his magnificent mind. He ultimately survives the CIA search but is later confronted by his nemesis, Reynolds, another human injected with the same enhancing hormone. As for this story, I didn't quite enjoy this one as I've already seen and read this kind of trope, albeit it's still an acceptable read. There's much to ponder for this particular story: "How much will you sacrifice in pursuit of knowledge? Moreso, how will you use your intelligence? Is it a means? Or is it just an end itself?" "Division by Zero" - 4★ TW/CW: Suicide, suicide ideation This title should be replaced as 1 = 2! For non-mathematicians like me, the key to understanding this one is not to take everything literally. Although I'm curious how our mathematician friends would interpret this one. Subsets A and B are represented by Renee (wife) and Carl's (husband) POV respectively. These are two distinct, yet comparable experiences, but one that cannot be understood by the other. Renee realizes something about mathematics that shatters her to the very core and she ended up in the psych ward, but her apparent suicide was prevented by Carl, who is also a suicide survivor. On the other hand, Carl tries to understand Renee (after being released from the ward) so that he can thoroughly support her on an emotional level. Eventually, he gets that connection, but he notices something about his feelings — it's the same destructive one as Renee's. Was he being true to himself? Is he that kind of person who thinks he is? Furthermore, how would you react when all you have ever believed in, those fundamental truths that you truly hold dear, is proven untrue, by your own self? Would you still live with it? "Story of Your Life" - 6★ Mind-blown! This is the most popular short story of Ted Chiang. After the arrival of aliens, the US military hires Dr. Louise Banks to interpret language and communicate with them. Working with Louise is Dr. Gary Donnelly, a physicist assigned to gain knowledge from the aliens known as Heptapods. As Louise learns the Heptapod's language, she discovers something astounding. The true wonder about the Heptapod's language is that their written and spoken language is completely different. Heptapod A consists of their spoken language that is in free word order (e.g. “process create-endpoint inclusive-we" meaning "let's start" in human language). In order to thoroughly grasp the spoken language, one must learn Heptapod B, their written language, which is a semagram/logogram that consists of a complex structure representing art/painting (imagine a circular object and draw a diagonal line through it). By immersing herself in their written language, Louise learns that the Heptapod's perception of the universe, especially time, is different from ours. While humans perceive time as sequential and causal, Heptapods perceive it as teleological. (view spoiler)[This perception of non-linear time allows them to simultaneously access past and future events while being at the present. Louise soon discovers this "gift". The memories she's actually been experiencing aren't "flashbacks" or "flashforwards". It's also not time travel! (hide spoiler)] Fermat’s Principle of Least Time is also discussed and has something to do with the difference between our perception to that of the Heptapod's. This story is a great examination of free will, time, and determinism: "The existence of free will meant that we couldn't know the future. And we knew free will existed because we had direct experience of it. Volition was an intrinsic part of consciousness. Or was it? What if the experience of knowing the future changed a person? What if it evoked a sense of urgency, a sense of obligation to act precisely as she knew she would?" And don't forget to watch Arrival (the film adaptation of Chiang's story)! The movie and story are equally beautiful on their own. "Seventy-Two Letters" - 2★ A snoozefest, this story is. Automata (robots), golems, Victorian London? Sounds good to me! Mix it with sci-fi, steampunk version? Fail! I prefer this one to be grounded in the realm of magical fantasy or horror (which makes it more interesting). Anyway, we follow Robert Stratton from his kiddo days up to being a nomenclator. Nomenclators breathe life into an automaton, golem, and other beings by giving and inserting "names" into them, which are patented. Think of these "names" as their soul, essence, or consciousness. These names have epithets in them, i.e., 72 letters formed together as a set that gives specific qualities or characteristics and are used in discovering names. When these names are inserted into inanimate objects, it becomes alive and acquires the specific characteristic inserted into them. The problem is, humans are also being reproduced through a process called "parthenogenesis" by impressing names into ovum for the survival of our species. Here lies the argument of religion vs. science and creator vs creation. Too nerdy for me! "The Evolution of Human Science" - 3★ Ah yes! The Sugimoto gene therapy. The one that makes metahuman embryos compatible with DNT (digital neural transfer) prior to neurogenesis. However, this process is voluntary: parents could opt for it, but it would totally make their child unrecognizable to them OR postpone the process to the detriment of the child. If my memory serves me correctly, DNT allows metahumans to communicate with other metahumans, but not normal humans. It's also peculiar how humans would develop such advanced technology for the sake of further advancement. Now, super intelligent metahumans are already at the forefront of science. So how can the gap between humans and metahumans be addressed and how to better understand one another? Too short for me to love it. "Hell is the Absence of God" - 6★ This story is totally amazing and darkly humorous. Neil, Janice, and Ethan's fate intertwine to tell a bittersweet story, but mostly this is Neil's religious journey as he grieves the death of his wife, Sarah, who was killed accidentally. We get a glimpse at frequent angel visitations all throughout the world delivering both miracles and disasters. Heaven, Hell, and God literally exist. Bystanders brace for impact as angels descend and innocents die for a reason we don't know. The curious ones seeking the light of heaven (imagine tornado chasers, yup, they're obsessed about it). People are dumbstruck and perplexed as they totally witness the dearly departed's soul going to either Heaven or Hell. This poignant tale tackles devotion, faith, love, and religion in thought-provoking ways. "Liking What You See: A Documentary" - 6★ Beautiful (no pun intended) and hilarious, by all means. Loved this one in its entirety. This story is the most quotable of all short stories written by Chiang. If we have racism and sexism, then we also have lookism. Yup, discriminating someone just because of their looks. However, this issue is addressed by calliagnosia or "calli", a procedure wherein a pharmaceutical-grade neurostat is inserted into our brain's neurological pathway to block our ability to perceive beauty with regard to facial appearances. With calli, you "ignore the surface, so you can look deeper." Utopia indeed! What's enchanting about Chiang's story is the way how he explores beauty vis-a-vis various ideologies and its implications of having a technological advancement such as calli. A great read!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chris March

  31. 4 out of 5

    Greg

  32. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  33. 5 out of 5

    Matt Napier

  34. 5 out of 5

    Ali Davis

  35. 5 out of 5

    Kris

  36. 4 out of 5

    martha

  37. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  38. 5 out of 5

    stephanie

  39. 5 out of 5

    Cristina

  40. 4 out of 5

    Oran Lang

  41. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  42. 4 out of 5

    Shonna

  43. 5 out of 5

    Taliesin

  44. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  45. 5 out of 5

    Kenny

  46. 5 out of 5

    Karlo

  47. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  48. 5 out of 5

    Meg

  49. 5 out of 5

    Graham

  50. 4 out of 5

    Neal Fultz

  51. 4 out of 5

    Ian

  52. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  53. 4 out of 5

    Mia

  54. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  55. 5 out of 5

    Kgardnertoren

  56. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

  57. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  58. 4 out of 5

    Internationalgentleman

  59. 5 out of 5

    Elise

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