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Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang If you want to keep up with the Joneses in the scifi 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 beatifully 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 scifi 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 story telling.

"Understand"
A sort of [b:Flowers for Algernon|18373|Flowers for Algernon|Daniel Keyes|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1367141311s/18373.jpg|3337594] 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" (Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award winner)
One thing I hate about aliens on scifi TV is how goofy and anthropomorphic they tend to be. If they didn't have 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 tend 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. I have said too much already, you really have to wrap your head around this one.

(This story is being adapted into a movie starring Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams.)

"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 viewpoint 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 [b:The Lifecycle of Software Objects|7886338|The Lifecycle of Software Objects|Ted Chiang|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1367177716s/7886338.jpg|11102380] which the author and publisher have kindly made available to be read online. It is also amazing and a must-read.