Ted Chiang’s STORIES OF YOUR LIFE is a terrific collection of science fiction stories. The story, “Story of Your Life,” gained Chiang widespread recognition after it was adapted for the big screen with ARRIVAL.
Short stories aren’t usually my thing, but I was thoroughly engaged by this collection. Chiang can take a single scientific fact or simple premise and make a deep and thoughtful story about it. My perception was somewhat colored by something I’d heard about him, which is he apparently takes a year to write a single short story. I went into each story thinking, well, this had better be the best short story ever, because wow, a whole year. As a result, the things I didn’t like stood out as much starker, so I wish I hadn’t heard that about him. The dialogue is average in quality, and many of the stories read like science articles presented as dramatic fiction. No matter, I still greatly enjoyed each story. In many ways, Chiang’s stories read like BLACK MIRROR in print–here’s a single technology or premise, now let’s explore its implications completely. But what I like about BLACK MIRROR more is it fully explores how technology interacts with human nature.
Three of Chiang’s stories come to mind as real standout stories for me. In “Tower of Babylon,” the Biblical tower is imagined as a giant tower soaring into the clouds and touching the vault of Heaven. A miner must travel for days to reach the top so he can help hack into the vault of Heaven. What will he find? It is true that “as above, so below”?
In “Hell is the Absence of God,” Heaven and Hell are very real things and angelic visitations common, which strike like natural disasters. After a man loses his wife during one of these disasters and is taken to Heaven, he has to figure out a way to get to Heaven to join her even though he doesn’t love God. This was by far my favorite story.
And in “Liking What You See: A Documentary,” a collection of people at a college campus express their views about “calli,” a technology that denies people the ability to distinguish beauty in faces, allowing people to interact in a different way. The students must vote on whether to make calli compulsory for all students going to the college. The way the two sides of the issue were presented was compelling, and I found myself agreeing with both sides. More than the rest, this story strikes me as the most feasible and a possible future debate humans will actually have.
Chiang’s a talent to watch, and I’ll be buying his collections in the future, though at the rate of a story a year, it’ll be the year 2026. Check out STORIES OF YOUR LIFE for a collection of thought-provoking science fiction stories.