Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I checked this book out from the library after seeing the terrific movie Arrival, based on the story that is the centerpiece of this collection, "Story of Your Life." Before this, the only exposure I'd had to Ted Chiang's work is the marvelous little story "The Great Silence," published in 2015 in E-Flux Journal. (Which y'all should go read immediately, by the way. It'll put dust in your eyes.)
After reading "Story of Your Life," I tip my hat to the screenwriter of Arrival. I'm sure a great many people considered that story unfilmable, and I would have been among them. So much of it, as is the case with many of Chiang's stories, is interior monologue, and it's amazing to me how much of this story's thrust and tone managed to be translated to the screen. Film and prose are very different mediums, of course, and the movie added a couple of subplots that weren't in the story. Still, it is about the best adaptation we could have gotten.
For the most part, the stories in this collection ranged from very good to great. The standouts are "Story of Your Life" and "Hell Is the Absence of God," the latter being a sobering examination of what might happen if Hell, Heaven, and visitations from angels were actual things in our reality. This story has what to me is a dark twist indeed. The only story I wasn't terribly fond of is "Understand," the tale of a man rescued from a permanent vegetative state by the injection of an experimental drug that regenerates his damaged neurons. Unfortunately, in the usual way of there-are-some-things-humans-weren't-meant-to-know, this drug causes him to evolve into a sort of godlike superbeing, at least until he meets up with another of his kind who shuts him down. I'm just not into that sort of consciousness-gestalt-meta awareness narration (unless the author is Peter Watts and space vampires are included). That said, this is still a masterful story: Chiang is very much in control of his weird, twisty narrative, and I can appreciate it even though I didn't like it very much.
These stories are a cut above almost anything else you might read, and Ted Chiang is a writer's writer. You owe it to yourself to check him out.
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