15 March 2010

Ted Chiang - Stories of Your Life and Others

The first collection of short fiction by Ted Chiang, published by Tor Books in 2002.  At the time of publication, this book contained his complete published works.  I really like Ted Chiangs ideas alot.  I first came across him in a Years Best anthology with the story The Alchemists Gate. 
  • Towers of Babylon - I really love this story about constructing the tower of Babel and seeking entry into the vault of heaven.  The mobius twist is really nice too. 
  • Understand - This story is kind of a rewrite of Flowers for Algernon without the sappy ending and a much greater focus on understanding the mind.  Nice one, although not his best.
  • Division by Zero - Aside from not understanding the maths, this is a really interesting story about disillusionment and that feeling of worthlessness that you get when you realise that everything you have done up to that point has been without any impact or importance to the world around you.
  • Story of Your Life - I first read this story in one of Gardner Dozois's anthologies and really enjoyed it.  Explores that idea of time being simultanious, with only your perception of direction giving a future and past.  What if we met aliens who saw time in the opposite direction?  They'd already know what you were going to say, and forget it as soon as you said it.  Also a nice little substory about child/parent relationships, and loss.
  • Seventy-Two Letters - Ted Chiang wrote in his story notes tha this came out of two ideas that he had thought were unrelated.  The first is the story of Rabbi Loew and the Golem, a story which he discovered dated only to 1909, and other tales, some dating back as far the 1500 where rabbis would animate a clay creature as a way of understanding God through the process of creation.  The other idea is a what-if about reproduction and the belief in preformation, where organisms were thought to exist fully formed and miniature in the germ cells of their parents.  The result is a weird little scimystery with a small twist of steampunk.  Probably the weakest story in the book, which indicates just how good this guy is.
  • The Evolution of Human Science -  This story was written for Nature, a British science journal.  It is essentially a fictional article about the way science journals change as some people, through posthumanism, become so hyperintelligent that normal scientists can no longer understand their research papers.
  • Hell Is The Absence of God - This story is a challenge to the idea of innocent suffering and the christian view of the world.  The book presents Angels visiting, resulting in miracles, deaths, destruction, but all at random.  The pious can be killed slowly in agony and the sinful can be healed of illness, but there is no consistancy to the outcomes.  The story suggests that when it comes to religious advice out suffering, what strikes one person as comforting will be outrageous to another.
  • Liking What You See:  A Documentary - This story was written for this volume, and looks at the role of physical beauty in modern society by presenting a world where science allows people to voluntarily have their ability to recognise beauty switched off, using drugs and neural programming to bring about calliagnosia.  The moral of the story is kinda meh, but the structure/style is fantastic.  It is not easy to write short pieces of 15 diffent characters in their own voices and not have it all sound as if ONE WRITER is making it all up, but I think he pulls it off in this one.
I highly recommend anything written by Ted Chiang and I am looking forward to tracking down more of his novels.