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Stories of Your Life and Others (original 2002; edition 2016)

by Ted Chiang (Author)

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1,797733,895 (4.3)1 / 71
Member:TheCriticalTimes
Title:Stories of Your Life and Others
Authors:Ted Chiang (Author)
Info:Vintage (2016), Edition: Reissue, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

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Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (2002)

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English (66)  French (4)  Catalan (1)  Hungarian (1)  Dutch (1)  All (73)
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
So, so good. I don't usually read sci fi but I'm glad I tried this out. Every story (maybe except for the one about the metahumans, which was a little meh) left me mesmerized. Each small "what if...?"(what if the Tower of Babel was not a myth. What if language could affect how we could see both ways in time. What if names had a power that could animate objects. What if the perception of beauty could be turned on or off) is explored in a way that convinces the reader it could actually work. I never had to make any effort to suspend my disbelief. I was completely sold on each idea.

The author is remarkable at taking on different voices. My favorites were "Story of Your Life", which had comments about motherhood that sometimes made me ache, and "Seventy Two Characters", which really captured the Victorian atmosphere and where science and inventing was quite the popular thing. ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
-- ERRATUM 16/1/17: Updated review after watching the movie Arrival last week. (Which. Is. AWESOME!) I think more than ever now that I may have to get a print copy of this (a more proper updated review once I do)! Ted Chiang's stories are like seeds that blossom over the course of your reading. Really awesome stuff. "Stories of Your Life & Others" is an experience which is enhanced by watching the movie (rare stuff in most print-to-movie situations) - I really can't recommend this collection and the movie enough! Upgraded to 5 stars due to staying power & after-effects. /End.ERRATUM ---

On the whole I rather enjoyed this collection but not as much as I thought I would (probably all those awards over-hyped it for me). For the most part though I appreciated the way they are like vehicles for amalgamations of different ideas or considerations. Which ended up being what speculative fiction at its best is to me!

There are striations of religion, spirituality and mysticism and not a bit of irreverence which might put some people off (I'd be lying if I said some of my sensibilities weren't piqued the wrong way by it) - but such is life. "God offends minds to test hearts" - so it goes.

* The strongest stories for me were (as in keeping my eyes on the page): Hell is the Absence of God & Liking What You See

* The ones I "struggled" with were (meaning I took ages to finish reading): Tower of Babylon & Seventy Two Letters

* Random Comment: The story "Understand" brought to mind the movie "Lucy" (2014) with it's escalation of perception as a result of understanding a certain impossible but self verifying equation - although in Lucy it was the escalation of perception as a result of heightened brain percentage used.

On another note: Can't wait to watch the movie Arrival (RENNER! *_*). I bought this collection quite awhile back before the movie was announced and only started reading it this year and was rather excited to hear that a movie was coming out of one of the stories. I wasn't, sad to say, very much impressed by the story (let us blame my expectations, as I caught the trailer before I read the story) but I think it bears a re-read post watching the movie (as advised by the Poptimist booktuber!) So I will endeavour to do so and hopefully The Arrival reaches locally next January as per posters I have seen at the cinema (*crosses fingers against sometimes weird local cinema movie-people choice decisions*).

Overall rating is between a 3 and 4... may change if I ever decide to re-read some of it.

Strange thought: I think I may have appreciated this book more if I read a print version as opposed to on my e-reader. Hmmm...

Bought off: Google Play Store
Read on: Kobo Touch, Redmi Note 3

( )
  kephradyx | Jun 20, 2017 |
I've been meaning to read this collection for a couple of years, ever since hearing 'Understand' read on BBC Radio 4, and my only regret is that it has taken me so long to get around to it. To follow are reviews of the highlights, although all the stories were excellent.



From the first story, 'Tower of Babylon', I knew I was in for a rare treat. This is simply superb science fiction - told from the point of view of the science and technology of the time. It imagines an impossibly tall tower built of kiln-fired bricks (as sun-dried bricks would, of course, not be strong enough) to reach up to the vault of heaven and thence cut through it to reach Yahweh. Chiang describes the denudation of the land around Babylon as it has been stripped of timber and the chasm around the river from which clay has been mined for bricks, and the wooden platforms high up the spiraling ramp on which vegetables are grown by those who live part way up the tower - necessary as the trek is of several months duration to climb the immense height. He describes passing the orbit of the moon and seeing its pocked face hurtle by, and the immense heat as the orbit of the sun is passed, and the precautions taken against releasing a second deluge by inadvertently broaching one of the great reservoirs that the vault is surmised to contain.

From the view of the science and cosmology of the time, all this is reasonable and logical. Indeed, it treats the technology very much like SF from the early 20th century did (and probably still does) positing the most extremely favourable outcomes beyond the limits of what is actually achievable, in order to tell a good story and reflect back upon the ideas of the society. Just wonderful.



'Understand' is the tale of a man who, following the repair of brain damage by a new drug, realises that his intellect is growing at an exponential rate. Very reminiscent of [b:Flowers for Algernon|18373|Flowers for Algernon|Daniel Keyes|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1367141311s/18373.jpg|3337594], of course, a very well written classic SF story that deals both with how he deals with the changes but also touches upon the fact that his way is not the only approach.



'Story of Your Life' was probably my favourite. A linguist is called in to help communicate with aliens who have dropped communication devices around the world. Chiang addresses some of the classic SF ideas of alien contact - will we be able to use maths or physics as a common language? will our perceptions simply be too alien to each other to allow meaningful conversation? - and intersperses this with personal memories of the narrator. At first this seems to be purely character building for it's own sake, to give background and context and depth to the character, but about halfway through you realise that the difference in outlooks between the two species, human and extraterrestrial - and therefore how their languages are constructed - which is the thing that is confounding communication, can be bridged, and in doing so this alters the communicators. The story becomes an exploration of how language shapes our perceptions, but also upon humanity and time and loss. It left me in tears.



'72 Letters' is similar to 'Babylon' in that it takes a set of pre-enlightenment 'scientific' ideas and runs with them. In Victorian Britain, progress is based on manipulation of Kaballistic language and the constructs they can be used to animate. Again, a wonderful meshing of ideas with a superb internal consistency, used to propel a gripping tale. I would quite like to see this expanded further.



'Hell Is The Absence of God' posits a world that has proof the Judeo-Christian god exists because his angels regularly make appearances - events which can enact miraculous cures but whose violence usually also results in death and destruction - and because there is evidence of Heaven and Hell - the latter being much like mortal existence except the Hellbound are eternal removed from god, but occasionally visible in their existence. What makes the story brilliant is that it takes a set of rules - god exists, heaven can be reached through unconditional acceptance and love of him, his plan is ineffable - and shows a world that is, in effect, no less confusing and random than the godless world that we inhabit. Chiang intertwines the tales of several people in various levels of acceptance (the word 'belief' hardly seems appropriate) - including a man whose wife is killed during an angelic visitation and a woman who is is born deformed but begins to lose her faith after being healed - that show the human condition does not easily resolve to simplistic answers, no matter how much we may want it to.



The closing story, 'Liking What You See: A Documentary' is as clever as any of the other stories, but explores more deeply, perhaps, than 'Division By Zero' or 'The Evolution of Human Science'. Taking the form of clips and talking heads in a documentary, it explores the impact of a nascent medical technology that, when implemented, blinds the subject to the physical attractiveness of other people. Part of the focus is students at a school where children have had this done from infancy and much of the rest conflict between opposing sides of a culture war, one of which sees this as part of the ongoing movement toward equality and the other as warranted interference, along with non-aligned voices from elsewhere on the spectrum of opinion, and beyond. As well as exploring the "halo effect" (the tendency when you see someone who is attractive to assign to them other favourable characteristics such as intelligence, strength and moral rectitude - and if you don't think you do this, trust me, you do - Chiang also looks at how commercial advertising interests react as well as the more subtle and less concrete ways in which appearance - others and our own - matter to us. What in lesser hands could be an interesting but glib story of a single idea becomes a wonderful thoughtful gem which, like almost all the stories in this collection, will stay with me for a long time to come. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
Awesome stores. All of them are excellent, and specially the first ones were a "wow" after "wow".

I really appreciate how he mixes mathematical/CS concepts with more deep human worries, all written in a very nice agreeable tone. ( )
  ivan.frade | Jun 2, 2017 |
Book lovers’ conundrum: “I can’t wait to get to the end of the book! I don’t want to get to the end of the book!” I usually avoid short stories because I hate to see a good story come to an end. It’s why I prefer long running series. But, I caved to curiosity on this collection because I enjoyed the film “Arrival” and wanted to read the story it was based on. I’m glad I did as this collection is exceptional. I enjoyed all but one of the eight stories, and I thought about each long after I finished it. I think the best science fiction examines what it means to be human through realistic, but extraordinary circumstances. Chiang is a masterclass.

TOWER OF BABYLON – I loved how Chiang reimagined the famous biblical tale by examining how it would function. If it takes a year to reach the top – how do people live while making the journey?
UNDERSTAND – this was my favorite story because it reminded me so much of Nancy Kress’ Sleepless saga, or Julian May’s Galactic Milieu. When some humans evolve to a higher level, what does that mean for existing in a society that hasn’t reached that level?
DIVISION BY ZERO – what happens when the very foundation of your life is ripped away? How do we deal with such a loss?
STORY OF YOUR LIFE – Arrival was based upon this; and it is one of those rare instances where I think the film was better. A linguist is brought in to learn to communicate with an alien species. She is telling the tale to her daughter, as it is the “story of her life”. Chiang made me think about language in ways I never had before – giving it a magic I never appreciated until now. However, Louise is a distant character. She didn’t evoke any empathy or emotional response for me, which made the “twist” underwhelming. In the story, language trumps the human aspect. I think flipping this is what made the film so good. The story was good; the film was memorable.
SEVENTY-TWO LETTERS – I only got halfway through before I abandoned this story. I think the author let technobabble overwhelm, rather than enhance, this “steampunk” tale. Every paragraph was overflowing with created terms (or existing terms reapplied), which made it a slog. Why should I care about these characters again? Others may appreciate this more than I did.
EVOLUTION OF HUMAN SCIENCE – this was only a few pages long; what would happen to regular scientists if enhanced humans advanced beyond their comprehension.
HELL IS THE ABSENCE OF GOD – this was…provocative. Heaven and hell both manifest in the world regularly, with unexpected consequences for those who witness such events. Neil is dealing with the death of his wife after she is killed during an angelic visitation. He wants to love God so he can reunite with her in heaven, but how can he? I suspect this story will be polarizing.
LIKING WHAT YOU SEE: A DOCUMENTARY – what if science had created a “filter” to prevent us from seeing beauty in human faces? This story is the most socially relevant to today’s world of any in the collections. Super-thin models, plastic surgery, body-shaming, this story confronts them all in a thought-provoking manner.

The book concluded with “story notes” from the author with the inspiration, background and insights into each story. These were fantastic and enhanced the entire reading experience for me. Overall, this collection is exceptional. Highly recommended. ( )
  jshillingford | Jun 1, 2017 |
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For Brian Chiang and Jenna Felice
In memory of
Brian Chiang
and
Jenna Felice.
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Were the tower to be laid down across the plain of Shinar, it would be two days' journey to walk from one end to the other.
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Book description
Collects these stories
"Tower of Babylon"
"Understand"
"Division by Zero"
"Story of Your Life"
"Seventy-Two Letters"
"The Evolution of Human Science"
"Hell Is the Absence of God"
"Liking What You See: A Documentary"
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0765304198, Paperback)

This marvelous collection by one of science fiction's most thoughtful and graceful writers belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in literary science fiction.

Collected here for the first time, Ted Chiang's award-winning stories--recipients of the Nebula, Sturgeon, Campbell, and Asimov awards--offer a feast of science, speculation, humanity, and lyricism. Standouts include "Tower of Babylon," in which a miner ascends the fabled tower in order to break through the vault of heaven; "Division by Zero," a precise and heartbreaking examination of the disintegration of hope and love; and "Story of Your Life," in which a linguist learns an alien language that reshapes her view of the world. Chiang has the gift that lies at the heart of good science fiction: a human story, beautifully told, in which the science is an expression of the deeper issues that the characters must confront. Full of remarkable ideas and unforgettable moments, Stories of Your Life and Others is highly recommended. --Roz Genessee

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:07 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Ted Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," won the Nebula Award for 1990. Now, collected for the first time, are all seven of this extraordinary writer's extraordinary stories--plus a new story written especially for this volume.

(summary from another edition)

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