Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Best for: Those who enjoyed Arrival; people who aren’t totally sure that they are into science fiction but want to see.
In a nutshell: Eight short stories connected only by the fact that they are science fiction.
Line that sticks with me: “What he insists on is that they not love God under a misapprehension, that if they wish to love God, they be prepared to do so no matter what His intentions. God is not just, God is not kind, God is not merciful, and understanding that is essential to true devotion.” (pg 234)
Why I chose it: I saw (and loved) Arrival, and immediately added this collection to my list.
Review: I don’t usually pick science fiction books. Fiction in generally isn’t usually in my rotation, so adding a layer of complexity by narrowing it from generic literature to a specific genre means there are a lot of great books out there that I’ve not even considered reading. I tried reading a famous author’s most popular work earlier this year and couldn’t get past all the new words. I didn’t find the concept difficult to understand in the context of the stories; I just don’t enjoy having to learn new vocabulary created by the author.
This book, however, I found to be mostly accessible to someone who isn’t traditionally a science fiction reader. In fact, the first story, “Tower of Babylon,” is based on a story in the Bible. I read it in one sitting, and found myself reading almost all of the other short stories in one sitting as well.
My least favorite essay was easily “Seventy-Two Letters,” but even that one I mostly enjoyed. Again, it suffered from having a lot of new vocabulary to learn, but there were a couple of twists that I did not expect. That one also didn’t end in a way that I found satisfying.
I enjoyed the essay Arrival was based on, called “Story of Your Life;” I think the storytelling was elegant. It’s slightly different from the movie, and I understand why it was adjusted for the screenplay. But because I’ve seen the movie, I couldn’t help but read it all picturing Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner.
The essay I enjoyed the most was probably “Hell is the Absence of God.” The premise of this one fascinated me: there is no question of whether the is a heaven, or hell, or god; the question is only will individuals be devoted to god. People literally see flashes into hell (and can see if their loved ones are there at times), and angels come to earth on a regular basis.
I can’t say whether these short stories are demonstrative of most science fiction as a whole, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed them, and so would at the very least recommend this to anyone else who is interested in seeing if they like science fiction but aren’t sure of a good starting point.