Attention, everyone: I have a new favorite author to add to the pantheon. Ted Chiang. He’s only published one book, Stories of Your Life and Others. It’s a compilation of his first eight short stories, which is basically all he writes. Per his wikipedia page, you can see he’s only published 15 short stories in his career. With this book and the piece that was assigned in my writing class (“The Great Silence“), I’ve now read 60% of all his output in about a week’s time. And what a collection it is!
First, let me just say, there are some painful duds in this book. “Seventy-Two Letters” felt forced and scatter-brained, especially when I realized the “names” were just a metaphor for <spoilers>DNA</spoilers>. “Liking What You See: A Documentary” was even worse. Man, it was bad.
But but but but BUT!
“The Story of Your Life” (the source material for the movie Arrival) was breath-taking. I’m generally disdainful for explicit world building in my fiction (which is why I found “Seventy-Two Letters” almost without merit), but it’s done so elegantly in this story. The world-building is the story here, and it’s fascinating. Ted Chiang has a comp sci degree, and “The Story of Your Life” reminded me why so many of my comp sci friends in college also majored in linguistics. And, for those of you who paid attention in high school English class, you’ll see a lot of similarities between this short story and Slaughterhouse Five (sans the bombing of Dresden).
Another great story of note, my second favorite in the collection, is “Hell is the Absence of God.” Angel visitations as natural disasters? Sign me up. The ending is pitch-perfect, too. It’s not ambiguous in the slightest, but the ambivalence is palpable, and that makes it great.
God damn, this was a great book.