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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Stories of Your Life and Others

I don't usually review short stories, since it takes less effort to read them than to read a review and then decide to buy them, but I'm more than happy to make an exception for Ted Chiang, and I feel an obligation to do so, since he's not prolific, and has never published a novel, so the collection Stories of Your Life and Others (which is now sadly out of print and can only be found as a used book --- check it out of the library if you can't get it otherwise) Some of the individual stories can be found on-line, and I've linked to those whenever possible.

Most short story collections are hit-or-miss. But this is Ted Chiang we're talking about, so every story is amazing, and excellent. The collection starts with the Tower of Babylon, an interesting take on the familiar biblical story. The ending is a surprise, but the tone is incredible. It's followed by Understand, a super-intelligence story with a twist. Division By Zero strays into Greg Egan territory, but in a complementary fashion (and though I dislike Egan's novels, being able to keep up with Egan in a math story is no small feat).

Story of Your Life, the title story, is easily one of my favorite alien contact short stories. The language used, the use of science as well as the narrative scheme is all put together in an amazing package --- you'll have to read it to believe it. Seventy-Two Letters is similarly interesting --- Victorian Science fiction done right, as it were --- about biology and genetics, of all things.

Hell is the Absence of God won the 2002 Hugo award, and rightly so. It postulates a world in which miracles do occur, and the presence of God is undeniable, and shows how much of a nightmare the world would be if God really did exist. Fantastic reading, and highly recommended.

The book wraps up with Liking what you see, a great little story about how nice the world would be if we could turn off our predilection to judging people by physical beauty. It's a great little piece, and well worth the time. It's followed by a bunch of notes about each individual story --- interesting background reading, and insight into what Chiang is thinking as he writes these stories.

There you go, a short story collection with no duds, by a fantastic writer. My brother luckily managed to buy the Kindle edition of this book when it was available for $9.99, and looking at the used prices now, it was a hell of a bargain. Highly recommended. Go check it out from the library now.

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