Book cover illustration

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

I purchased Stories of Your Life and Others based on a recommendation on a discussion forum, which in hindsight was an odd thing for me to do since I’ve been burned by random internet recommendations before. However, that recommendation came from reviews; this one came from the geeks on the Ars Technica OpenForum, and I should know better than to doubt those guys.

Stories is an amazing compilation of Ted Chiang’s work. He’s probably the most famous science fiction author you’ve never heard of – well, I’d never heard of him before anyway. He only writes short stories, and since his first was published in 1990, he has only written 13 in total (spread out quite evenly across two-and-a-bit decades). The man has won more awards than the number of pieces he’s written, and not just crappy unknown ones either – Hugo and Nebula awards.

Although it’s pitched as sci-fi, it fits uncomfortably with the popular notion of the genre as stories about technology and/or the future. The short stories in this book would be more accurately described as “high-level dreaming” (Wikipedia puts them into the rather unhelpful category of “speculative fiction”).

Themes range from the religious (buidling the biblical Tower of Babel) through socio-political (a drug that allows people to “turn off” the part of the brain that perceives and creates bias towards beauty), to things that people do normally associate with SF (aliens, maths, automata), but his treatment of these topics is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Two things that I greatly admire about Chiang are:

  • how very far he goes in imagining the worlds that creates, often taking your breath away with the dizzying heights of his imagination, and
  • the brevity of words – he writes extremely lucidly and communicates complex topics with an efficiency of words and depth of emotion that reminds me of Ursula Le Guin.

Stories of Your Life and Others is both the last book I finished in 2011 and also the best one, and I hope that through this first GeekReads book review of 2012, more people will be introduced to this great author.

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