Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. I would never normally have picked up a book labelled sci-fi on my own initiative but my husband strongly recommended I read Story of Your Life, one of the eight short stories in this book, and I liked it so much that I read the rest.

 

stories-of-you-life-and-othersStory of Your Life has been made into a film, Arrival, which I also enjoyed. I feel that book and film did not quite tell the story, but that is not to criticise the film, it’s just interesting the different takes you can have on one story. In fact, I think that is the point of Story of Your Life: taking a non-linear view of events can lead to very different narrative styles.

What I loved about this short story was the direct link made between language and the way we represent reality. I’ve always found that fascinating and although I’m not certain whether linguistic specificities shape or reflect their speaker’s way of thinking, I’ve no doubt the connection is a very strong one. The absence of the future tense, of the word “no”, of various shades of colour in some languages, for example, surely says something of the relevant people’s perception of the world. The circular written language of the “heptapods” – the alien beings that feature Stories of Your Life – is a fascinating idea.

 

Although I enjoyed all the stories in this collection, my next favourite was the last one. Another interesting concept, about the value we attach to physical beauty, is presented like a campus debate or a journalistic piece (its full title is Liking What You See: A Documentary.) The ins and outs of the arguments for and against the ability to erase the viewer’s mind any aesthetical aspects in facial characteristics are so convoluted and involved, I didn’t quite know where I stood at the end. Which I think might be the point of the story, that and perhaps also a critique of the tone of debates currently going on in campuses.

 

 

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