Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

Stories of Your Life and Others
Ted Chiang
Tor: 2003

After I read the first two stories in this collection I had to write about them, just to mention how good Ted Chiang’s work is. Now that I have finished the collection I know how good Ted Chiang is. Damn good. Stories of Your Life and Others is quite possibly the single best short story collection I have read or hope to read.

This is what the publisher’s website has to say about Chaing:
Ted Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov's SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.

Table of Contents
* "Tower of Babylon"
* "Division by Zero"
* "Understand"
* "Story of Your Life"
* "The Evolution of Human Science"
* "Seventy-Two Letters"
* "Hell Is the Absence of God"
* "Liking What You See: A Documentary"

Ted Chiang takes on topics that seem like great starter ideas for a story, but one which you would have no idea how to execute. What if Acts of God really were Acts of God, and judgment happened every day and out in public? Miracles and Affliction were commonplace but we needed support groups for the survivors of the miracles. “Hell is the Absence of God” takes this one. “Story of Your Life” is a mix of past / future and touches on the idea of being able to see your own future like you remember your past...but seen through the filter of an alien first contact, but the story isn’t really about the aliens.

What is truly remarkable about these eight stories is when we reach the end of the story the conclusion feels inevitable, as if it were the only possible way that Chiang could have ended the story. The conclusions feel right. But when we are reading these eight stories we (or maybe just I) have no idea where Chiang is going with this or where he is going to bring us. It is only in retrospect that the endings are inevitable. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

This is an outstanding collection of short fiction and should be on the bookshelf of any fan of science fiction or just good writing.

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