Story of Your Life, and Others, by Ted Chiang

Links to the book review pages

Story of Your Life, and Others, by Ted Chiang

Postby Omphalos » Fri Dec 19, 2008 11:14 pm

Image


I know that I have made no secret of my love for the writings of Ted Chiang. And I hope at this point that you have at least read all the free Chiang stories that I have posted on my website. If you have not, you should go there now and do just that. In rereading in preparation for this week's book review I was reminded how strong an author Chiang really is. Chiang's ability to embrace the absurd and repackage it for the reader as if it were the truth is second to none. Even when, for example, he describes a brick and mortar tower that reaches from the floor of the Babylonian desert to the gates of heaven, his tongue is nowhere near his cheek. I am not aware of any other author who delivers such consistently excellent stories, save perhaps for one of my other favorite modern authors, David Marusek. It is painfully obvious to me how much work he puts into his writing. Each paragraph looks to me like a polished gem, and I am certain that he worries over each one, like a child, before it is published. After this there will only be two Chiang works left unreviewed here. I promise to get to them shortly. And I hear that he is working on two new stories! I can't wait to read them...Please click here, or on the book cover above, to be taken to the complete review..
Something is about to happen, Hal. Something wonderful!

-James C. Harwood, Science Fiction Writer, Straight (March 5, 1956 - May 25, 2010)



The Omphalos Umbrella Page
User avatar
Omphalos
Alien Overlord
 
Posts: 5677
Joined: Fri Oct 19, 2007 4:24 pm
Location: The Mighty Central Valley of California

Postby SandChigger » Sun Mar 01, 2009 2:01 am

Just finished the last story earlier this afternoon. Finally.

I read the stories slightly out of order, starting with "Story of Your Life" and then doubling back to the beginning and reading through to the end. But in order here...

I liked "Tower of Babylon" well enough. "Babylonian science fiction" (or more properly science fantasy), as Chiang referred to it himself in his Story Notes at the end, seems a fairly accurate summation.

"Understand" was amusing, if short. Flowers for Algernon on crack? ;)

I kept thinking of a certain Demotivator (seen here) while reading "Division by Zero", which spoiled the effect somewhat. ;) I couldn't really get into the plight of the wife. Yeah, so your life's work has been a complete waste of time. So what? Have a baby or take up gardening. Get over yourself.

"Story of Your Life". The descriptions of the aliens' written language reminded me of the writing system for Ilaksh, a conlang developed by John Quijada. (Yes, the same one who wrote the Fremen language article in The Dune Encyclopedia.) That part of the story was interesting, but I had trouble suspending the ole disbelief when it came to the differences between human and heptapod perceptions of time. But I did enjoy the melancholy tone and the way the story was written.

"Seventy-Two Letters". I've always loved golem stories and was briefly interested in Kabbalah years and years ago, so this steampunk fantasy was quite enjoyable.

"The Evolution of Human Science". I guess I had my fill of post-human/post-singularity stories with Simmons' novels and shorts. Short enough not to bore?

Skipping ahead to the last story, "Liking What You See: A Documentary". I struggled through this one. Not sure what the problem was, because I enjoyed the shifting perspectives and thought Chiang handled the voices of the different characters quite well. I guess I just had no interest in the central issue around which the story revolved. Oh well.

"Hell is the Absence of God", the next to last story, completely blew me away. Again, this one is more fantastic than science fiction-al, but turned out to be an unexpected pleasure. This one is by far my favorite in the collection.

"...because unconditional love asks nothing, not even that it be returned. ... That is the nature of true devotion." :)
"Chancho...sometimes when you are a man...you wear stretchy pants...in your room...alone."

"Politics is never simple, like the sand chigger of Arrakis, one is rarely truly free of its bite."

Arrakeen is an unawakened ghola.
User avatar
SandChigger
Archivist
 
Posts: 4577
Joined: Fri Dec 07, 2007 9:11 pm
Location: Sietch Tigr, near Arrakeen

Postby Omphalos » Sun Mar 01, 2009 1:23 pm

What did you think of Chiang's depiction of hell in Hell is the Absence of God?
Something is about to happen, Hal. Something wonderful!

-James C. Harwood, Science Fiction Writer, Straight (March 5, 1956 - May 25, 2010)



The Omphalos Umbrella Page
User avatar
Omphalos
Alien Overlord
 
Posts: 5677
Joined: Fri Oct 19, 2007 4:24 pm
Location: The Mighty Central Valley of California

Postby SandChigger » Sun Mar 01, 2009 2:20 pm

Well, the "physical" aspect wasn't exactly what I was told Hell would be like in Sunday school at the United Methodist church we went to when I was a kid, but the concept expressed in the title is spot on to how I heard it explained as I got older: what makes Hell Hell is not fire and brimstone, but the total absence of God and separation from His Love.

And Hope.

(The emotion. Not Bob. :wink: )
"Chancho...sometimes when you are a man...you wear stretchy pants...in your room...alone."

"Politics is never simple, like the sand chigger of Arrakis, one is rarely truly free of its bite."

Arrakeen is an unawakened ghola.
User avatar
SandChigger
Archivist
 
Posts: 4577
Joined: Fri Dec 07, 2007 9:11 pm
Location: Sietch Tigr, near Arrakeen


Return to Book Reviews

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests

cron