17 July 2010

Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others is a collection of short stories by Ted Chiang. Each one has a single simple "twist" as its premise and the author explores the consequences implied by that idea. Overall a very enjoyable read.

There is a huge variety among the stories. Some have religious rather than scientific/futuristic overtones (I found those a bit boring).

I particularly enjoyed two of the stories, "Story of Your Life" and "Liking What You See: A Documentary".

In "Story of Your Life," a scientist learns an alien language that changes the way she views the world. This story is a rare combination of a cute technical premise, a moving human story, and wonderful writing that really shows form in the service of message.

"Liking What You See: A Documentary" examines how society responds to the widespread availability of a simple (and reversible) medical procedure that renders people unable to perceive human beauty. The fact that the characters are so instantly recognizable (despite the differences between the world of the story and our present world) shows how people's dreams, fears, and insecurities just don't change. The story is also quite chilling, perhaps because I got the distinct sense that it does not quite sound as outlandish now as when it was written (just 8 or so years ago).

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