Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I can't believe that I took so long to check out this story collection.
In fact, I don't believe it. For one good reason: I read one of his short stories when it came out and hadn't remembered that I had until a few pages in. AND I remembered loving it! Golems! Names of God! MURDER. :) That was one hell of a pleasant surprise.
As for the rest, I admit to wanting to know the story that The Arrival is based on before I watched the movie this weekend. And here's the strange part: While I loved it, I loved all the other stories even more!
Seriously, this man is a walking powerhouse of sharp-as-hell storytelling and erudition, all wrapped up in an utterly fascinating intensity and focus on singularly awesome issues. I'll skip discussion on the stories that didn't blow me away, but that still leaves almost all the stories in the book!
What do I mean? Okay, take Tower of Babylon. If having a world where the building of the tower wasn't hampered, where reaching the city of God at the top takes more than a full year of pilgrimage, where we're immersed in ancient Babylon is twisted with one singular difference, can you guess what that difference is? I laughed-out-loud after I discovered it. Just imagine the old joke of half glass full/empty when applied to engineers. The glass didn't meet design specifications. Oh my god.
Anyway. :) Then there was Understand, which made me think of Flowers for Algernon with a seriously different bent. Let's go ultimate intelligence with the focus on understanding the real nature of thought. Hell yeah. I mean, we didn't even need the techno-thriller aspects of this modern retelling or the fight between ultimate intelligences. Not really. But it was also fun as hell.
What about Stories of Your Life? The one that is tied to the new movie? It's about linguistics and the nature of similar concepts linking the ways we think about higher physics and the fact that we need to make that bridge before we could even speak to this alien intelligence. Or how our conception of time, of cause and effect, is completely useless inside their language. If we actually begin to understand it that heavy concept, how can that change our lives? It really is gorgeous.
Seventy-Two Letters: Golems as a great twist on artificial intelligence, featuring the problems of reproduction and natural selection as a linguistic issue, focusing on the Kabbalah as the key to unlock the power and creative force of God. And it's a great adventure, too! :)
Liking What You See: A Documentary: Oh goodness, this was a blast. It's all focused on the nature and the use and misuse of beauty with a major twist. What if we could block the paths in our brains that let us see and feel the effects of beauty? Purpose: To see people as they really are below the skin. No more pre-judging assholes as really great people because they're pretty. No more ignoring the uglies who might be great people. Level the playing field and judge people by their actions.
Great, huh? Well this documentary focuses on pilot schools and whole social movements for the treatment and the backlash of whole industries that want the slavery to continue. Really great thought-experiment, and beautifully written.
Cult of personality, indeed! How much of it is skin-deep?
Sorry. I got really excited about all this. :) I love it when I read really great books. :)
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