Ted Chiang: From Technical Writer to Sci-fi Star

With the film “Arrival” opening in Chinese theatres soon, we thought it would be interesting to shine a spotlight on the man behind its story, technical writer and sci-fi author Ted Chiang. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, the film is based on his acclaimed novella “Story of Your Life.” Although Chiang still isn’t a household name after juggling his twin careers for decades, he is well-known within the sci-fi community and has been honored with many prestigious writing awards.

In a recent interview, Chiang attempted to explain the difference between technical and creative writing: “Technical writing is radically different from fiction writing for me; the only thing they have in common is that they draw on the sentence-creation part of my brain. I’m not sure that technical writing has had a direct impact on my fiction, but I think the impulse that originally drew me to technical writing is also one that underlies my fiction, and that is a desire to explain an idea clearly.”

Born in 1967, Chiang fell in love with sci-fi at a young age and began submitting stories to magazines by the time he was 15. He still hadn’t been published by the time he reached college, though, and the flow of rejection letters demoralized him. Chiang eventually took a job as a technical writer for Microsoft in Seattle, and he continued to write stories throughout his technical writing career. In 1990, the sci-fi magazine Omni finally agreed to publish his short story “Tower of Babylon,” which would go on to win Chiang his first Nebula Award — an annual prize for the best science fiction and fantasy stories published in the U. S.

It took another 8 years for Chiang to publish his second hit, “Story of Your Life,” about a woman who is enlisted by the military to translate and communicate with a race of aliens whose language proves so difficult that it ends up altering the way she views the world around her. Chiang demonstrated his dedication to accuracy by spending four years studying linguistics to make the story more convincing. His work is particularly notable for its meticulous detail and consideration of scientific concepts and their effects on the human condition which result in deep, meaningful stories that often leave fans questioning their own existence.

In a 2015 interview with the California Sunday Magazine, Chiang stated that “he now spends half his time on his technical-writing work, which he says he enjoys because he likes explaining things, and devotes the other half to fiction.” He once famously declined a Hugo award because he felt the story wasn’t deserving of it, but now, at nearly 50 years of age, Chiang may finally gain the popularity he has long sought after. The critical acclaim (94% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and worldwide box office (US$157 million) of “Arrival” may give Chiang more attention than he is ready for.

Like Ted Chiang, the technical writers at CSOFT are driven to explain ideas clearly. We strive to make the best edits and translations, whether we are working on engineering documents or more creative items like press releases or blog articles. We challenge ourselves and take pride in using our hard work and ingenuity to produce the best results for our clients. And who knows where the next Ted Chiang might be found?

“Arrival” is set for release in China on January 20th, 2017.

Written by Tyler Klementti, Technical Writer at CSOFT International

Originally published at blog.csoftintl.com on January 11, 2017.

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