Brief Book Review: Stories of Your Life and Others
By Ted Chiang
“Someone told me that the bricklayers who work at the top of the tower wail and tear their hair when a brick is dropped, because it will take four months to replace, but no one takes notice when a man falls to his death. Is that true?”
Arrival was easily my favourite film of 2016, and so Ted Chiang’s book was an insta-purchase when I discovered Arrival originated as a short story from Stories of Your Life and Others. While I couldn’t bring myself to read Chaing’s original Arrival story (something to do with conflicting with my movie-going experience), his other short stories more than justify the time spent. Each tale is loosely themed around near-future or alternate reality sci-fi, reminiscent of Westworld or Black Mirror. Yet they completely differentiate themselves from one another.
Chiang has the remarkable ability to tinker with a fundamental principle of the universe, set the world spinning, and observe the stories that unfold. This is most notable in the Evolution of Human Science that displays an alternative world where architects bestow life to objects by assigning a unique series of symbols that make a name. It depicts a craft that’s a mixture of programming, engineering and art (Westworld vibes abound). By far my favourite story is the first, Tower of Babylon, where we follow a group of miners tasked to scale the gargantuan Tower of Babylon and crack open the gates of heaven.
I’ve forever been a fan of stories that blur the lines between the world we know and a world we don’t (think The Prestige, Minority Report, Ex Machina, Under The Skin), and Stories of Your Life and Others successfully scratches that insatiable itch. While I left most of Chiang’s stories with many questions left unanswered, I felt it was a privilege to get a peek inside in the first place.