Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

As noted in my sidebar, I’ve finished Ted Chiang’s book of short stories, and here’s what I posted in the way of a review over All Consuming. As for the next book, I’m still (as always) reading a few at once, but the one I’m focused on now is Bester’s The Stars My Destination and it’s such a quick read I’ll probably stick with it till the end.

Scary Good.

The book isn’t scary, what’s scary is how well-written it is. One of my teachers said that these are simply some of the best stories written in the SF genre, and she’s right.

When I met Ted at a couple of parties in Seattle, he seemed really, I don’t know, unassuming, unimposing, just a regular Joe. But man, reading these stories opened my eyes. I’d read “Liking What You See: A Documentary�? before, but not known it was written by the guy I was talking to at the party. I really didn’t know who he was. Which was kind of cool, because we just, you know, chatted. I’m kind of glad I wasn’t all fanboyish.

Anyway, this is the part of the review where I usually start mentioning which stories were my favorites, but the fact is, they’re all, every one of them, outstanding. They all blew me away. These stories made me laugh out loud the way Rucker and Sterling do at their best, made my jaw drop the way it does when I read Greg Egan (but mostly without the crazy maths), and out-___punked every other punkism there is—Babylonian-punk, steampunk, ribofunk. He even gets in a story that outstrips James Morrow’s religious satire. Everything he writes about, he approaches with a frighteningly methodical, downright scientific mindset, and this means his ideas get taken apart and examined so closely that you start to wonder how it ever was that you liked SF stories that weren’t, at their core, about ideas like these. He’s certainly woken me up to the fact that I should be doing more thinking, and more exploring of scientific ideas, in my own writing. That in good SF, ideas are the adventure.

I recommend these stories very highly.

2 thoughts on “Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

  1. Totally agree about searching out new ideas. Taking things in a new direction is something I’ve always aimed for. I think that’s a lot harder in fantasy, because people come to fantasy with a lot of expectations and assumptions. They do the same thing to science fiction, but I think they’re more open to suprise. Maybe? Yeah, Ted is doing something in his stories that puts him a mark above your average storyteller, you’re absolutely right. However, Gord, you’ve got that too. I could see it in most of your work, but the jazz story specifically.

  2. Shawn,

    That’s really kind of you to say. I really gotta set aside some time to get that jazz story perfectly finished and send it out.

    I just feel, I don’t know, like I get caught up in the adventure side of things, and forget about the ideas I was exploring. So I think I’m really going to, you know, buckle down and start looking at science in a more rigorous and systematic fashion. Not really “study” science, but just start gulping down science books and the ideas that catch my attention most, they’ll get pinned down, dissected, and so on.

    I think you’re right that it’s harder to do the kinds of things Ted does in “fantasy” than in “sf”, though I’d also say that some of the stories in his collection could be termed fantasy. Certainly “Seventy-Two Letters” and “The Tower of Babel” could be respectably termed fantasy, for all their scientism. That’s what I’d be looking at as models for my own exploration, but… you know, models cannot be relied upon too much. There’s something about them that slows one down over time. Hmmm.

    By the way, I could feel from your own writing that same wish to bust the coconut open, to bust through the wall to something new on the other side.

    I realized today that I’d fallen out of the habit of tracking my eating, partly because, in general, I’ve been eatng very little. :) Still, I shall once again try to get myself to keep track and see what I think. If I manage to come up with a week’s worth of meal-records, I’ll let you know. And I’m going to go to the gym starting tomorrow, I think.

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