”Stories of your life and others” by Ted Chiang is a collection of fictional short stories about such diverse topics as the tower of Babylon, superintelligence, and automata. It also includes the story that the movie ”Arrival” was based on, so add ”aliens” to this list of topics.
Considering how wide the thematic spectrum of the book is, it comes as no surprise that the language and tone varies. Some of the stories are so horrifyingly dystopian that they could be easily turned into Black Mirror episodes, while others are bittersweet. They all have one thing in common: Chiang’s keen eye for detail and his extraordinary ability to dig deep into a subject and examine it from all angles. Take the last story in the book, for instance: what if a procedure existed that removed our ability to see beauty in other people’s appearance? How would our interactions be? What advantages and disadvantages would such a procedure entail? There is a strong philosophical undercurrent in all the stories, and it is often laced with humour.
All stories included in this collection are not equally strong, of course. Chiang uses technical language in a couple of them, which makes it very hard for the reader to follow the plot. A couple of the stories were not that engaging, perhaps for that reason. The characters can sometimes feel a little flat, but maybe the confines of a short story that is heavy on philosophy do not allow for character development.
Despite these flaws, most of the stories elicited a ”wow” reaction from me. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys strange fiction or anyone who lies awake at night pondering over theology, science and human nature.