I really enjoyed Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival which led me to tracking down the source material, a short story titled Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. This was originally published in 1998 in Starlight 2 and then again as the titular short story in a collection of eight short stories by Chiang in 2002.
It begins strongly with Tower of Babylon, about building a tower to reach the heavens that has an interesting philosophical bent. This is followed by another intriguing story titled Understand, detailing the progress of an experimental drug patient whose brain capacity increases rapidly making him the smartest person alive until he starts reading subtle signs placed to suggest there might be another patient with similar abilities out there. Division of Zero is a solid short story dealing with finding out what you based your life and career on is inconsistent. It’s a psychological study mixed with mathematics.
After three decent shorts we arrive at Story of Your Life and a halt so disappointing. The dialogue used between the two main scientists who are trying to learn from recently arrived aliens feels like it is out of a Lifetime movie. It’s cliched and boring. The story feels incomplete, especially since the story presented in Arrival is so engrossing. It was a bit of a let down.
The next four short stories pick up but don’t hit the highs of the first three. Chiang has fun with adding a fictional aspect to mathematics and throwing some interesting ideas around but I do think his writing, overall, is pedestrian to the point I was looking forward to the end so I could start my next read.