I picked this up as a buddy read, only realizing afterwards that it contains the story providing the basis for the movie Arrival. That made me a little apprehensive right away, as that movie turned out to be so heart breaking.
I skimmed the last story and also the story notes at the end. Ultimately I don‘t think Ted Chiang is for me. It‘s all very smart (too smart?) and STORY OF YOUR LIFE was pretty good. However, emotionally the other stories didn‘t touch me.
I doubt I will pick up anything else by the author.
Here is what I thought of the separate stories:
8) LIKING WHAT YOU SEE: A DOCUMENTARY
No comment, I skimmed!
7) HELL IS THE ABSENCE OF GOD ★★★☆☆
This is the story of a man named Neil Fisk, and how he came to love God.
An alternate world, where angels regularly visit, causing miracles to happen and wrecking havoc as well. Not a bad plot idea.
6) THE EVOLUTION OF HUMAN SCIENCE
Too short to leave an impression.
5) SEVENTY-TWO LETTERS ★★★½☆
“When he was a child, Robert’s favorite toy was a simple one, a clay doll that could do nothing but walk forward.“
Odd. A world where the industrial revolution seems to have happened through the ascend of many different types of golems. I admit to some skimming. The story idea was a fascinating one though. I don‘t want to give anything away, but the direction of the story was surprising.
4) STORY OF YOUR LIFE ★★★★☆
“Your father is about to ask me the question. This is the most important moment in our lives, and I want to pay attention, note every detail.“
I liked the story and the characters. I have seen the movie several times and like it a lot. The most interesting for me were the differences from the story to the film.
Would I have liked the story more or less, if I hadn‘t seen the movie? Did I like it more, because I like the movie? Despite the differences? Probably.
Would I have understood the story as well without knowing the movie? Maybe.
Did the story add layers to the movie? Possibly.
Tricky. Still thinking about it.
3) DIVISION BY ZERO ★★☆☆☆
“Dividing a number by zero doesn’t produce an infinitely large number as an answer.“
Mathematics, depressisn, suicide, empathy — I was deeply confused and ended the story with „huh?“. This one went over my head.
2) UNDERSTAND ★☆☆☆☆
„A layer of ice; it feels rough against my face, but not cold. I’ve got nothing to hold on to; my gloves just keep sliding off it.“
I liked the general idea of the story, but not the direction Chiang took it. I missed an emotional connection to the character, good or bad. Or humour. Something. I simply did not care about the MCs journey of discovery.
1) TOWER OF BABYLON ★★★¾☆
„Were the tower to be laid down across the plain of Shinar, it would be two days’ journey to walk from one end to the other.“
Slow beginning, but turns into a very good narrative. Fascinating world building there, along the way and at the top of the tower. Is this SF? I’d say yes, considering the physics involved in the final pages and the topology of this world.