Six degrees, from Scotland in the past to a dystopian England of the future

Welcome to #6Degrees. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. I am using this meme to work on my backlog, aka reviews that I haven‘t yet posted to my blog here. How the meme works and how you can join is explained here. The initial blog post about this month‘s choice is here.


This month‘s starting book is yet again one I haven‘t read…

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, about a 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow. I don‘t want to follow the same trodden path and the amount of books dealing with unhappy childhoods on my shelf is pretty limited, let‘s go with the author‘s last name. Bizarre, but it worked out in the end and my six degrees settled on children, birth and growing pains in different settings…

The Future Is Nigh (Mass Market Paperback) by C. Stuart Hardwick
A collection of previously published short stories of winners of the Writers of the Future Contest. Length varies from 6 to 32 pages. Pretty decent collection. Three really excellent stories, one that didn‘t really do it for me and the rest was ok to fairly good. 4 stars overall.

My favourites: Martin L. Shoemaker, Today I Am Paul: My emotional winner. I want to hug this android so hard. / Marina J. Lostetter, Rats will Run: Great world building, imaginative flora and fauna. / William Ledbetter, Last House, Lost House: Great post-apocalyptic story with a nice twist.

Thinking about short stories, mothers and unhappy childhood led me to The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu. Read the titular story, if you have the opportunity.

“A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees.“

Lovely, truly lovely. And terribly bittersweet and sad. Can be read for free here: https://io9.gizmodo.com/read-ken-lius…

Ken Liu leads me to Ted Chiang almost without pause. And to another mother and child and what effects their shared history has on the world at large…

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Again, look at the titular story, if you can. It was the basis for the SF movie Arrival with Amy Adams in the lead role.

“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.

Another books about mothers and children, at least peripherally, is The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere #1) by Meg Elison. Loved the stroy, although it depressed the hell out of me at times. The audiobook was extremely well done as well. The main character waking up in a hospital and figuring out that the world has ended is a pretty tired idea by now. Nonetheless, the book started on full throttle and was great from the get-go. And horrific. By chapter three I had goosebumps allover and was close to crying. The story had an episodic feel to it, as it follows the midwife on her trip across the country, chronicling her encounters with various other survivors. Very graphic, with a realistic feel to it. 

My final book is yet again about children in a fairly horrific, post-apocalyptic setting. And it brings us back to the island we started this journey on. England though, instead if Scotland… The Girl with All the Gifts (The Girl with All the Gifts, #1) by M.R. Carey. Here children end up in a very different world.


Too smart for its own good?

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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.

View all my reviews

It‘s a strange world

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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.

Different than the movie. Better?

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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.

Did not compute…. again…

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

3) DIVISION BY ZERO ★★☆☆☆
“Dividing a number by zero doesn’t produce an infinitely large number as an answer.“
Mathematics, depression, suicide, empathy — I was deeply confused and ended the story with „huh?“. This one went over my head. I liked Carl and felt with him, bit I did not get the point of this story. Was the math just a gimmick and the story was really about his conflict?

Does not compute

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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.

Coming full circle

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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, because that movie turns out to be so heart breaking.

Anyway, here is what I thought of the separate stories:
Updates for each story will follow, as I read them

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.