Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang
Stories of Your Life and Others
Small Beer and Press
281 pages
8.2 (Best Book)

This new edition of Ted Chiang's masterful first collection,Stories of Your Life and Others, includes his first eight published stories plus the author's story notes and a cover that the author commissioned himself. Combining the precision and scientific curiosity of Kim Stanley Robinson with Lorrie Moore's cool, clear love of language and narrative intricacy, this award-winning collection offers readers the dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar.

Stories of Your Life and Others presents characters who must confront sudden change—the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens—while striving to maintain some sense of normalcy. In the amazing and much-lauded title story, a grieving mother copes with divorce and the death of her daughter by drawing on her knowledge of alien languages and non-linear memory recollection. A clever pastiche of news reports and interviews chronicles a college's initiative to "turn off" the human ability to recognize beauty in "Liking What You See: A Documentary." With sharp intelligence and humor, Ted Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty and constant change, and also by beauty and wonder.

Ted Chiang is one of the most celebrated science fiction authors writing today and is the author of numerous short stories, including most recently "Exhalation," which won the Hugo, British Science Fiction, and Locus Awards. He lives near Seattle.

Contains the stories:
"Tower of Babylon"
"Division by Zero"
"Story of Your Life"
"Seventy-Two Letters"
"The Evolution of Human Science"
"Hell Is the Absence of God"
"Liking What You See: A Documentary"
Story notes

I would lie if I told you that Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others is an entertaining and fun read. I tell you: it's not. Chiang's prominent works may only be in form of short stories and novellas, but don't expect his stories to be shallow and simple without any hardcore science fiction explanation. His short stories are trenchant and mind provoking, almost literally, because reading his stories somehow make my brain bleed, and it is a rare occasion when I've never felt so stupid when I read a book. 

#1 Tower of Babylon
In this--what people called--Babylonian science fiction, Chiang retells a tale from Jewish and Old Testament story about Tower of Babylon. You know that high tower that angered God, and therefore He mixes Babylonian language, the "Biblical" explanation why there are so many language. 

In Tower of Babylon, though, Chiang writes from Jewish perspective--which apparently is more thorough. He writes meticulously, and I have to admit that I am boring. Basically, it's about some people who take years to reach to the top, then accident happens, and our main character who survives finally realizes that the world they all live in is not what it appears to be; it's toroidal? cylindrical? So when they build tower upward, actually they're also getting closer to the earth. A nice twist, though, but it feels too procedural and vague for me. 

#2 Understand
Understand seems a lot like Limitless, even though it is written almost twenty years before Limitless. It's about a specific medicine for mental illness that uncannily can enhance the intelligence of its patient as well. 

Our main character, Leo, goes through a lot of treatment, until the doctors realize that he's getting smarter and ask him to join a research for more medicine injection. CIA interests in him, but Leo is too smart for them, then he runs. Leo is too smart to handle; he begins to see the world in a different way than other people. He already knows what will happen, he can create a super-machine, he's extremely genius and dangerous, he also starts developing a new language, he's unstoppable. Or so he thinks. Until he finds a match, and there's nothing unstoppable in the world.

It is definitely more action-packed than Tower of Babylon, and I actually enjoy reading it until the second half. On second half, Leo starts to babble nonsense as if he talked in tongue. He still writes in English, though, but his vocabulary seems like an artificial one. But, I can grasp the basic idea of the story, so yay me. 

#3 Division by Zero 
Division by Zero is really interesting because it combines domestic drama and science (fiction). It's about a professor in Math named Renee who finds a formalism that proves 1 = 2 without using division by zero. Basically, ground rules in math start to crumble, and Renee starts to lose her grip in everything she believes and tries to suicide. Her husband, a professor in biology, tries to help her, but as she gets more distant. and he seeks more pleasure from other woman, they both start to drift apart. 

I love the story as well, except for the ending that is so abstract and confusing. There must be any hidden meaning from this, but I can get it, so probably someone can explain to me. What I love is Division by Zero is not soulless, unlike his previous two stories that are more focused on science part. Division by Zero is lively, there's a soul in it that you can't help, but start to feel sympathy, and it's a proof that Chiang is not cold-blooded sci-fi author, that he still has feeling. 

#4 Story of Your Life
It's still great and mind blowing. The review can be seen here

#5 Seventy-Two Letters
Seventy-Two Letters brought us to a nice Victorian(?) era where alchemist exists and the art of making homunculi and automata thrives. Our main character, Strutton, has developed an automaton that is dexterous and able to move its hands. When he learns that the human will stop reproducing in fifth generation, he is recruited by a royal secret organization to research "name" that can give life to an egg to create new individuals without sexual intercourse. 

This one is also nice, and much easier to comprehend, but still, it's Ted Chiang. What can you expect? This one is probably one of the few Chiang's stories that follow Freytag diagram. The ending is kind of neat, but not that impressive. 

#6 The Evolution of Human Science
This one is not story, it is more like journal about meta-human will not be smarter than real human and that kind of nonsense. 

#7 Hell is Absence of God
This one is my second favorite after Story of Your Life. This takes place in a universe where God sends angels to appear in earth, creating miracles and casualties, and people can see clearly where the soul goes after dying. It follows three different characters whose life change because of angels' apparition, and they all start to search the meaning of all this shit. 

Hell is Absence of God is insane as it combines religion and fantasy, a rare combination that rarely works. It reminds me of the ambivalence of C.s Lewis and Philip Pullman's works that seem contradictive. Chiang challenges the idea of God, in this fantasy story, that honestly seems like a parody, like Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens. It's nice, though, because it provokes us why we believe in God (for theistic people) and why we deny God's existence (for atheistic people) at the first place. 

#8 Liking What You See: A Documentary
The last story is written in a documentary style that's unique. It's about pros and cons of calliagnosia, a futuristic method where you can "turn off" some part in your brain that sense beauty in other people's faces. You can still distinguish people's faces, but you can't tell if they're attractive or not.

It's my third favorite story because mostly I can understand what this is all about. The idea is absolutely unique and the way it's written in documentary is a plus as well. 

In conclusion, Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others basically challenges everything that you believe, provoking your mind. It's really hard, though, one of the hardest sci-fi stories that I've ever read, I have to admit it. So, if you want to maim your brain, just read it. Your brain will probably bleed and start to smoke, but it's all worth it. This one, I'm not lying. 

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4 April 2017 20.20 delete

can i get this book in indonesia?