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Stories of Your Life and Others [Paperback]

Ted Chiang
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 2 2003
Ted Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," won the Nebula Award in 1990. Subsequent stories have won the Asimov's SF Magazine reader poll, a second Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992. Story for story, he is the most honored young writer in modern SF.

Now, collected here for the first time are all seven of this extraordinary writer's stories so far-plus an eighth story written especially for this volume.

What if men built a tower from Earth to Heaven-and broke through to Heaven's other side? What if we discovered that the fundamentals of mathematics were arbitrary and inconsistent? What if there were a science of naming things that calls life into being from inanimate matter? What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time? What if all the beliefs of fundamentalist Christianity were literally true, and the sight of sinners being swallowed into fiery pits were a routine event on city streets? These are the kinds of outrageous questions posed by the stories of Ted Chiang. Stories of your life . . . and others.

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From Amazon

This marvelous collection by one of science fiction's most thoughtful and graceful writers belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in literary science fiction.

Collected here for the first time, Ted Chiang's award-winning stories--recipients of the Nebula, Sturgeon, Campbell, and Asimov awards--offer a feast of science, speculation, humanity, and lyricism. Standouts include "Tower of Babylon," in which a miner ascends the fabled tower in order to break through the vault of heaven; "Division by Zero," a precise and heartbreaking examination of the disintegration of hope and love; and "Story of Your Life," in which a linguist learns an alien language that reshapes her view of the world. Chiang has the gift that lies at the heart of good science fiction: a human story, beautifully told, in which the science is an expression of the deeper issues that the characters must confront. Full of remarkable ideas and unforgettable moments, Stories of Your Life and Others is highly recommended. --Roz Genessee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Here's the first must-read SF book of the year. Chiang has acquired a massive reputation on the basis of very few pieces of short fiction. This collection contains all six previously published tales, including the Nebula Award-winning "Tower of Babylon," plus a new story, "Liking What You See: A Documentary." It's rare for a writer to become so prominent so fast. In this case, though, the hype is deserved. Chiang has mastered an extremely tricky type of SF story. He begins with a startling bit of oddity, then, as readers figure out what part of the familiar world has been twisted, they realize that it was just a small part of a much larger structure of marvelous, threatening strangeness. Reading a Chiang story means juggling multiple conceptions of what is normal and right. Probably this kind of brain twisting can be done with such intensity only in shorter lengths; if these stories were much longer, readers' heads might explode. Still, the most surprising thing is how much feeling accompanies the intellectual exercises. Whether their initial subject is ancient Babylonians building a tower that reaches the base of Heaven, translation of an alien language that shows a woman a new way to view her life as a mother, or mass-producing golems in an alternative Victorian England, Chiang's stories are audacious, challenging and moving. They resemble the work of a less metaphysical Philip K. Dick or a Borges with more characterization and a grasp of cutting-edge science.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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4.0 out of 5 stars Hard SF Jan. 2 2004
To my taste, Ted Chiang is SF's preeminent working hard SF writer, and one of the best creators of thought experiments the genre has ever seen. He doesn't write much, and so far all he's produced has been short fiction; it's hard to imagine his particular techniques--and his focus on following premises to their logical conclusions, and not a word farther--working at greater length. I especially recommend him to people who like Connie Willis' "At the Rialto" and "Schwartzenchild Radius"; like Willis, he is very fond of structuring stories as the living exemplars of scientific theories. Depending on how you look at the stories, they are either using science as a metaphor for human experience--or using human experience as a metaphor for science.
There's one weak story here, "Understand," which wastes a very intriguing Flowers for Algernon/Camp Concentration-like setup of the creation of superintelligent beings on a cliched contest for supremacy among supermen: the notes indicate this was the earliest written, if not the earliest published. The earliest published was "Tower of Babylon," a matter-of-fact SF-like practical recounting of the construction of the Tower of Babel; it won a Nebula award. Other stories include "Seventy-Two Letters," a similarly SFnal investigation of a fantasy premise (What if medieval theories of human reproduction were true? And the answer is: If Nature hadn't invented DNA, humans would have had to); "Hell Is the Absence of God," a cruel, utterly matter-of-fact story set in the universe of fundamentalist Christianity; "Division by Zero," the story of a mathematician who learns mathematics is not true; and "The Evolution of Human Science," a scientific article wondering what's left for humans in a future where posthuman evolution (a la Ken MacLeod) has succeeded.
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5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely creative and unique literature Dec 8 2003
This is a great book. All of the stories collected here are excellent, but there were three that I especially liked:
"Understand" is about acquiring high intelligence through advanced technology, which is a pretty common topic in science fiction, but this one was different in how detailed and downright imaginative it was. In fact it almost convinces you that the author is actually writing from experience; his ideas seem so close to reality.
"Division by Zero" is not science fiction; instead it presents a fascinating mathematical concept that requires a lot of (rather enjoyable) brain-bending to grasp, though still managing to tell a story that touches your heart.
"Hell is the Absence of God" is an intriguing thought experiment, telling the story of what the world and what people would be like if the Christian form of God not only existed but actively participated in everyday life.
I also really liked the story notes at the end.
Though I was kind of bothered by the hasty endings to most of the stories. I don't mind being made to draw conclusions and mentally tie up strings, but sometimes here they were ended just too abruptly.
Overall, I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes creative, character-centered science fiction unlike anything you've ever read. I look forward to reading more of Ted Chiang's work.
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For years I've been hearing wonderful things about this fantastic writer named Ted Chiang. Ted, the wunderkind whose first published story won a Nebula (accepted before he went to Clarion, even!) who keeps winning awards and is known by all and has the audacity to not write very many stories and not one novel. So, it was with some sense of anticipation that I picked up his first short story collection. I had heard of many of the stories in it--Tower of Babylon, Hell is the Absence of God, Story of Your Life--and was determined to like them.
Oddly, my reaction was mixed.
Part of this collection pleased me to no end; part of it elicited no more than a 'meh'. Why the mix? I'm not sure. The first three selections did not thrill me. I think that I felt as though the stories were high on the idea axis, but low on the other axes. In fact, when I finished reading Babylon I felt kind of cheated, as it seemed to me a long set-up for a punchline-type ending.
But then I read Story of Your Life and everything changed. Oh, how I loved that story. This is where I felt Chiang really got it right. The idea and the characters and the plot and the everything in perfect harmony. I also felt this way about Hell is the Absence of God and Liking What You See: A Documentary (even though this is, apparently, not one of Ted's favorite stories). With these three I saw all the marks of really great talent and storytelling.
Seventy-Two Letters and The Evolution of Science didn't hold any big fascination for me, but didn't produce the same disappointment as the first three I read did.
Chiang's reputation is well-deserved. These are fine stories, and good examples of what they are. Even the ones that I didn't like still had an energy to them that I can't help but admire.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brain and heart Nov. 10 2003
Ted Chiang has two gifts.
First, like Greg Egan, he has the uncanny ability to take a seemingly innocuous scientific fact and turn it into a story. You'd think that would be a given for sf writers but few can actually pull it off. The trick is to not show the reader what the world would be if some law were changed, but to make him think about it. Ted Chiang's stories are not rides, they're challenging, they change you while you read them. You quickly get into the main protagonist's frame of mind even when it's very alien (like the all-knowing character in "Understand" or the one who "chrono-synclastically" remembers the future in "Story of your Life") and you fully understand its problem. Moreover, you start to logically follow its train of thought, deftly guided by the author's hand.
Each one of these stories is built around a simple but brilliantly developed hypothesis (except for "72 Letters", which is built around two simple but brilliantly developed hypotheses, and that's maybe why it's the less emotionally engaging of the book): What if maths were inconsistent ("Division by Zero")? What if the tower of Babylon had reached Heaven ("Tower of Babylon")? What if you could choose not to perceive the beauty of a face ("Liking What You See: A Documentary")? What if Heaven was a certainty but you couldn't bring yourself to love God ("Hell Is the Absence of God")?
In an interview for Locus, Ted Chiang said that he aimed for the sense of wonder that discovery brings. That's exactly what I felt reading his stories: each time, I discovered something about the nature of an imaginary world and, conversely, about the nature of ours.
Ted Chiang's second gift is empathy. Not only do we understand why the protagonist has a weird predicament, but he also makes us care about it.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I can read 'Story of Your Life' over and over
This is worth buying just to read 'Story of Your Life," which is just haunting. I can't say why I connect so much to this story, but it tears me apart and builds me back up each... Read more
Published 11 months ago by morgan1824
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Writer
I only just finished reading this book on my Kindle. I was in awe as I read these stories. First, they are excellent, but in addition, they are incredibly well written. Read more
Published on Nov. 9 2011 by CJClink
5.0 out of 5 stars Great short sci-fi!
Possibly the best collection of SHORT science fiction that I have ever read! All of the stories are engrossing and intellectually stimulating.
Published on Feb. 19 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars greatness does not mean bland optimism
As I get older, it is less and less often that I find a book that really grabs my attention, that is pure joy to read from cover to cover. Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2003 by Arthur Rozum
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book!
Chiang's ability to take one aspect of our world or from our history and twist slightly and let the rest of the world follow, without forcing it, creates some of the most driving,... Read more
Published on April 20 2003 by Bill F
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories of Your Life and Others.
--Tower of Babylon, 1990. Nebula.
--Understand, 1991.
--Division by Zero, 1991.
--Story of Your Life, 1998. Nebula, Sturgeon.
--Seventy-Two Letters, 2000. Read more
Published on March 24 2003 by Haplo Wolf
5.0 out of 5 stars Fiction Done Very Well
I picked up Ted Chiang's "Stories of Your Life and Others" after reading a few synopses of the stories within. Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2003 by Clayton E Kroh
2.0 out of 5 stars talented but glum
(WARNING! I am a science-fiction writer in economic competition with Mr. Chiang. All my gripes must be taken with a grain of salt. Read more
Published on Feb. 13 2003 by John C. Wright
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best recent collections I've read . . .
I gave up a decade ago on trying to keep up with the science fiction magazines, so I only recently became aware of Ted Chiang's wide range of ideas and considerable proficiency at... Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2003 by Michael K. Smith
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