Simply amazing. Jo Walton hasn't disappointed yet, and this one's a gem.
It's a fairly simple premise. Man wakes up from what he thinks is a nap, only to find that he's actually dead and what he thinks is "him" is a computer simulation.
Along the way, Walton gets in some geek jokes -- when Matthew Corley wakes up he's reading an article about "computer replication of personalities of the dead" and he thinks its BS because "simulating consciousness in DOS or Windows 3.1 is inherently impossible" -- and at least one dig at the publishing industry -- when Essie's boss considers that the company made lots of money on her last biography "though only a pittance for Essie...".
I loved "the word computer has been obsolete for decades and has a charming old fashioned air, like charabanc [I had to look that up] or telegraph." That's not really "speculative fiction", as computer is already disappearing. We use "pads", "tablets", "phones", but rarely computers.
Even more, I loved the reaction when Essie and Matthew (the simulation) first see each other. Matthew died in the 1980s, and Essie's in 2064. You just know there's going to be culture shock, but naturally, neither of them know just what it is that's going to be so shocking.
But all of this beautifully tight writing is just keeping you interested as Walton leads up to a conclusion that is, in hindsight, utterly predictable -- but that I predict you won't predict...
Overall, a really good first novel. It could (and should) have been a good deal tighter (that is, shorter!) but that's bad editing more than bad writing.
Some things were thrown into the story with little obvious reason, and no back story, and there were a few things that seemed quite scientifically weak for an author who was an astrophysicist before he was an author, like "It was Coriolis force, of course: the same fictitious force which curved wind vectors into cyclones on the surface of a rotating planet" — except there's nothing 'fictitious' about it: a physicist should be aware that Einstein explained all about accelerating frames of reference almost a hundred years before Reynolds wrote this. I do understand his point, but it's part of what needed to be cut, because it offers nothing to the plot and is arguably wrong.
Still, I enjoyed it more than the first Reynolds book I read, and I'll definitely finish the Revelation Space trilogy.
I'm so not a fan of short stories, that I have to have somebody shove them down my throat.
In this case it was Michele, who grabbed me by the (figurative) lapel and shouted "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS! NOW!!"
OK, Michele. I've read it! It was pretty darn good too.
All of the stories are thought-provoking, from the opening Tower of Babylon which is a simple, fun, fantasy, or Exhalation in which a race of undying pneumatic-powered robots are faced with entropy; to the title story, in which a linguist finds her world-view forever changed by learning the language of an alien race, and the heart-rending final story The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Particularly that one. I know a lot about the lifecycle of software objects, but none of the software objects I've ever worked with have been quite as endearing as Chiang's digients. I'm actually quite pleased that there's no resolution, and Ana simply continues “...as best she can, the business of living.”
I found Chiang's stories a little reminiscent of Greg Egan, though the science is not quite as likely to induce brain pain. Still, Divide by Zero is the purest of science. The story could only work with a pure mathematician at its centre. When the mathematician finds a proof that Arithmetic is not consistent (ie, that 1=2 or any other number you choose), she believes that it's the end of the world. Her husband says "How can you say that? Math still works. The scientific and economic worlds are't suddenly going to collapse from this realization." And he's absolutely right. As it is, physicists are used to working with systems they know are wrong (say, Newtonian mechanics), because it's "good enough" for their purposes. And absolutely nothing's hard and fast in biology. But pure math, even though Gödel long ago proved that some of math is unprovable, is supposed to be the one thing everybody can rely on.
On the other hand, I think there's a little sleight of hand going on in Story of your Life, because Fermat's Principle of Least Time absolutely doesn't imply anything about the future being already cast in stone. It doesn't stop the story from being an absolute gem.
So, read this. Now. If you don't, I'll set Michele on you.