Hester's Reviews > Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
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's review
Oct 17, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: short-stories, science-fiction
Read in October, 2010

I cannot add much to what lightreads said. These are bold and subtle stories that are unexpected. "Tower of Babylon" and "Seventy-Two Letters" are the science fiction stories people would have written in ancient Mesopotamia and medieval Europe, respectively. "Division by Zero" and "Story of Your Life" explore a worlds where, respectively, arithmetic is inconsistent and the (scientific) axiom of causality no longer hold. In spite of my being a mathematician, what grabbed me about "Division by Zero" was how strong the narrator's empathy was, but how he was unable to love someone in her weakest moment, even though she cared for him in his. I empathized greatly with "The Evolution of Human Science," a short story about humans try to do science in a world with superhuman intelligence. I frequently feel that way as a mathematician. There is a world of difference in what the Serres and Grothendiecks achieve and what I can even attempt.

"Liking What You See" was not quite as polished as the rest, but I think that was necessary for Ted Chiang to pull off his big trick. The story is about calliagnosia( I term that I believe Chiang coined), the inability to recognize human beauty. I found it near impossible to imagine a world without facial beauty. I could not decide how it would affect me. I wondered whether it would change love. Would I find certain facial expressions as attractive? Would I love my fiance more or less with calliagnosia? I have noticed that I am occasionally surprised by his appearance; we have been together so long that I think of his insides much more than his outsides. Perhaps calliagnosia would not affect those already in love, but how would it change falling in love? Not only romantically, but with how parents react to their children? Initially, the concept of calliagnosia is attractive, but it seems like too much could go wrong.

The surprise that caught me later, though, was the story's principal narrator. She is a believable person who, in some ways, in near saintly. That just does not happen in literature.

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