Trish's Reviews > Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
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really liked it

Review once I'm home. For now, let's just say that the final story got me into trouble with some people at the train station. *lol*
Now that I've had some time to reflect on all the stories I've listened to in this collection, I can honestly say that not one was bad. Sure, three were rather mediocre, but the others were either at least good or even so exceptional that they made up for the mediocre ones without much effort.

There are 8 short stories in this book:
1) Tower of Babylon
2) Understand
3) Division by Zero
4) Story of Your Life
5) Seventy-Two Letters
6) The Evolution of Human Science
7) Hell Is the Absence of God
8) Liking What You See - A Documentary

The first was good but not outstanding, the second and third were mediocre, the fourth (which is the basis for the movie Arrival that is now in theatres and the reason I read this book) was spectacular, the fifth was mediocre again, the sixth was as good as the first, and the last two were as fantastic as the fourth.

For this review I'd like to focus on the three stories I found exceptional.
Stories of Your Life: As a linguist, I was delighted to find a story where a linguist is the most important person. Because I can tell you from personal experience (and yes, I'm totally biased) that linguistics is NOT boring. Quite the contrary. Nevertheless, I often see people's eyes glaze over when I try to explain why not. To see Hollywood making linguistics popular (hopefully) is therefore a dream come true. The story did not progress the way I had expected but the concept as well as the execution were so stunningly beautiful that I'm still marvelling at both. Also, the emotional and moral implications are very heavy (in the best of ways). And the process of establishing communications with the aliens was fairly realistic (fairly because we're talking about aliens, realistic definitely in Terran terms like when the author explains the importance and difference between written and spoken language).
Here is a link a friend here on GR posted, showing the opinion of a linguist who saw the movie (beware of spoilers!):
I, personally, haven't read the article yet since it contains spoilers to the movie (which seems to be slightly different from the book so I wanted to wait) so I will get into more detail after having seen the movie.
Hell Is the Absence of God: The story was fantastically sarcastic - or at least I chuckled and laughed out loud at it. It shows very clearly why I could never be religious and everything that is wrong about religion (which means some people should probably not read it). Again, very intelligently executed too. Also, which is very important especially with such a topic, the reader is not forced to accept the author's opinion because he doesn't exactly show it - instead we have all the facets and are given the choice whether we hold with this or that character in the story and the respective world view.
Liking What You See - A Documentary: This was by far the funniest. A very important story especially nowadays that so many groups of people claim the moral high-ground, are constantly offended by everything so they constantly cry "ban this" or "ban that" and voluntarily hand over their rights and freedoms because they are desperate to feel "safe" (aka they are addicted to the illusion of being safe). I was very impressed with the different POVs here.

Some of the ideas used in this book aren't new but the way they were presented was always intelligent (yes, even in the mediocre stories). What I also liked was that there were two narrators alternating in narrating the stories (except for in the last one where they both narrated together, depending on who "spoke").
Although every story was completely different from the others, the characters were always true to life, their fates moving, and every situation was portrayed in a sort of 360°-examination; I suspect so as not to influence the reader opinion-wise.

Overall, this little collection proves that the author knows a lot about science and classic scifi themes and that he has a great talent for writing and making readers think critically about the world around them. I'm not surprised his stories have won several different awards and am now impatient to see the movie Arrival!
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Reading Progress

September 22, 2016 – Shelved
September 22, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
November 11, 2016 – Started Reading
November 16, 2016 –
20.0% "Now THIS seems to be a short story collection I can and will enjoy! Not really surprising since the author made the smart choice of starting with the Tower of Babylon. ❤️"
November 17, 2016 –
50.0% "Read past the story that was the basis for the movie Arrival and loved it! I know the others aren't bad either but as a linguist, I appreciated Stories of Your Life (title of the short story itself) even more."
November 17, 2016 –
75.0% "Thanks to MANY delayed trains I got to listen to quite a bit more. Two more stories in fact, both about free will and reproduction (as in the future of the human race). Interesting concepts but nothing is blowing me away as much as the story about the linguist."
November 18, 2016 –
90.0% "BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Just finished the story about the angels. BWAHAHAHAHAHA!"
November 18, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-27 of 27 (27 new)

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message 1: by Matthias (new) - added it

Matthias People at the train station are the worst!

Trish Yep, you can say that again. In this particular case, I had to chuckle twice because of my audiobook and was verbally attacked by a person apparently thinking I was laughing about him! He even tried getting up close and personal until I put an end to that.

Bradley Great review! Too bad you didn't tear the mediocre ones apart for us. :) I thought for sure you'd want to say something! :)

Hell, I thought they were all great stories. :) All different as can be, though. :)

Trish No, no tearing apart since they weren't bad. They just weren't as spellbinding as the ones I reviewed in detail here. The Division by Zero one was the darkest for sure and addressed the very important topic of mental health issues and unravelling when what was a pillar of your existance is taken away. Bu the golem one and Understand ... I often zoned out even. *lol*

Bradley lol I understand :)

Veronique Public transport experiences... ;O)

It is interesting to see which stories we prefer. 'Stories of your Life' is the common ground, and jewel of this compilation, but for the others we all differ slightly. I guess Tiang, with his diversity of themes, 'caters' for quite a wide public. Smart.

Trish Yes, that's the possibility you have with a short story collection instead of one big novel I guess.

Veronique Yep, but I really want a novel from him!!! Somehow I find short stories harder than longer pieces.

Trish It depends on the execution. I found that out with Neil Gaiman and Asimov. In Gaiman's case, I love novels more than short stories (although he is ridiculously talented with both) and with Asimov it's the other war 'round (same talent though).

LeAnne: GeezerMom Just saw the movie last night & downloaded the book of stories today! I am THRILLED to know that a linguist like yourself will be reviewing this later in detail. You people rock. Looking forward to it!

Trish Aw, thanks! I'm no where near as impressive as the one in the story since I don't do any field work (I also don't teach at universities or anything).

message 12: by Lata (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lata Really like your review--planning on rereading this collection sometime soon-ish.

message 13: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro What was it that got you into trouble at the rail station, Trish?
Your loud chuckling?
Or your famous Gangnam Style dance routine?

Trish o.O
Trust me when I say that for the sake of public safety I do not have any dance routine. Just like I don't sing if any living creature with ears is in a 100km radius. You're welcome, world.

I was listening to the audiobook, staring into nothing (I stood at the front, right next to the rails, no person before me) and had to chuckle two or three times because it was so funny. Then this guy appeared from behind me and not only tapped my arm but basically shoved me. So I turned around (probably with a confused face), already switching off the audio and grabbing a certain thing to use on him should he get violent, and said "Hey?!". He then started yelling at me how rude and arrogant it was of me to laugh about other people. I was totally confused at this point. However, it did fit with the story (people being too selfconscious, punishing others for it). I told him that I had no idea what his problem was but that I had not been laughing about people since I wasn't paying attention to anyone; that, instead, I was listening to my audiobook. He didn't believe me. When he didn't stop I put my hand up, trying to silence him, and told him that if he ever put a hand on me again for whatever reason, he'd regret it within a second. That confused him. *lol* I then asked in my scolding-nasty-children-voice if he understood what I had just told him. He nodded and I turned around (keeping an eye on him in the reflection of the billboard on the otehr side of the tracks).
He kept mumbling things but I had switched my audiobook back on and he never made a move, went in another door of the train even.

Bradley Lol good for you. I knew you were scary, but it's glad to get outside confirmation even if it's from your own story. At least it's consistent.


*finds a corner to hide from Trish's wrath*

Trish Well if there's one thing I'll never be (we're talking about mindset), it's a victim. And I think a lot of people, who try to intimidate you, can be scared away with a firm and fearless response. With everything that's been going on around here, I'm prepared anyway.

Candace I am anxious to read your take on the movie. I haven't read the story but I've been rather scared to say I didn't love the movie as much as everyone else . I really want to read your take because 1. We tend to have the same critiques 2. My favorite part of the movie was when Amy Adams was playing her part specifically as a linguist, rather than say a family member, teacher, lover, midnight toker, etc You will know how accurate, believable those scenes were. But my problem I think is that the short story form did not translate well onto the big screen, again I'm guessing at the problem because I haven't read it and I did LIKE, just nothing more than that.

Trish I will let you know as soon as I can (as I said, the screening doesn't start until the end of the month here). I hope they were realistic about it. Technically, it shouldn't have been difficult to translate (see what I did there? ;P) the short story onto the screen but that doesn't say much as countless other movie adaptations have proven.

message 19: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Ansbro Sounds as if you handled the rail platform 'situation' very well, Trish.

Trish He was lucky I didn't handle him aka threw him under the train. Heaven knows I wanted to.

Fabian {Councillor} I just checked this collection out recently when I learned that Arrival is based on a short story by this author. As far as I know myself I am probably going to watch the movie before maybe reading this anyway, but it's good to know that in the end you liked it this much, Trish. :)

message 22: by Trish (last edited Nov 20, 2016 09:07AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Trish Thanks and as usual, you're welcome. Too bad the movie isn't in theatres here yet (I suspect it's because of Fantastic Beasts that they are holding off so as to have a chance at a decent audience).

Alex ☣ Deranged KittyCat ☣ So many books, so little time. I dislike it when GR friends (whose opinion I value) really like a book. I wish I could split my mind so I can read multiple books at the same time.
I enjoyed your review, Trish, and this book just got higher on my short list (whatever the heck that means anymore *sigh*).

Trish Lol* Yeah, my TBR is so high, it's as menacing as Mount Doom if not more.

Karen I am currently reading this mind blowing, thought stretching book of short stories !! Wow...finding it hard to wrap my brain around some of the concepts, but what a wild ride...loving it !!!

Trish The author is really very talented and apparently very intelligent himself, understanding a lot of physics.

message 27: by William (last edited Dec 06, 2018 05:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

William Arrival is one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Truly exquisite, perfectly balanced, deep and thoughtful. Beautiful in every way.

I can understand why Denis Villeneuve was chosen to direct Blade Runner 2049 and cringe if you will, BR49 is my favourite movie of all time. At the second viewing, you begin to notice the subtexts, the exquisite balance and beauty. After the 3rd viewing, you are eager for the 4th.

In all, I saw this BR49 five times in the cinema, something I’ve never ever done before. Not for any movie in my life. BR49 is a masterpiece of the heart, of human flaws, of human yearning for completion. Astounding.

...the fourth (which is the basis for the movie Arrival that is now in theatres and the reason I read this book) was spectacular...

Yes, totally. And I agree about the other stories in the book, many quite poor. Thank you for this loving review!

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