I’ve been meaning to read Ted Chiang’s stories for ages, since his work is clearly adored by a lot of writers I admire and whose taste I trust. And I wasn’t disappointed at all: there’s a reasonably formal feel to the writing in these stories, something careful and precise, and for me that makes them particularly engaging. I guess other people might find that makes them fall rather flat, but to me it added to the poignancy.
My favourite stories of the bunch, by far, were ‘The Tower of Babylon’ and ‘Story of Your Life’. The others explore some interesting ideas, but those two interested me the most. ‘The Tower of Babylon’ is just a fun what-if — what if the Tower was real? What if the world was shaped differently to ours? And also, what kind of expertise and building would be needed to make this tower? How long would it take, and how would people cope? Examining all of this fascinated me, because Chiang obviously thought it through.
‘Story of Your Life’, well. I’m not sure how Adams and Renner’s film Arrival is going to deal with it, because for me the whole point is the narration, the calm regret and acceptance of the narrative voice. I’m not sure about the idea of language working that way (i.e. the different perspective to time being an aspect of the language, not of the structure of the aliens’ brains, and one which is transmittable to another species). But emotionally, the story really works, and of course it also leaves you wondering about the aliens, about what exactly they intended, what they wanted from humanity, and whether they got it.