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Publisher's Summary

This new edition of Ted Chiang's masterful first collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, includes his first eight published stories. Combining the precision and scientific curiosity of Kim Stanley Robinson with Lorrie Moore's cool, clear love of language and narrative intricacy, this award-winning collection offers listeners the dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar.

Stories of Your Life and Others presents characters who must confront sudden change-the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens-while striving to maintain some sense of normalcy. In the amazing and much-lauded title story (the basis for the 2016 movie Arrival), a grieving mother copes with divorce and the death of her daughter by drawing on her knowledge of alien languages and non-linear memory recollection. A clever pastiche of news reports and interviews chronicles a college's initiative to "turn off" the human ability to recognize beauty in "Liking What You See: A Documentary." With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty and constant change, and also by beauty and wonder.

©2002 Ted Chiang (P)2014 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Chiang writes seldom, but his almost unfathomably wonderful stories tick away with the precision of a Swiss watch-and explode in your awareness with shocking, devastating force." (Kirkus, Starred Review)

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  • Carolina
  • Montreal, QC, Canada
  • 09-15-14

Amazing collection of short stories

Originally published at: A Girl that Likes Books

This was the September pick for the Sword and Laser book club

First impression

I have to admit that I was reluctant at first to give this book a try. First because I haven't read a lot of short stories so I wasn't sure this collection would grab me. Second, I went with the Audio version because my library didn't have it and I decided just to go with my Audible credit. The only other collection of short stories I've read recently was METAtropolis (also in audio) and while I enjoyed it, it didn't amaze me. Let me tell you, Stories of Your Life and Others might be the book that convinced me to try short stories more often.

Final thoughts

The collection is fantastic, I wasn't even finished and I kept telling people they had to give it a try. While very different, the short stories flow nicely. The fact that this time there were all written by the same person is really evident, even though the voice on each story changes quite a bit changing point of views and even presenting one as a documentary.

Goodreads describes the collection as multiple stories where the characters encounter sudden change. However, more than just sudden change, I believe that the common thread that this collection has is preconceptions and destroying or debunking them. From the concept of beauty to mathematics and even procreation, Chiang gives a new light to all of these subjects with touches of science fiction and even a bit of fantasy.

All the worlds presented are beautifully constructed; at no point did I get the feeling that what was being presented made no sense in the respective universe, and this is extremely important to me. This is not to say that the elements that made these stories feel outside of our world weren't there. They are obviously there without making it feel overdone and so my mind entered each story smoothly.

As might be expected, I liked some of the stories better than other, my favorites being Story of your Life and Others, which deals with the concept of language and physics, and Liking what you See, which deals with the concept and perception of beauty. Extra points for Understand not using the "we only use 10% of our brains" trope and actually going with something different.

Both narrators did a terrific job. Only at Liking What you See do we get to hear them at almost the same time, but I think they were perfect choices all the way through.

66 of 68 people found this review helpful

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LOOKISM

TOWER OF BABYLON, UNDERSTAND, HELL IS THE ABSENCE OF GOD, LIKING WHAY YOU SEE
This was a hard book to rate. It has eight stories or novelettes. Of the eight I absolutely loved the four stories mentioned above and the other four, bored me to tears. Chiang's writing is super intelligent, but most of the stories come off mostly as science papers, not stories. Chiang, digs into each subject with gusto and examines it from every angle. Basically if you like the subject matter, than you will love the paper, but if you are not interested to begin with, your not going to become interested. I will talk about the ones I loved and keep in mind I hated the others.

LIKING WHAT YOU SEE
This was my favorite, mostly because it is a subject matter I have always been interested in and one in which most writers ignore. It is all about beauty, what is beauty, and how people react to beauty or lack of. In this futuristic story, a technology has been invented that makes people blind to beauty. Some societies have this tech installed in their kids and at eighteen they can decide if they want it removed. I think we all agree that our looks aid in our confidence and in our success or lack of. It affects how people are treated in society. A young good looking woman walks in a room and it is as if the other women don't even exist. As a sidebar, not talked about in this book, my son recently mentioned that the average height of American Men is 5'9". The woman in the room were surprised and thought that was a little on the short side. It occurred to me, that the reason they thought that was that when they see a shorter man, they don't see him. He is not significant, he is a non person and does not matter. He does not exist in their minds.

TOWER OF BABYLON
This is the closest to a real story. As mentioned in the STORY NOTES, the Hebrews story of the Tower is more detailed, than what is in the bible. The Hebrew Tower, takes day to walk around and a year to climb. This all makes for a mind boggling picture in your head.

HELL IS THE ABSENCE OF GOD
This is a kind of biblical, paranormal story with angels that do as much harm as good. It is also a very detailed and thoughtful look into faith.

UNDERSTAND
I guess it takes a genius to write about being a genius. We are always being told we only use a small percentage of our brain. In this story Chiang explores what would happen if you could use your whole brain and it comes with a few twists.

The other stories I probably would have liked, had they been subject matter I cared about. Division by Zero, is very mathy and turned my brain to mush. My wife, who is a math teacher would have probably loved it. The Story of Your Life, is a linguistic study. It is a story about aliens and how we would learn to speak with them. Included in the story is a woman talking to her dead child. How these tied together, I don't know as I could not finish the story. While I am interested in how we could ever communicate with aliens, that are not humanoid in any way, I could not get into the nuts and bolts of it all. Seventy Two Letters is about golems, automatons and magic. In the Story Notes, Chiang mentions the Jewish Religion as the spark for the story. I should have been interested, but it just seemed like he sucked all the fun out of it. The Evolution of Human Science was written for the Journal, Nature. Thank God, it is very short, for it has the power to put the common layman into a coma.

38 of 41 people found this review helpful

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  • Nathan
  • London, Ontario Canada
  • 10-22-14

Short story collection for the thinking person

How could the tower of babel be built, how would a mad scientist view the world, What if we could make ourselves unaffected by people's looks, and what if Angel sightings were common everyday occurrences and we could see the deceased in heaven or hell? These are some of the stories this collection examines with their social, scientific and psychological impact. Some stories better than other, aimed more at plot and themes so some readers may find them boring.

28 of 30 people found this review helpful

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Uniquly Imaginative and Deep worlds

These are some of the best scifi stories I've read in awhile. Many of them ive in a deep world that could easily be turned into full novels. The characters are interesting and engading and the plots are wild.

This is scifi that even non-scifi people will love

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

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Sci-fi fan? Like to think? Get it!

Each story is quite different and a pleasant surprise. Glad I got this recommendation and decided to try it. Golems and problems of reproduction; what happens when the Tower of Babel actually reaches heaven; really alien languages; etc. So many ideas put together in unexpected ways. A real treat. The sound editing could have been a little better. Some stories start with zero gap from the previous story which can be a little confusing while listening.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • RK
  • USA
  • 01-03-17

Masterpiece of short fiction

I got interested in Ted Chiang's work after watching the recent Amy Adams movie, The Arrival. I was thoroughly engrossed in that movie and wanted to read the work that inspired it. That's how I came across this collection of short stories.

I can only say, thank god I did. I have not been this engrossed in a story or stories in years. Not since the first time I read Titans and the Lions of Al Rassan by Gavriel Kay. What's so amazing about Chiang is that his way of writing just hooks you right from the beginning, essential for short story form. He drops you into a new world. It doesn't bother explaining everything immediately. He lets the reader figure out the rules of the world and that discovery is half the magic.

In addition the characters feel real and are all engrossing. Even Stratford and the other characters from 72 Letters, the only story I didn't really like, were engaging and wanting to know what happens kept me going right to the end. The other stories were all fantastic, with my two favorite probably Understand and Hell is the Absence of God. I was most engrossed in these stories, but most moved by Stories of Your Life.

Finally the narration by Abby Cardenas and Todd Mclaren was phenomenal. As much as the stories engrossed me listening to these two kept me completely riveted. I hope to listen to more narrations by them in the future.

16 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Waltham, MA, United States
  • 10-05-17

Neat ideas, boring sci-fi stories

I listened to three of these stories, and I was bored by them all. They all provided interesting food for thought, but character development was nil, and the plots seemed too far fetched. These seemed written more for adolescent boys who are into sci-fi, but the stories seemed too empty to me. And so I gave up.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Highly recommend! Thoughtful! Excellent!

I really loved this collection of stories. All of them are thought provoking and emotionally engaging. I had to stop between stories just to collect myself and revel in the reaction to each finale. Every tale is performed well by a many actors adding character and depth. Highly recommended.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Experience An Author’s Growth Through Early Works

Any additional comments?

An interesting and often fun collection of short stories, that get a bit bogged down with noticeable exposition. Ted Chiang does a marvelous job of examining religious mythology in ‘Hell Is The Absence Of God’, while other stories drawing from similar source material are merely entertaining. If you’re religious, you’ll probably enjoy these stories more than I did. These are the author’s early works, and you can experience his progression as a writer over the course of this collection, which is neat. The strongest stories, whose themes and ideas linger, are ‘Understand’, ‘Story Of Your Life’, ‘Hell Is The Absence of God’, and ‘Liking What You See: A Documentary’. The other four tales are entertaining, but... lack something to make them spectacular.<br/><br/>All that being said, Abby Craden and Todd McLaren do an amazing job at narration. Their efforts are slightly marred by odd leveling issues with the audio file, but still shine through.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Fred
  • Pennsylvania, USA
  • 10-26-16

Intriguing concepts, but didn't hold my interest

What disappointed you about Stories of Your Life and Others?

This is one of the few audiobooks I’ve purchased that I struggled to get through. I’m a sci-fi fan and although many of the author’s concepts were intriguing, I was expecting a little more excitement in the stories. I found it difficult to care about the characters and stay interested with the plots. If you enjoy long lectures on science, mathematics, and theology you’ll probably appreciate this book more than me

What didn’t you like about Abby Craden and Todd McLaren ’s performance?

Abby and Todd did the best they could with the material they had.

26 of 33 people found this review helpful