Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

by Cam N. Coulter

Posted on August 30, 2016 reading

Reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine Issue 31. December 2012. Originally published in 1998.

I heard about Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang because it has been adapted into a movie, Arrival, which will be released in November. The science fiction circles that I follow online all seemed to have good things to say about Chiang’s novella, so I figured I would give it a read.

Good call, on my part. Story of Your Life is a great novella. I really enjoyed it, and it’s quite different from much of what I read.

Although I read a lot of science fiction, I tend to not read much hard science fiction. The stories I read usually have less to do with science and more to do with society, culture, and perhaps religion. I stories I read are classified as science fiction because they take place in the future and they posit (although don’t explain) advanced technology.

Story of Your Life really felt like I was reading science fiction. I had to pause and think about linguistics, physics, and speech acts while reading this story. The introduction of these concepts was handled very well, very clearly. I had fun pausing to think these ideas over, and the images these ideas built in my mind contributed powerfully to the story.

Chiang had to know (or research) quite a good deal about linguistics, physics, speech acts, and writing in order to pull this story off. I’m very impressed. I got really excited when he brought speech acts into the story, because that’s something I already know a fair bit about, so I felt slightly less intellectually incompetent compared to Chiang.

Ted Chiang is brilliant, and the image he crafts in your head during this story is startlingly original and beautiful. Go check it out.

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Ted Chiang