I recently finished Ted Chiang’s sci-fi short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others, an engaging, smart, and varied set of stories that stretch and contract and circle back on themselves in surprising ways. I have always enjoyed science fiction, but I can understand why many people do not. One common complaint I’ve heard is about how long so many sci-fi/fantasy books are. Reading a 700-800 page brick of a book does not sound appealing to many readers. I can sympathize. I don’t always have the time or patience for it either, and I love sci-fi. So, reading a collection of short stories might be more your speed.
Chiang uses various topics, including mathematics and scientific subjects, to tell very moving, human stories that are a joy to read and leave you with plenty to think about afterward. Speaking for myself, I often found myself wondering, “How did he do that?” after finishing a story. I enjoyed each story, and I think you will too, but I will leave you with short teasers for the first two stories in this collection.
“Tower of Babylon”
A group of Elamite miners, famed for their skill in digging and working with stone, are brought to the Tower of Babylon to dig their way into the Vault of Heaven. The tower, a pillar of stone so tall that you cannot see the top at the bottom, is complete. The tower has finally reached the outer walls of the Vault after generations of work. But in order to get inside Yahweh’s Vault, the Elamites must climb to the top. And along the way they meet the builders of the tower who have made lives and families on the tower. Once they get there, the work begins.
In a near-future setting, Leon suffered a terrible accident and ended up in a vegetative coma. However, thanks to a miraculous experimental drug known as “Hormone K” he is able to make a full recovery after two doses. Not only has Hormone K revived his brain, Leon notices that his intelligence has increased too. He can now handle doing three or four tasks at once and learn new skills in no time at all. So when he is asked by a neurologist if he would like to be part of further clinical trials for the drug, Leon jumps at the chance. And with that begins Leon’s ascent.
Arrival, a movie which is based on the short story, “Stories of Your Life,” in this collection, is also available if you’d rather not read the book. No judgement here.