Stories of Your Life and Others is a short story collection with a focus on speculative sci-fi and math. I can honestly say that I have never come across stories like these in my reading career, and I read a lot of books. While the collection explores many different themes such as the way technology changes peoples lives as well as different types of relationships one has with the divine whether through religion or mathematics. The collection is made cohesive through the careful attention of detail that Chiang puts into every story. Most of the stories explore the relationship that technology, in many of its various forms, has with the way we live.
My favourite story in the collection was “Story of Your Life,” the story that inspired Arrival (2016). The story is centred around linguist who is called in to help communicate with aliens who have come to orbit Earth. As she engages with the aliens, she finds herself viewing the world in a different way and her entire perspective on life is shifted. I loved the narrative structure of the story, but I don’t want to talk about it as it would give away the ending of the story.
Another standout from this collection is “Hell is the Absence of God.” In this world, people can see hell down below them and souls ascending to heaven. The arrival of archangels creates miraculous healing as well as great destruction. The main character’s wife was killed by the arrival of an archangel and she ascends to heaven, but he finds himself hating God for taking her. He can’t ascend to heaven unless he loves God and it thus left in a predicament. It was such a fascinating premise and had wonderful execution.
My least favourite story was “72 Letters,” which is premised around the development of a genuine and artificial human entity. Its is based around the animating properties of golems in Jewish traditions, but in this world, they have been repurposed to do menial and repetitive tasks. The narrator quite frankly annoyed me. He was pretentious and could not see his own hubris. Combine this with a storyline concerned about reproduction and the way evolution functions and I could not wait to get to the end. I just did not like the discussion about reproduction and the role women play in the process. Men were placed at the centre of a story. Living in a world seeking to limit women’s rights and access to healthcare, I did not give a shit that a man was trying to save the human species. I just noticed that no women were involved in the process.
Essentially, this collection feels as if it was written by a person who wants to explore science and math in a literary form, with the intention of sharing it among other people who are interested in the mixture of the creative and the scientific. The passion Chiang has for his subject matter bleeds through and drags the reader along with it.