Author: Ted Chiang
Genre: Science Fiction / Short Stories
Year of Publication (re-titled edition): 2016
ISBN: 1509835903 (ISBN13: 9781509835904)
Earlier titled as “Stories of your Lives & Others”, this compilation of 8 short stories got re-christened when one of its shorts stories made it big on the big screen in form of the SciFi success “Arrival”.
The book contains stories based in some relate-able but unidentifiable universes, which are devoid of any specific timezone. Each story presents hypothesis and possibilities that are rooted in normal human psychology but are stretched beyond the mundane limitations of human mind and its power to imagine.
“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it and welcome every moment” – Ted Chiang (quoted from the short story “Story of your Life”)
It was the movie which lead me to read this book. I haven’t watched the movie yet and I wanted to read the book before watching the cinematic adaptation. To be honest, I didn’t even know that the movie is based on just one of the stories among the bouquet of 8 shorts this book has to offer. When I had gone through the premise of the book, I imagined all these stories to be inter-connected, but as it turned out…that was not the case.
I have serious reservations on changing the title of the book just because of a successful movie when the movie was only based on 1/8th of the book
This actually became a serious turn-off for me. I felt a nagging commercial deception in the fact that the compilation was named after the movie when the movie was only based on 1/8th of the book. Even after completing the book and being quite impressed by its content, I still feel that the book itself was beyond this commercial gimmick. The stories were powerful enough to have an identity of their own. Renaming the book because of a commercially successful movie adaptation and then including the line “now a major motion picture” was way below the degree of intellect exhibited throughout the book.
Instead of teasing your imagination, these fiction stories will CREATE your imagination!
Anyhow, enough about the title and coming to the stories…These are not your normal science fiction stories which will tease your imagination and then leave you with a thrilled feeling of euphoria. instead of teasing your imagination, these stories will actually CREATE your imagination. Each story has a universe which resembles ours but has entirely unique dynamics; new terminologies are created; existing words in our diction are given entirely unanticipated meanings and the characters which appear just like you and me at the surface, actually turn out to belong to another era altogether and you have no clue if the era was in the past or lies in some distant future.
So this is where it gets tricky…the stories split the reader in two layers. One layer stays at the surface where characters and settings seem relate-able. But a deeper layer appears abruptly out of no where. Its this layer where you have to work hard as each story keeps on hitting you with dangerous yet totally legitimate questions. These questions force your level of understanding even beyond the boundaries you are aware of…and just when you think the genius within you has reached crescendo and you are just about to figure out the answers… EXACTLY THEN … THE STORY ENDS! Yup; that’s the pattern…that’s how the stories make you think even after you have completed your thought process.
A reader is bound to either hate this book or fall in love with it; there is no stage in between!
This paradoxical nature of the stories takes this book to a level, where as a reader you are bound to end up with either of the two extreme opinions about the book; you will start hating yourself for choosing this book or you will end up loving it. I fortunately, despite all the mental fatigue that the book caused, LOVED IT. Primary reason is that each story, with all its confusions and abstractions, made me think about an issue or a possibility which had never crossed my mind.
Another thing I loved about the book was the consistency of one underlying theme throughout the stories, despite each story having an entirely different setting and message. Every story explores the unimaginable potential of a human mind; it provokes the physical and metaphysical capabilities that Nature has blessed us with. Yet, each story ends up with a humble submission that no matter how high we rise in our pursuit of excellence, the mysteries of the universe and the Nature’s ability to surprise us, will always remain beyond our comprehension.
I have to praise the author’s creative abilities
I will never be able to pick a personal favorite among all these stories and therefore i will not even attempt to do so. What I will gladly do though, is to compliment Ted Chiang’s creative abilities as a writer. His ability to invent is even more impressive than his ability to innovate.
To sum up, though I will always have my reservations regarding the selection of title for this book being naive, and though it will take a few days for my mind to settle down to the plains of normalcy, yet I will always remember this book as one of the most MEANINGFUL BOOKS I’ve ever read.