Arrival, by Ted Chiang

Collection of short stories, one of which, "The Story of Your Life" was made into the film "Arrival", which I'd already seen.

What happens here is that Chiang has some really interesting ideas, and weaves a story around them. Most of these were pretty good; a couple I found less interesting. I think all of the stories take place in an alternate version of our world (although some are more different than others) and they ranged in length from a couple of pages to novella.

Of those I remember, The Story of Your Life worked really well, arguably better than the film: there was more room to explore the language issues. I am not sure he was quite right in his assertion that glottographic writing, where symbols represent speech, is common to every human language. He contrasts this with the "writing" of the aliens, where

"This symbol" - I indicated the circle and diagonal line - "is semadiographic' writing, because it conveys meaning without reference to speech. There's no correspondence between its components and any particular sounds"
Well, what about Chinese? or numerals?

In the film of "Arrival", we learn that the aliens know that they will need help from humans in the future, and that this is why they give their "gift" to humanity. In the story there's no reason given at all.

"72 letters" was a steampunky world where automata perform many routine tasks, and are designed and animated by the power of special words. I had no idea where this story was going until nearly the end, and so that was satisfactorily bewildering.

"Liking What You See: A Documentary" was the best, with its description of calliagnosia (beauty-ignorance): the ability to disable that part of your brain which assesses how good looking someone is. There were some really thought provoking ideas here, and it was structured in a very interesting way. I was left thinking about this story for some time afterwards. From this one:

"A lot of the words we use to describe an attractive person used to be words for magic. Like the word 'charm' originally meant a magic spell , and the word 'glamour' did , too. And it's just blatant with words like 'enchanting' and 'spellbinding'"
I'd never thought of that. Mind you, I guess there are plenty of words that don't relate to magic that are used in this way.

I'd definitely read more by him, but he seems to have a very slow rate of output, and I don't think there are any more books that he's done.

Completed : 19-March-2017

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