Ted Chiang’s arrival: the story of his life may be about to change

A long writing project has occupied me for much of this weekend. Hence no brilliant, probing, and thoughtful post today—nor any other kind either, except for a few quick notes.

On Friday night, a friend and I saw the new science-fiction film Arrival. Our capsule judgment is that it’s not bad, but it’s not very good either. It seems at times to want to be a Terence Malick film but misses, and it accomplishes too little in the time it occupies. However, I highly recommend the story on which it’s based, “Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang, first published in 1998 (and when you read it, pay attention to the verb tenses). In a way, it’s about language and the perception of time, but what’s moving about it is the particular human situation in which he embeds his speculative ideas. PDFs of it keep popping up online and getting taken down. You should have no trouble finding it that way if you want, but you can also just buy it in the collection Stories of Your Life and Others.

A handful of appreciations of Chiang have been published, and given the film’s successful opening weekend, more are likely to appear. China Miéville reviewed that collection for The Guardian in 2004. The Economist’s Prospero blog wrote concisely about Chiang in 2013; as if anticipating the film that was just released, this post argues that, though science fiction often works well on screen, “Chiang’s approach is irreplaceable.” Just a few days ago, 1843, a cultural publication from the Economist Group, posted a similarly brief survey of Chiang’s work.


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