by Ted Chiang
Chiang has won numerous sci fi awards (Nebula, Sturgeon, etc.) and all but one of these stories have been previously published, but that didn’t stop me from not having heard of him before I picked up this book. Thank God for paperback collections of stories, so those of us who missed out on great stuff the first time around have another chance to read it.
Chiang is a smart writer: his stories are inventive, engrossing, and thought-provoking. They ask intelligent questions, yet still manage to feel like they are “about” something and not just written as intellectual exercises. There is maximum bang for your buck in these 300+ pages. “Liking What You See: A Documentary” and “The Evolution of Human Science” both play with the form of a short story. “Division by Zero” and “Understand” are two very different takes on a mind struggling with a new reality. There is even a chapter of story notes, where Chiang talks about writing each story, at the end of the book.
While the collection as a whole is quite strong, two of the eight stories really stand out: “Story of Your Life” and “Hell is the Absence of God” are some of the best short stories (sci fi or otherwise) that I’ve read. They are the kind of stories that you are hooked into when you are reading them, you think about once you’ve finished, and then you go get someone else to read so you can talk about them.
Highly recommended — one to buy, not borrow from the library, because these are stories you’ll want to read more than once.