Chiang, Ted. "Story of Your Life." Starlight 2, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, ed. New York: Tor, November 1998.
This article is part of my attempt to read all the 155 stories currently (as of 1 November 2022) on the ISFdb's Top Short Fiction list. Please see the introduction and list of stories here. I am encouraging readers to rate the stories and books they have read on the ISFdb.
ISFdb Rating: 9.17/10
My Rating: 10/10
"Your father is about to ask me the question."
When alien beings arrive to Earth and hover over specific points of the planet, governments hire physicists and linguists to attempt communication. Among the American linguists is Dr. Louise Banks, and the story follows her progress in deciphering the alien language. Her detailed progress is interlinked with writings to her daughter spanning several years.
The aliens, whose motives are unknown, set up semi circular mirrors across the planet, through which they can communicate with humans. With the use of these "looking glasses," Dr. Banks and physicist Dr. Gary Donnelly communicate with two aliens they have named "Flapper" and "Raspberry." Communications are monitored by the military, and the academics are advised to learn the language without revealing too much about themselves.
With "Story of Your Life," Chiang creates an excellent story of ideas that manages to also evoke solid emotion. Both the ideas and the emotional experience work hand-in-hand, and "Story of Your Life" is among those unique experiences where both aspects of the story, its central idea and the lives affected by it, exist on a higher plane. The idea itself is ingenious, and the emotional impact superlative.
Without giving anything away, in the exploration of alien communication, Chiang offers a variety of interesting forms of communication, of written language, that can be developed by an alien lifeform, and settles on a truly unique one. The eventual discovery of the nature of the communication also leads to the tragedy of the story. Not the discovery itself, of course, but the ability to read the writing trains the reader to see life in a way not meant for humans.
A vague review, yes, but I truly cannot spoil this experience, and highly recommend the story. The movie based on the novella, Denis Villeneuve's Arrival, is also excellent, because you cannot go wrong with such an incredible story. Even though I'd seen and admired the film, reading the story nonetheless had a great impact on me.
Thia remains the "g0-to" story for people to hand one when they want you to read Chiang.
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