So remember when I reviewed Monstrous Affections and I said I rarely read short story collections because I am an anal retentive reader and it always takes me approximately seven generations to finish reading an anthology? Well, I read another collection! And I mostly liked it! This time it was Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others (Small Beer Press).
Now, I’m going to be frank and say that I didn’t love all of these stories. It’s not that any of them were necessarily bad, but many of them veered into a realm of science fiction that I sometimes struggle with, and that is science fiction that is loaded with, well, science. I know that maybe sounds kind of silly, but bear with me. When I’m reading science fiction that has a ton of scientific detail, my brain tends to go off into another dimension. I just have very little interest in reading a bunch of made up, fake science. I know I know that this makes certain stories or ideas more believable, but I just can’t do it. I’m sorry, OK? I’M SORRY.
Now, I’m no scientist, but at least it kind of seemed like a lot of the fake science in Chiang’s stories was based on the real deal, and if it wasn’t then he did a really good job of faking it, so my brain didn’t go quite as fuzzy as it normally does when a large bulk of the descriptive narrative is comprised of technical details.
Even though I wasn’t crazy about everything in this anthology, I was IN LOVE with three of the stories. “Story of Your Life” is about a linguist who learns an alien language that changes the way she perceives time and therefore the narrative of her life as it relates to others; it was heartbreaking, and I found the linguistic process fascinating. “Hell is the Absence of God” is the story of a non-devout man who lives in a world in which angelic visitations take the form of natural disasters; when he loses his wife to one of these visitations, he must learn to love God in order to be reunited with her. Again, heartbreaking, and a fascinating vision of a world where heaven and hell are definitive, inarguable reality. I especially loved the appearance/description of the fallen angels because ANARCHY. “Liking What You See: A Documentary” is in the form of a “documentary” about a college campus trying to push its students into a mandatory neurological modification that makes them unable to perceive beauty in human faces. I loved the constant shift in perspectives from both sides of the argument. It definitely made me feel a bit ewwy as to my own habits when choosing someone to get nasty with. I know I ended that sentence with a preposition. I tried so hard not to, but there you have it. Sometimes life is hard.
Bottom line: this is a solid collection, and I know there are a lot of readers who wouldn’t balk at the science heavy aspect of a lot of the stories, and if you’re like me and struggle with that shit? Worry not. There are some brilliant stories in here for you, too.
For music, I am choosing a song that goes well with “Hell is the Absence of God,” one of my favorite songs by Catharsis, “Every Man for Himself and God Against Them All.”
Where I got it: Gavin Grant of Small Beer Press kindly sent me a copy to review.