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jcunningham

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Ermahgerd. Berks.

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James S.A. Corey
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The Shining Girls

Stories of Your Life: And Others

Stories of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang When I tell people I don't like short stories (and really, I don't), what I mean is that I don't like literary short stories that offer us, say, a snapshot of someone's rather normal life, and wow, look at the way this small scene profoundly illuminates a larger wholBORING.It turns out I do like short sci-fi, though. I think this is probably because sci-fi is naturally more focused on outlandish ideas that can be nicely explored within the limited scope of a short story -- wouldn't-it-be-neat notions that wouldn't necessary support a longer format (like: "wouldn't it be neat if you had perfect foreknowledge of events and could prepare for them?" made a great Philip K. Dick short story, but Paycheck was a lousy movie). (That's not a good example as we are talking about books here, but I really hated that movie simply because the short story was so cool.) (And even Minority Report, which I like, generally mucks with the elegant ideas of the short version in order to flesh it out into a somehow less satisfying, if more populated with spider robots, three-act narrative.)So anyway. Is Ted Chiang a freaking genius or what? Because not only has he just about cornered the market on coming up with great ideas best explored in his chosen format, but his writing demands none of the concessions that are often asked by genre writers (I'm not snob, but you know 'tis true; enthusiasm and imagination often trump prose when you're talking spaceships and orcs). Stories of Your Life: and Others is genuinely good enough that it should be far more widely acclaimed than it is; I'd wager genre stigma (see above) has something to do with that fact. But everyone who has read it knows the score.What's commendable here is A) the sheer creativity of the ideas (revisiting the Tower of Babel as if the story were a literal truth; positioning mathematics as a belief system with as much of a faith component as religious, um, faith; the dynamics of faith -- strictly religious this time -- in a world where God and angels are literally present) compounded by B) the complexity with which he explores these ideas (i.e. these are less stories than they are thought experiments in prose, including one that creatively explores the power of language to mold reality, but with aliens). If I have to justify my four stars beyond the fact that two of the stories just weren't as interesting or clever to me, I have to admit that these things definitely engage the head more than the heart, and can lack depth of character and emotion. But then again, not always -- the best of the bunch, Hell is the Absence of God, is a sorrowful contemplation of the nature of divinity as told through the prism of one man's overpowering grief. It's good stuff.Oh also minus points for a total lack of spaceships. And the terrible cover art on the Tor edition I got from the library, which features a giant naked man and a monkey and some rebar and some other things that aren't in the book.