The stories in this collection by Ted Chiang all deal with our perceptions of the world and how those perceptions may be off or incomplete or … just not the only way to see the world. Sometimes that’s a source of wonder, but it’s also almost always unsettling. If you’ve seen the movie The Arrival, which is based on “Story of Your Life,” you’ll know what I mean. In that story, the main character is a linguist who is asked to communicate with an alien species that has come to Earth. Learning their language then alters her to adopt, at least in part, their perception of the world. The result is lovely in a way, but also tragic.
Other stories deal with our notion of space and the construction of the world, the potential of our own minds, the truth (or not) of mathematics, the act of creating life, the nature of love, and the role of beauty in our perceptions of ourselves and others. Through the stories, we’re encouraged to take those ideas that many of us consider absolute and obvious and consider what it would be like if they were a little squishier. How would that knowledge affect us? What would it mean for the world?
I really loved this collection. I tend to like my short stories on the weird side, and although the form of these stories is pretty straightforward, the stories themselves are all strange. Sometimes you know straightaway what kind of though experiment Chiang is engaging in, and in other cases, it takes a while to unfold. Those latter stories, where it isn’t clear, tended to be my favorites, but I liked all these stories in the collection. There wasn’t a complete dud among them.