Ted Chiang is one of the most respected science fiction writers out there right now. But he is not prolific and has only written short stories and novellas. The Economist recently published an article on the reasons you should read his work. And with a film adaptation of his short story “Story of Your Life” on the horizon, I decided it was a good time to have my book group discuss some of his work.
We discussed two short stories and one novella:
It is Chiang’s ability to look at multiple sides of an issue
—in science, technology, and our emotional lives—
that makes his work so discussable and memorable.
I shared with the group a talk that Chiang gave, entitled “Ted Chiang on the Future,” that provides some background on what led him to write “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling.” In the talk, he shares an incident in Isaac Asimov’s life in which his mother denies that she ever beat him, even though she once did; in the intervening years this became a less accepted parenting act and so therefore, as a good mother, she must not have done it.
The novella is about a life-logging software called Remem that records your words and actions. One father has to reckon with an inaccurate picture of his relationship with his daughter due to a highly charged moment in their lives that he held differently than it had occurred. The novella unfolds several strands of competing thinking around being able to record every moment of our lives and ultimately does not fall on one side of the matter, but picks it up like a prism to examine each facet. It is Chiang’s ability to look at multiple sides of an issue—in science, technology, and our emotional lives—that makes his work so discussable and memorable.
We spent about 15 minutes on both short stories, which was not enough, and about a half an hour on “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling.” Because Chiang is such a thoughtful and meticulous writer, it was hard to do justice in our time frame, but the group seemed grateful for the opportunity to approach his work.