The sublime science fiction of Ted Chiang
February 21, 2022 2:42 PM Subscribe
Twelve years on, Ted Chiang remains perhaps the finest author in contemporary science fiction -- and the most rarefied. A technical writer by trade and a graduate of the distinguished Clarion Writers Workshop, Chiang has published only eighteen short stories in the last thirty years, one and a half dozen masterpieces of the genre whose insightful, precise, often poetic language confronts fundamental ideas -- intelligence, consciousness, the nature of God -- and thrusts them into a dazzling new light. His collected works, mostly available in the anthologies Stories of Your Life and Others (2010) and Exhalation: Stories (2019), have cemented his reputation as one of the greatest SF storytellers of all time (and inspired one of the best SF movies of all time). Click inside for a complete listing of Chiang's work, with links to online reprints or audio versions where available, as well as a collection of one-on-one interviews, links to his other writings, video essays, movie clips, and lots more.
Tower of Babylon (1990) - A Bronze Age laborer joins the construction of an impossibly high structure on a mission to breach the vaults of Heaven. Nebula Award (Best Novelette).Essays
Division by Zero (1991) - A brilliant mathematician wrestles with the consequences of her earthshattering proof.
Understand (1991) [.mp3 1 2 3 4 ] - An experimental treatment bestows a regular person with superintelligence, propelling him into a dangerous series of mindgames.
Story of Your Life (1998) - A talented linguist reflects on the life of her daughter as she struggles to grasp the meaning of an alien language. Nebula Award (Best Novella). Adapted into the acclaimed 2016 film Arrival by Denis Villeneuve (trailer - original screenplay).Scenes from the film: Opening - The Ship - First Contact - The Nature of a Question - A Proper Introduction - The Heptapods - The Phone Call - EndingCatching Crumbs from the Table (2000) - Scientists despond as their mentally-augmented descendants leave them in the dust.
Video of the premiere's Q&A panel
Gwern: "Story of Your Life" is Not a Time Travel Story - CJ the X: "Time is an Illusion" video essay
Seventy-Two Letters (2000) - In a world where mystical scrolls impart animating power, a shocking discovery threatens to upend society.
Hell is the Absence of God (2001) [full .mp3 ] - An unbeliever struggles with the question of faith when God is scientific fact and angels routinely visit the earth. Hugo, Locus, Nebula Awards (Best Novelette).Related: The terrifying eldritch horror of Biblically-accurate angelsLiking What You See: A Documentary (2002) - A documentary examines people's reactions to a technology that allows one to see others without regard for physical beauty. Chiang declined a Hugo nomination, feeling the story was unacceptably rushed. Currently being adapted for AMC by Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer.
What's Expected of Us (2006) [full .mp3] - A simple time machine undermines the concept of free will, with disastrous consequences.
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (2007) [full .mp3 ] - An ancient alchemist introduces a traveling merchant to a mysterious time-traveling gateway. Hugo, Nebula Awards (Best Novelette).
Exhalation (2009) [full .mp3 ] - A non-human scholar relates the dissection of his own brain, and the implications his discoveries hold for his curious clockwork universe. Locus, Hugo Awards (Best Short Story).
The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010) - The relationship between people and their creations are explored in a near-future world of sentient AI. Hugo Award (Best Novella). Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny (2011) - Victorian social mores are explored through the efforts of a disgruntled inventor to devise a mechanical nanny.
The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling (2013) - The experience of two societies separated by space and time contrasts the natures of truth, fiction, and collective memory.Related: The Black Mirror episode "The Entire History of You" deals with similar technological ideasThe Great Silence (2015) - A heartbreaking message from the parrots of Arecibo to the builders of the great radio telescope that lies there.Chiang discusses the making of The Great Silence as well as other works addressing interspecies communication, including "Story of Your Life", the novella which was adapted into the 2016 feature film, Arrival.Omphalos (2019) - In a world where Young Earth creationism is true, an archaeologist discovers an unsettling fact about the universe.
Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom (2019) [scroll down]- A new technology that lets people see and communicate with alternate timelines throws society into an existential crisis.
It's 2059, and the Rich Kids are Still Winning (2019) - A successful project to genetically enhance the intelligence of poor children runs into the realities of structural poverty and economic inequality.
Story Notes from the first anthology discussing the background and inspiration for selected stories (contains some spoilers).Interviews:
"The Problem of the Traveling Salesman" (2008) and "The Big Idea" (2010), via Mefi's Own jscalzi
The New Yorker: "Why Computers Won’t Make Themselves Smarter" by Ted Chiang
SF Site (2002) - Infinityplus (2002) - Fantastic Metropolis (2003) - Nebula Awards (2008) - IndieBound (2008) - StarShipSofa podcast (2009) - BoingBoing (2010), discussed previously - Asian American Writers' Workshop (2012) - The Believer (2019) - Ezra Klein, NYT (2021)Other
Speculative Visions with Ted Chiang, an 81-minute reading and Q&A hosted by the Asian American Writers' Workshop in 2016.
"Future Imperfect" - A 2010 feature piece on Chiang's work by City Arts magazine.[This blissfully updated post brought to you by #DoublesJubilee!]
"Ted Chiang vs. Tor Publishing" - A companion piece on Chiang's creative struggle with Tor and his move to boutique publishing.
Tor: Let’s Rank Every Ted Chiang Story Ever Published
Ted Chiang (ology) - A vintage fan blog dedicated to documenting characters, defining terms, and cataloging statistical information from Chiang's stories.
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