Usually when a heretofore underground author has the light of the mainstream shed on them, it means a run on their back catalogue. With the recent big screen adaptation of Ted Chiang’s 1998 story “Story of Your Life” – an adaptation that Chiang himself has lauded – readers will want to go back and get their hands on everything the Seattle author has published.
The bad news is there isn’t much. Chiang’s published about a dozen stories since 1990. Maybe a baker’s dozen.
The good news is that what little there is amounts to a lot.
The eight stories in his sole collection Stories of Your Life and Others (originally published in 2002) each present a unique, contained, articulate reality. In the way that Chiang explores and plays with the full implications of a theoretical idea or a natural law, he brings to mind Borges and Calvino. But his stories never feel like games or experiments. They are highly conceptual but they are also, most importantly, fundamentally human. No matter how far out the experience is – whether it's a past in which industry is driven by automatons brought to life through kabbalistic commands or a world that's constantly under threat of catastrophic visitations from angels – the core is always close and relatable.
Chaing’s concern is always how we experience, describe, and understand the world. The worlds he presents may be fantastic – an exaggeration of a mathematical concept, for instance – but the human experience within them is always real. The science and theory in Chiang’s stories can get heady, but his writing is so lithe and lucid that heavy concepts, in the end, prove easy to lift. You'd be hard pressed to find such a thorough sci-fi writer who's this immediately accessible.