Other Natures, Different Laws

Eve Tushnet | 1/23/2020 | Staff
Emzah92Emzah92 (Posted by) Level 3
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I recently finished Ted Chiang’s first short-story collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, and after a long fallow period I think I’m in love with science fiction again. This collection’s thrills comes from the working out of an idea. Chiang can make your mind turn a corner–and stop and stare in awe. It is true that his characters are perfunctory at best. I can’t even complain that they’re all the same person, because none of them feel like actual people. They’re spaces in which events take place which illustrate certain imaginable possibilities or ideas. But those possibilities are themselves so rooted in human longings, hopes, and fears that the stories (almost) never feel chilly.

The title story is the basis for the film Arrival, but I would like to tell you about three and a half others. The book starts with “Tower of Babel,” a delightful weird, hard story about builders trying to reach Heaven. “Steampunk” has always been a sort of cutesy, misleading word (what is punk about it really, for one thing) but you will still get some of the flavor of this story if I say it is steampunk but for pyramids. These characters assume that their world is explained by religious doctrine, and they build their lives in the crevices of this doctrine; as always human ingenuity flourishes in the spaces around the hard truths. There’s a touch of casuistry here (what can I get away with?), and the kludgey, sincere worship which leads to questions like, “Is a muskrat a fish for purposes of Friday abstinence?”

Stories - Uses - Truths - Practices - Supernatural

Several of these stories look at the off-label uses of religious truths or mystical practices. Once the supernatural has rules, it risks devolving into technology. “Tower of Babel,” by contrast, is about the mystery which remains after all experiment and...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Eve Tushnet
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