As someone whose memory and attention span can often be found wanting, I have always been a fan of short story anthologies. I can read an entire story in one sitting and get the satisfaction of an ending each time I pick up the book. Not only that,but it’s perfectly fine if forget everything that I read last time. What could be better?
Ted Chiang’santhology, Stories of your life and others.
The anthology consists of seven short stories that branch across the entire spectrum of what could be considered Science Fiction, from the mind-altering human evolution of ‘Understand’ to the theological journey in ‘Tower of Babylon’. Each story draws you into its narrative with an intriguing premise and leads you to a thought-provoking conclusion. In fact, there wasn’t a single story that I didn’t find myself heavily invested in and I eagerly read each one twice.
Now, I imagine the concept of enlightenment changes depending on who you ask. What is it? How can you reach it? Where must you look for it? These are questions that can be answered neither objectively nor definitively. However, with enlightenment at its core, Stories of your life and others presents some bold ideas and opinions on the topic. Chiang’s stories identify two types of enlightenment; that of the mind and that of the soul. While these are not mutually exclusive, I did feel that each protagonist’s enlightenment tended to be more of one in particular than of both. Furthermore,it seemed as though Chiang chose to represent this dichotomy of mind and soul through the conflict between science and religion. ‘Seventy two letters’ was particularly effective at demonstrating the opposing tenets between the two. However,whether the story followed a religious journey or one of scientific discovery,the end result always seemed to be connected to those of the other stories; the protagonist had achieved a sense of enlightenment having reached new levels of perception and understanding of their world around them.
The genius of Chiang’s anthology becomes apparent with its last instalment. While the first six stories give you information concerning enlightenment and allow you to form comparative opinions, the seventh, Liking what you see: a documentary’, acts as a final test. Is it your mind (and body), or soul that will win out in this metaphysical battle? Regardless of what your own personal ending is to this collection, the journey that you take to reach it is nothing short of phenomenal.
– The Librarian