Everyone approaches science fiction differently. My love of it is grounded in unabashed pulp sensibilities—if it’s not going pew-pew-pew, I’m less likely to be interested. That’s just who I am. I grew up watching Flash Gordon serials on BBC2, my great loves were Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers and Dale Arden from the Flash Gordon movie. My passions were Doctor Who, Blakes 7, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and Star Wars. My favorite Heinlein stories were his juveniles. Douglas Adams informed my world view. So called “serious” science fiction often left me cold. That’s why Ted Chiang’s ability to move me is so unusual, and why simply, he is a writer of supreme genius.
I’d only vaguely become aware of Chiang’s work over the last couple of years. Mentions of it here and there appeared on my radar only once in a while, that is until the adaptation of one of his stories became the movie Arrival, and I was forced to ask myself whether this was all motion picture hype or if I was missing out on something genuinely interesting.
Having been truly impressed by Arrival, a few weeks ago I decided to read Chiang’s collection Stories of Your Life and Others. It was, quite simply, an astonishing read. Chiang has a thoughtful prose style that is crisp and clear. He addresses his themes from just about every angle. His stories unfold with the precision of a Swiss watch. There are layers and hidden chambers, which you sense are there and you delight in when they are opened. Chiang deals with human emotion, needs, and wants with a deft maturity. But perhaps, the most surprising element for me was what was not there, and how its absence didn’t hinder my enjoyment one bit. Chiang appears to have absolutely no sense of humor. Usually such earnestness comes across as overblown self-importance, but not so with Chiang. His logic is so impeccable, his dissecting of his themes so immaculate, that it’s easy to get swept up in his storytelling and share the questioning wonder of his protagonists. To step inside a Ted Chiang story is to be in the presence of genius. I will never be this kind of writer. I wouldn’t know where to begin. Which is perhaps why I’m so excited to see what he comes up with next.