From Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang
This is the (long) short story that was the basis for the movie Arrival, a movie I loved.
I read the story after seeing the movie, and it was a little hard to separate the two. I’m glad I did it in that order because there is a big ‘aha’ that I wouldn’t have wanted to know before I saw the movie.
The story itself is a long short story and fits the recent theme I’ve been seeing (Discovering? Imaginging?) of stories that seem tell two separate stories, that are really part of the same story.
It begins with what seems like a letter from a mother to her child. Then it moves to the mother’s involvement in a military project to monitor the arrival of aliens, helping to figure out what’s going on. The rest of the story alternates between the two, ultimately showing how each storyline impacts the other.
Looking At The Text
The story starts with a quiet bang and pulls the reader through by seeding some important questions in that first page.
The narrator starts with the night when her husband asks if she wants to ‘make a baby’. Since this reads like a letter to her child it is clear the answer was ‘yes’, so this doesn’t provide any suspense. However, the author quickly throws in something to intrigue the reader in the personal story:
By then Nelson and I will have moved into our farmhouse and your dad will be living with whats-her-name.
We know this isn’t going to be a straightforward domestic romance with a traditional happy ending, then.
In the very next paragraph we get a big clue to what it IS going to be with, “when ships appeared in orbit and artifacts appeared in meadows”.
And we’re off.
The interludes with the mother writing to her daughter are lyrical and lovely. They are moving and, I suspect, they are what pulls the reader through the other sections, which are interesting but a little drier, more academic.
Don’t get me wrong, I love hard science fiction because I love the feeling that I’m learning something (and unless you are both a linguist and a physicist, you are bound to have your brain stretched by some of the ideas in here).
Read the story in Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang