TedChiang has some very imaginative and thought provoking stories in his volume Stories of Your Life and Other Stories. We can see Borges’s influence in stories such as “Tower of Babylon,” “Division by Zero,” “Seventy Two Letters” and “Hell is the Absence of God.” “Seventy Two Letters” also reminds us of stories by Umberto Eco. Chiang’s science fiction gives due to science but he creates worlds based on pseudo sciences and forces the reader to think hard about their implications.
Tower of Babel
“Division by Zero” is a fascinating inquiry into the incompleteness of mathematics (Gödel’s Theorem). What happens when a mathematician finds out that the system of mathematics isn’t consistent, that the foundation of everything just gives way?
“The Story of Your Life” dwells into the nature of time via relativity: that time is just another variable like x, y, and z. What if we can perceive the span of time (as a continuous segment rather than discrete points) as we do in space (as a span of space rather than a single point)? Something like Henri Bergson’s continuous time.
In “Seventy Two Letters” a scientist and an inventor try to save the human race using artificial insemination and the power of name to animate or give life (like the breath or word of God). Chiang added an assassin and a cabalist just for fun.
“Hell is the Absence of God” is a thoughtful study of suffering and devotion. How would we respond to various blessings and misfortunes? After a misfortune, one turns to God while another away. One is troubled when she is healed and could no longer evangelize. Another wants to be the mouth of God but he receives neither blessing nor misfortune, as if he doesn’t exist. Then Neil Fisk, “though it’s been many years that he has been in Hell, beyond the awareness of God, he loves Him still.”
In “Liking What You See: a Documentary,” students in a school vote to decide whether to mandate a device to eliminate the appreciation of physical beauty. Is it fair or unfair to put everyone on a “level playing field” where beauty has no advantage? What about other attributes such as mental and physical skills?