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February 2021
Story of Your Life (1998): Seeing the Present and the Future Simultaneously
Story of Your Life (1998): Seeing the Present and the Future Simultaneously
Chiang, T. (1998). Story of your life. In P. N. Hayden (Ed.), Starlight 2 (pp. 257-313). Tor.

Why go back and read a short story from 20+ years ago? Chiang's story is the impetus for the 2016 film Arrival, which I love, with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Indeed, Chiang wrote the screenplay with Eric Heisserer. After watching a movie (that I like), I will often read up on the movie on the web -- Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, fan and movie sites, history sites -- to get a better idea of who directed the move, if the history or facts are correct, or, in the case of movies like Tenet, what the heck happened at the end.

The short story was not a disappointment. The story and the movie follow similar trajectories, not exactly the same, but very similar. Reading the short story filled in a few quality details and provided some insights into what changed in the movie. The story involves the Earth being visited by aliens, not Aliens aliens that want to use humans to create more aliens, or Independence Day aliens that want to destroy the world, but benign aliens. Chiang's short-story aliens arrive and leave without notice or intent. At first, I thought this would be unfulfilling, but it wasn't.

Chiang's prose draws the reader into a mystery. Why did the aliens come? What do they want? How do we learn to communication with them? This is a story about smart people coming to terms with big questions: What would we do if we knew our future? How much pain is love worth? How much agency do people really have?

Overall Thoughts
In the end, Story of your life, is thoughtful and a heartfelt examination of the heart . . . that happens to involve aliens (no, not in that way, no human-alien romance).
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Peter Doolittle
Blacksburg, VA 24061