I received this collection of science fiction short stories through a Reddit gift exchange. Despite the fact that I adore sci fi short stories, the cover of a human head made out of mathematical equations intimidated me, and it sat on my shelf for four whole years. What changed? People started talking about a movie called Arrival, and a week or so later, I realized that the movie is based on a story in this collection. Intriguing! So I put it on my nightstand as my next read.
Whoever that anonymous Redditor was four years ago has impeccable taste. Ted Chiang's stories display an astounding intelligence and originality. The story on which Arrival is based - "The Story of Your Life" - marries physics and language in a stunningly brilliant manner, all while paying equally careful attention to character development. "Seventy-Two Letters" is another fine example of uniting two wholly different ideas into one consistent, unique worldview. In this case, it is the Jewish golem and Hebrew numerology added to an old explanation for how life forms, wherein each organism exists fully but in miniature until an impetus causes it to grow.
What's so impressive is how technically advanced these stories are while simultaneously being beautifully written. I almost want to hate Ted Chiang for being so damn smart and talented all at once; it's hardly fair to the rest of us that one person can be this gifted. I know that sales have picked up very nicely for this book after the movie's release, and I hope people enjoy it as much as they have the movie, and that Chiang gets the readership he deserves.