I’ll be completely honest about this review. I didn’t finish it. After the fourth story — which is the basis for Arrival — I decided to just stop reading it. The type of writing he does isn’t for me. While I enjoy sci-fi, especially speculative sci-fi, his just never went the way I wanted them to. Good premise, bad carry-out. He’s a great author, so this is completely subjective. I simply had read enough and I didn’t want to finish it when I realized how many books I have to finish or start.
Tower of Babylon – 2.5/5
Not the best opening for me. The short story is focused around Babylon in the Bible. For a while, I thought that it was about the Tower of Babel. So I looked it up to see if I was right. Completely wrong or close to wrong since that tower was in Babylon. Just not called that. This is set back in Biblical times, obviously.
I didn’t think that there was much of a point to this story. Not to me. I liked the story. It was written beautifully and it was told wonderfully, but I expected more speculation in it since I’ve read about Chiang focusing on speculative fiction. It wasn’t a bad story, just that the lack of an ending that made sense for the story, I wasn’t a fan. I wanted more to it, really. The story didn’t feel complete.
Good story, I just wanted more of it.
Understand – 3/5
Better, but still not great. I love the premise. A drug that can fix any type of brain damage. The implications of it are spectacular. Imagine the good that could be done for people going through dementia or have some sort of disability or whatever. Not only that, but the drug increases the brain’s ability. Amazing, right?
The carry-out wasn’t the best for me. It was definitely more speculative than the first story, but it wound up being some sort of weird action and adventure story. Without much action to it. Or adventure. I get that the point of the story was to show rationality to the extreme and what could happen to the human race through further evolution, but it was just too much for me. I would have preferred something else, even if it was a very interesting premise.
Division by Zero – 3.5/5
My favorite thing about getting involved in dense subjects is that when you get far enough in, the rules stop working. Like physics or chemistry. I always think of electrons. You learn in basic chemistry that this is how they work. They orbit in a way that we know. Then you learn about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that says we can never know where they are. Or you hear the research that has come out about matter acting differently depending on whether it’s watched or not.
For this, it’s about math. I’m no mathematician, but I have a basic understanding of it and I remember realizing in an algebra class that something we were taught contradicted other things… yet it didn’t. This short story really highlighted that. The more we know, the less we know and the more things we thought we knew fall apart. That story showed it in two main ways, which I can’t give away. Let’s just say that I enjoyed reading it from both perspectives.
Story of Your Life – 4.5/5
I’m going to start with this: Arrival was better. Just getting that out of the way. Watched the movie, stunned by it, and so that’s why I’m reading this short story book. Only to read one story. That being said, had I just read the short story, I would have rated it about the same and just said that it was missing something. Can’t quite put my finger on what, but the ending lacked the punch that I was hoping for based on the build-up.
Arrival basically gives you that punch. It changed some details, but not too many. It was almost the same. I could even pick out dialogue pieces from short story to movie. It’s a great short story, the best so far in the collection, just that it really did lack an impactful ending to make me feel like the story was worth it.