Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the author:

Ted Chiang (born 1967) is an American science fiction writer. His work has won four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and four Locus awards. His short story “Story of Your Life” was the basis of the film Arrival (2016).

Publication Year: 1998


‘Story of your life’ revolves around the life of Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist working for the military whose job is to communicate with the aliens that made contact with the humans. She narrates her experience of learning the alien language and understanding their world view which is interspersed with the remembrances of her daughter’s life.

The story begins with the arrival of aliens on earth. The humans communicate with them through an instrument called the looking-glass. Louise Banks and other linguists have been given the task of learning their language, other scientists work on figuring out the principles of their science, maths etc while the authorities try to find out the reason behind the alien contact.

This is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read! I’m in simply in love with its unique plot and the complexity and brilliance with which it is executed. This is the story where aliens don’t land on earth with the intention of destroying humanity but rather we watch them readily communicate and co-operate with humans to teach them about themselves.

The story is immensely detailed in explaining the complex grammar of the alien language and a lot of time is spent in explaining it. The people also learn that as the concepts that define the physical world of aliens differ from that of humans, it alters the way aliens and humans perceive the physical world. This was a very interesting topic and learning about it as the story progressed, was so exhilarating.

Louise Banks eventually becomes fluent in the alien language. As a result, she starts understanding the worldview of aliens and discovers a different form of consciousness similar to what they experience. The story also discusses the concept of free will and debates about the implausibility of having knowledge of the future and how that would affect life choices.

“It’ll be when you first learn to walk that I get daily demonstrations of the asymmetry in our relationship. You’ll be incessantly running off somewhere, and each time you walk into a door frame or scrape your knee, the pain feels like it’s my own. It’ll be like growing an errant limb, an extension of myself whose sensory nerves report pain just fine, but whose motor nerves don’t convey my commands at all. It’s so unfair: I’m going to give birth to an animated voodoo doll of myself. I didn’t see this in the contract when I signed up. Was this part of the deal?”

Intermixed in the narration of Louise Banks about the event that changed her life, she recounts the life story of her daughter in which she beautifully describes all the moments of joy, sadness, anger, exasperation she went through while raising her. Reading about it made me emotional and connect with the story. The twin narration beautifully linked the past, present and the future.

The story is intricate and full of technical terms and jargons. It was very fun to read. I appreciate the skill it took to construct a full-fledged short story and the author has done a great job. At this point, I’ve read it thrice and I swear, it gets better each time! I highly recommend it. If you love sci-fi, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.  

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I'm an introvert, agnostic-atheist, insatiable reader, fitness enthusiast, daydreamer, music-lover, cat-adorer, eternal optimist with a touch of cynicism, curious soul, annoying preacher, OCD for cleanliness with a teeny affinity for messiness!

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