Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Arrival: Mostly Disappointing

Book Review: Arrival by Ted Chiang
Version: Library Paperback

I wasn't able to get to the theater to see the movie, Arrival, so when I saw that our local library had on order a new copy of the book on which the movie was based, I immediately requested it. Boy, was I surprised.

First of all, there were only two requests for the book, so I got it as soon as it arrived. I even got to safely stretch the binding for reading, to give longevity to the book.

Second, only a small sliver of the book is what the movie is about. The book was originally published as Stories of Your Life and Others, a compilation of short stories previously published by author Ted Chiang. The story on which the movie is based is "Story of Your Life." It's buried between the many others. The book was re-titled and relaunched for the launch of the movie, Arrival.

Chiang is supposed to be this imaginative science fiction author. He is imaginative. But much of his writing reminds me of the material from the 1950's. Mostly because of the language. Robots he calls automatons, for instance.

Other parts of his writing are quite interesting. He has a computer science degree and is a technical writer, and a couple of his stories reflect his breadth of knowledge and vision in technology. None more than in "Story of Your Life," where he details humans trying to interact with aliens and learn their very complex language. It was an interesting tale, although it ends abruptly when the aliens up and leave and the author does the same with the story. Very disappointing. I haven't seen the movie yet and I hope the movie has a more satisfying ending.

Others of his short stories have similar endings. The first story involves the Tower of Babel and the Babylonians hiring miners from other nations to climb their tower and break through the vault of heaven. It has a very dissatisfying ending, which extends from a very non-scientific view of the world. I might rather call it fantasy or mythology fiction rather than science fiction.

Part of my problem with this book is that I didn't understand that it was an unconnected collection of short stories. Titled Arrival, I thought it was a novel. As I read what I thought were chapters to a single story, I became confused when the stories didn't connect. I looked again at the book cover - at the back - and then realized it was an anthology.

What I found once I had read "Story of Your Life" was that Chiang isn't really my kind of science fiction writer. Perhaps you will like his stories and find him perfectly wonderful as a writer. I'll leave that up to you. All I can say is, I was disappointed in the way the book was marketed on the cover and in the works between the covers. It's his only work that I've read.

It is worth noting that Chiang has won multiple prestigious speculative fiction awards. Considering the limited number of works he has published (15 short stories, novelettes, and novellas as of 2015, according to his Wikipedia page), it may be worth delving into more of his works before making a final judgment. Let me know if you have had a different experience reading Chiang.

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