divisionsandprecisions: (dry)
[personal profile] divisionsandprecisions
This story by Ted Chiang, possibly the greatest modern SF short story writer, explores the clash between the fluidity of self-definition and the need of society to have permanent and consistent truths. He draws parallels between a fictional invention of an indexed video lifelog and the introduction of writing to a tribal culture based on oral traditions. He looks at the effects of the invention from a hundred different angles, with an impressive thoroughness. If there is any flaw in the story, it is that the protagonist's exploration parallels the experience of the reader, so everything is in the end too explicit.

Ted Chiang provides a perfect example of how to develop the relationship between the reader and characters, making the characters feel real enough that the ending can carry a strong emotional impact. The story will leave many readers re-evaluating their own views of who they are.

The story is available here for free on the publisher's web site.

Ted Chiang is a technical writer, not a full-time fiction writer. His total literary output over the last 25 years (according to Wikipedia) is thirteen stories (no novels). Of his 5 stories since 2007, three won Hugos and of course this story is a nominee. From a part-time author, this is mind boggling.

Date: 2014-06-26 11:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ruthling.livejournal.com
my feeling of this story is not the same as yours. I tend to find Ted's work preachy and moralistic and this story is exactly that to me. I didn't find myself caring about the narrator, and the story inside, about Jingji, was predictable. I can tell he's a skilled writer, but I barely see what he's doing as a "story", he's just presenting a scenario and exploring it. It's an interesting thought experiment, but not a compelling narrative. At the end I was skimming, rushing to make it over.

IIRC (heh heh), Ted had a similarly non-story story about people turning off the part of the brain that sensed whether people were pretty. I had and have read his collection of shorts from a couple (or more) years ago and found they suffered even more from close proximity to one another.

This isn't to say this isn't an interesting idea/thought experiment. Particularly because we're discussing it on LJ where I have been recording a heavily-elided, heavily-edited version of my life for about ten years. And like Remem or a lifelog, I do refer to it, to get an idea of what happened when and how I felt about it at the time.

Date: 2014-06-26 05:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] robot-culinaire.livejournal.com
"I had and have read his collection of shorts from a couple (or more) years ago and found they suffered even more from close proximity to one another."

I can see that. And I can see how stuff he writes leans more toward a sketch than story, no matter how elaborate. I like his stuff a lot, but I will make sure not to overdose on it.

Interesting to think about the difference between one's self-image and what others see in relation to the recent massive flame war between David Brin and Peter Watts, with Richard Morgan on the sidelines.


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