The most famous short story in Chiang’s collection is certainly “Story of Your Life,” the basis for the film “Arrival.” It’s a mental bender that is ostensibly a narrative describing the scientific puzzle of deciphering alien communication, but it’s also a challenge to our linear concept of time and language and an engrossing fractured retelling - foretelling? - of one woman’s life to come. When the future is already determined, what role does free will play in the present?
Each story in this book is a similar challenge to accepted pillars of society and humanity. What do we value when we have the ability to judge people without perceiving their physical beauty? What if an experimental medical treatment could transform our brains’ capacity for intelligence to the point of transcendence? Is it possible for Man to build a stairway to heaven… and what would we find at the top? The stories are more lyrical than action-packed - on the whole this is speculative science fiction and might better be approached as fantasy. The focus definitely isn’t on flying cars or avoiding an off-world invasion; even stories focusing on our culture and history at a macro level invite consideration of the individual. But that’s my favorite kind of science writing - the kind that makes us reflect on our selves and poses more questions than answers.