Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Science fiction short stories.
I love the title story, “The Story of Your Life.” It’s about a linguist, doing linguist-y things, and it gets the details right. (An unbelievably and shamefully rare occurence.) For that alone I would have to love it; but it has a good sci-fi twist too, with a nice bit of philosophy and physics which all ties together beautifully. Unfortunately, I was not so enthralled with the rest of the collection. I wanted to like it. So many awards! So much praise from writers I admire!: but wanting doesn’t make it so. Oh, I don’t mean the stories are of poor quality; not at all. Each one is an interesting science fictional (or fantastical) premise very nicely worked out through all of its logical ramifications. The problem was that as I was reading I kept nodding my head and thinking, “oh, very nicely worked out. Yes, very clever use of mathematical metaphor. Wow, the author did a lot of research on mud bricks; impressive!” If all you need is clever premises well worked out – and there are a lot of science fiction readers for whom that is true, and no harm in it – then sit back and enjoy. But I want logic and mud brick research and neat mathematical metaphors and emotion and dialogue that serves more than just the story’s needs and characters whose names I can remember two minutes later and maybe some pretty prose or some atmosphere, in the non-oxygen/nitrogen sense. Call me a greedy reader, but this collection did not work for me.
At the Second International Congress of Mathematics in 1900, David Hilbert listed what he considered to be the twenty-three most important unsolved problems of mathematics. The second item on his list was a request for a proof of the consistency of arithmetic. Such a proof would ensure the consistency of a great deal of higher mathematics. What this proof had to guarantee was, in essence, that one could never prove one equals two. Few mathematicians regarded this as a matter of much import.
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