Reviews for Arrival, by Ted Chiang

gunner's review
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I never seem to be very excited about short story collections, even when I love the author, and this collection is no different. I had added it to my to-read list when I first got Goodreads back in 2011. I don't remember why, but it's sat there mostly forgotten until I saw the movie Arrival, and was reminded by the mention of the author during the end credits.

The title story was very good, but this is one of those rare instances where I believe the filmmakers did an even better job with the story than the author did. The ideas were more clearly presented and the twist was more powerful in the film.

The other story I liked was "Liking What You See: A Documentary", which explores the concept of physical beauty, its benefits and its distractions. This story really got me thinking and I think it will stick with me.

The rest of the stories didn't do much for me at all, though as a group they're probably slightly better than average.

If you love short fiction then this is a good collection to try. If not, I'd simply say to go check out the Arrival movie instead.

Peter Simpson's review
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Actual score would probably have to be 3.5. A bit hit and miss for me. I rather enjoyed Tower of Babylon, Understand and Liking What You See: A Documentary.
Division by Zero didn’t really do much for me. Story of Your Life disappointed me. I really enjoyed the film based from the story and I admit it was the reason I bought this collection (and it was really cheap) and was looking forward to reading the original. The wonder and slow reveal of the film just didn’t work in written from for me. Perhaps it was the foreknowledge but I didn’t feel the way the story was written and plot warranted much. I think the film is even better now, knowing how much it expanded upon the story and managed to visualise the alien elements.
Seventy-Two Letters was a real chore. I nearly gave up on it and skipped it. I really didn’t get on with it. I got lost and it rambled on for ages.
Hell is the Absence of God was ok. Interesting but kind of forgettable.
Nb: the I read the first two/three stories normally and then the rest I read in between novels. I’d read a book then read the next short, then read another book and so on.

DaisieP's review
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Good mix of short stories, all very wel l written.

lauramac95's review
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I'm going to ramble for a bit. I saw "Arrival" back in March, in the airplane on my way to Scotland. (Matt was watching it and I got sucked in -- put it on my own screen, but then I was seeing things several seconds after he saw them. Weird, but never mind.) Previously I had gotten an answer right on a Learned League question, from having seen "Stories of Your Life" listed on Amazon a few hours before I opened up the day's quiz. Then a couple weeks ago (early June 2017) I saw my friend Deb's review & thought "that book sounds great and oh right, I've wanted to read it." So one library e-book loan later, here we are.

I was impressed with the way Ted Chiang is able to tell-not-show his worlds into existence. He talks matter-of-factly about golems & homunculi, and here we are in a version of Earth where those things are real. Same thing with angels, and with extraterrestrials, and with whatever else he wants to create.

  • - "Division by Zero": in his story notes, Chiang says that learning that mathematics is fundamentally inconsistent (essentially 1=2 and nothing is provable, in so many words) would be just about the worst thing that could happen to a person. I agree.
  • - "Seventy-Two Words": oh *man* do I hate the homunculus model of reproduction, not least because it is what too many ignorant people with too much political power seem to actually believe (sperm contains a fully-formed human; egg is the soil where it grows; woman is a walking flowerpot). Despite this annoyance, it's a really cool story.
  • - "Hell is the Absence of God": as Deb said, brutal. (My taste in dystopian afterlife runs to Robert Olen Butler's [b:Hell|6354310|Hell|Robert Olen Butler||6540916], but this one is an interesting vision too.)
  • - "Tower of Babylon" and Borges' [b:The Library of Babel|172366|The Library of Babel|Jorge Luis Borges||2235183] are friends somehow, in my mind.

And now for the meat of it, and I guess I should put a spoiler tag in, even though I don't get the spoiler thing myself (I reread books a lot and sometimes even on a first read I'll read the end before I get there; I read movie synopses before I see the movie; I generally don't care, even though I like it when birthday presents, etc. are surprises) and even though "NO SPOILERZ" goes pretty much against the whole rest of this.

There are very, very few movies-from-books that I think are as good as the book. [b:The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure|118229|The Princess Bride S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure|William Goldman||992628] is one. "Stand By Me", from "The Body" in [b:Different Seasons|39662|Different Seasons|Stephen King||2248680] is... if not another, then very, very close. But in my mind, "Arrival" is not only as good as "Story of Your Life" -- the one needs the other.

In the movie, if I understood this & remember it correctly, the heptapods gave Dr. Banks (Louise) their style of consciousness as a gift; at one point they showed her how to experience life-out-of-time, if that makes sense. The movie, though its narrative presented episodes in Louise's life nonsequentially, still presented them in such a way as to create a linear unfolding of Louise learning the heptapods' languages, learning a nontemporal way to understand the world, and choosing to experience her life even though she knew what pain it would hold.

The story is made of the same narrative -- but just as the movie shows Louise learning to remember her whole life all at once, compressed to a single point, the story compresses the movie to a single point. It begins and ends at the point where Dr. Banks chooses to conceive a child -- a daughter who she knows will outlive her (Louise's) marriage, a daughter she knows she will outlive. In the middle, it unfolds Louise's work with the heptapods, and how the act of learning Heptapod B itself trained her brain to see events the heptapod way, independent of time. (It makes total sense, by the way! Different written languages, with their different structures and symbols, work different points in the brain; spoken language is different too. I learned this from a speaker at a library conference some years ago. THIS IS SO COOL.) In the book we truly experience her seeing everything all at once.

I guess all this is to say that the movie spun the story out human-style, and the book told it heptapod-style.

I am so, so glad that I saw the movie and then read the short story. The movie was made more by reading the story; the story was better because I had seen the movie; and encountering them in the opposite order wouldn't (to me) have been as good.

DreadPirateShawn's review
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This is a book of quintessential short stories.

Each story captures a unique and intriguing premise, told with great pacing and style.

Very pleasant and entertaining read!

Sunniva's review
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3.5 I loved half of it, didn't really care for the other half. Worth it for the good stories.

Les min litt mer omfattende anmeldelse på

spaceyfaerie's review
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Even if I didn't understand even a quarter of the technical aspects of the stories, this collection was still absolutely fascinating.

JustAGuy's review
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Expected the unexpected

Nothing personal but I hate short stories. I thought all this book’s short stories would be about this alien encounter. Upon discovery which only one out of several ones. I felt disappointed by that point. After that, I just skimmed all way through. Those stories aren’t too shabby. Just not for me.

the-elle-in-the-room's review
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This book was very interesting. Some of the stories were crazy wild, and one had an ending I didn't like. But it was fun to read.

andizor's review
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Though I usually shun short stories, feeling a great deal of the time that I just get into them and invested in the characters and they end, this collection was good. Chiang does wonders with the short form. I did feel like the science and mathy bits went over my head, it was never so much that I still didn't understand what was going on and wasn't interested in what was happening. My favorites: "Tower of Babylon," "Hell is the Absence of God," and "Story of Your Life."


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