Sci-fi author Ted Chiang on the disaster novel we're currently living through

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I like Ted Chiang. His stuff is smart, it gets the background details right, it is sci-fi written by someone who really knows his stuff. I’m rooting for him to pick up the mantle of Isaac Asimov.

Shame that “Arrival” (edit:the movie) descended into a human relationships drama instead of digging into the technical and scientific nitty-gritty of alien language translation. :thinking:

…this is where my 14-year old daughter accuses me of channeling Sheldon Cooper again… but it’s Sunday and we won’t see her out of bed before noon… :roll_eyes:


The article posits whether things will go back to the status quo, or whether there will be positive change and progression.

There is a third way. One where this is the beginning (or perhaps just another piece) of an event cascade that leads to more disruption and destruction…

I’m just not feeling the Utopia right now.



I keep thinking how the plague of Justinian was NOT the wake up call that convinced the Romans to pull together and save their civilization. The black death only made class struggle worse and the 1918 flu did not bring Europe together or convince America to invest in a social safety net leading into the depression.

We haven’t learned anything so why would now be any different?


And more recently, 9/11 didn’t make the world a kinder, more empathetic place the way that things like how the town of Gander, Newfoundland took care of the passengers stranded there after their flights were rerouted there or the mass volunteer efforts in NYC in the initial days afterward seemed to suggest.


I preferred the book but enjoyed both.
The collection it was published in was fantastic, too, not that I can remember the title right now :woman_shrugging:t3:

ETA: It was this.


He released a new collection last year. Just as enjoyable i found, if perhaps nothing quite so profound as story of your life in there. I particularly enjoyed the story the title takes its name from which i thought was just wonderful and very moving, one of the best examples of what science fiction should be.


Thanks, I shall check it out :grin:



This is similar to my theory of why bad news is so much more prominant on television than good news. Most good news, is only good news for a certain subset of people, and bad news for everyone else. Covering these kinds of stories generates controversy. So bad news that truly awful for all concerned, is much easier to do, and thats what gets covered. Plus inconsequential feel good fluff pieces that offend no one.

Movies pretty much have to be about human desires, expressed as actions, thwarted by opposition and finally coming to some conclusion. Books do not (though, arguably, the better ones are). But trying to shoehorn a largely technical story into a human-interest format doesn’t work either. I am reminded of Ad Astra, which hinged on a frankly idiotic trope of daddy not communicating with family, but searching for communication from other planets. Blah blah blah. Terrible. And we’re supposed to root for the dude who hijacks billions of dollars of gear we paid for to have a fruitless talk with daddy? And it is provoked by a (it turns out) silly gimmick of daddy’s (basically) exhaust system malfunctioning? Oy.
By which I mean, a movie about the technical aspects of translation would be a snoozer without a human desire at stake. But the story was interesting.

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A disaster story can certainly, and maybe must, hinge on governmental incompetence – see Jaws. If the mayor had said, this is serious, get off the beach, there’s no movie. In fact, horror movies tend to hinge on individual incompetence, or we wouldn’t shout “don’t go in the house” at the screen.


By which I mean, a movie about the technical aspects of translation would be a snoozer

:thinking: Well… there’s the challenge :smile: … make the truly exciting, riviting, monumental technical challenge of alien communication a non-snoozer. The time-spanning aspect was interesting; perhaps the writers were simply not quite keeping it to one technical topic. So, yes, I thought the movie took the easy way out on that angle… but comes to think of it the source material for that angle was a bit thin in the story too.

I still really enjoyed it.

Apollo 13 did an OK job. Hidden Figures too, but both are dealing with more relatable technical challenges. I really disliked The Imitation Game.

And I really confuse the Netflix preferences algorithm… :grin:

Actually the lesson of 9/11 was: Stop fucking up other peoples countries because they could try to fuck up yours. Worked out well so far … /s

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