Author Ted Chiang was born in Port Jefferson, which is located in the state of New York sometime in the year 1967. His parents were both born in China, and later immigrated to Taiwan with their families, while the Communist Revolution was going on. Later they came to America, which is where the couple met each other. They would later divorce. His father teaches engineering courses and his mother was a librarian before she retired. Chiang is a graduate of Brown University with a degree in computer science. He would graduate from Clarion’s Writers Workshop in the year 1989. Chiang works as a technical writer, creating reference materials for programmers. This is the job that Chiang does so that he can pay the bills, with writing being something that he does only when he has an idea for a story. He mainly writes novellas or novelletes that are from the science fiction and fantasy genres. His stories, unlike most science fiction stories, take place in the past and not in the future. Some have called him a humanist science fiction writer, and readers tend to be left with a feeling of being moved and of wonder.
Around the time he went to the Clarion workshop, he met his life partner, Marcia Glover. She is an interface designer who later went into photography. The couple has no children together.
He has four cats, and works out three times a week. Chiang enjoys the works of Annie Dillard and Helen Dewitt’s story called “The Last Samurai”.
“Story of Your Life” is one of Chiang’s biggest stories. It is narrated by Dr. Louise Banks, who is reflecting on things and writing in the past tense. A race of aliens first contacts Earth, the military contacts Louise to figure out what their language is and talk to them. They are called heptapods (due mainly because of their seven pointed radially symmetrical appearance). The story stars Banks and another doctor, named Gary Donnelly (a physicist) he too is working for the military. He is working to get some knowledge about physics from the heptapods. They have two distinct forms of language. There is Heptapod A, which is their spoken language (it has a free word order and multiple levels of center embedded clauses). Comprehending the written language (or Heptapod B) is more central to the plot of the story. There is such a complex structure to the written language that you cannot remove any semantic symbol, or you will change the whole meaning of the sentence.
The inspiration for the story came from Chiang’s being fascinated in variational principle in physics. He saw a play about a man dealing with his wife’s struggle with breast cancer, and figured he could write a story about someone having to deal with the inevitable.
“Story of Your Life” was adapted into a movie in 2016, called “Arrival”. It starred Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner; the movie was written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Denis Villeneuve. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards at the 89th awards ceremony.
“Hell Is the Absence of God” is a novelette that Chiang published in the year 2001. The story is set in the world where the existence of things like God, hell, and souls are something that can be proven. Other things like angelic visitations and miracles are things that happen everyday. This is not necessarily the good thing some may think, as the protagonist’s wife is killed by an angel turning up. She was killed as collateral damage when angel’s billowing flame shattered the window of the cafe that she was eating. She was hit by shards of broken glass and bled to death in a short time frame.
Chiang has said the story is simply straight fantasy because to him, the story is set in a world where the scientific method does not work.
“The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” is a story, published in the year 2007. It follows a fabric merchant, named Fuwaad ibn Abbas, in the ancient city that is Baghdad. He is looking all over the place for a gift to give an associate in business, and finds a new shop in the marketplace. The shop’s owner (who makes and sells all kinds of very intriguing and interesting items) invites Fuwaad into the workshop in the back. This is so Fuwaad can see a mysterious stone arch. This arch is a gateway that will take anyone who walks through into the future. It was made by the shop owner with the use of alchemy. Fuwaad is intrigued and is told three stories of people who have used the gateway. He hears all about their conversations they had with their future selves. He is also told that there is a gateway in Cairo that will take people into the past. He goes so that he can fix a mistake that he made two decades ago.
Ted Chiang has won quite a few awards in his time, winning the Locus, Nebula, and Hugo awards four times each. Whenever one of his stories comes out, it wins or is nominated for multiple awards. It would seem that the critics and readers love his stuff and cannot praise him enough. He was given John W. Campbell’s award for being the best new writer. A Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon was awarded to him for the story titled “Story of Your Life”. The novelette “Hell is the Absence of God” won the Hugo, the Locus, and the Nebula. He has won many more, and even turned a Hugo nomination down because the story that was going to be nominated did not turn out like he wanted. Chiang said he felt rushed by his editor on the story. His work has won over twenty major science fiction awards. This is quite the accomplishment, as he is not a very prolific writer.
His story “The Great Silence” was selected to be in The Best American Short Stories book for the year of 2016. This is quite an honor because not a lot of authors get their work into this book who write science fiction, horror, and fantasy.
Books in order of publication
|Tower of Babylon||(1990)|
|The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate||(2007)|
|Hell is the Absence of God||(2009)|
|The Lifecycle of Software Objects||(2010)|
|The Great Silence||(2016)|
Short Story Collections
|Stories of Your Life and Others||(2002)|