Last year during the pandemic, I read the two collections by Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others and Exhalation: Stories. He’s easily one of the best authors in contemporary science fiction. What’s surprising is Chiang has published only eighteen short stories in the last thirty years, one and a half dozen masterpieces of the genre whose insightful, precise, often poetic language confronts fundamental ideas — intelligence, consciousness, the nature of God — and thrusts them into a new light.
Here are my favorites (found via web.archive.org):
Tower of Babylon — A Bronze Age laborer joins the construction of an impossibly high structure on a mission to breach the vaults of Heaven. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette.
Story of Your Life — A talented linguist reflects on the life of her daughter as she struggles to grasp the meaning of an alien language. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novella and was adapted into the film Arrival.
The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate — An ancient alchemist introduces a traveling merchant to a mysterious time-traveling gateway. It won the Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Novelette.
Exhalation — A non-human scholar relates the dissection of his own brain and the implications his discoveries hold for his curious clockwork universe. It won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects — The relationship between people and their creations are explored in the near-future world of sentient AI. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novella.
Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom [scroll down]- A new technology that lets people see and communicate with alternate timelines throws society into an existential crisis.