Story of Your Life

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This article is about the Ted Chiang short story. For the film adaptation, see Arrival (film). For the Ted Chiang anthology, see Stories of Your Life and Others. For the Matthew West album, see The Story of Your Life.
"Story of Your Life"
Ted Chiangs "Story of your life" illo.jpg
Illustration for "Story of Your Life" by Hidenori Watanave for S-F Magazine
Author Ted Chiang
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction short story
Published in Starlight 2
Publication date 1998

"Story of Your Life" is a science fiction short story by Ted Chiang. The winner of the 2000 Nebula Award for Best Novella, as well as the 1999 Sturgeon award,[1] the major themes explored by this tale are determinism, language, and the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. A film adaptation by Eric Heisserer titled Arrival and directed by Denis Villeneuve, was released in 2016. It stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture; it won the award for Best Sound Editing.[2][3][4]

Plot summary[edit]

The story is narrated by Dr. Louise Banks, writing in the past tense. After a race of aliens, known as heptapods (due to their 7-pointed radially symmetrical appearance), initiate first contact with humanity, the military hires Banks to discover their language and communicate with them. The story revolves around Banks and Dr. Gary Donnelly, a physicist also working for the military to gain knowledge of physics from the aliens.

The heptapods have two distinct forms of language. Heptapod A is their spoken language, which is described as having free word order and many levels of center-embedded clauses. Understanding Heptapod B, the written language of the aliens, is central to the plot. Unlike its spoken counterpart, Heptapod B has such complex structure that a single semantic symbol cannot be excluded without changing the entire meaning of a sentence.

When writing in Heptapod B, the writer knows how the sentence will end. The phenomenon of Heptapod B is explained by the aliens' understanding of mathematics and Fermat's principle of least time. Banks' understanding of the heptapods' writing system affects the way she perceives time and suggests a deterministic universe where free will is exercised by not affecting the outcome of events.

A frame for the story, written in the present tense, indicates that the story is being written at the time of Banks' daughter's conception. The sections describing the daughter's life from birth to death and beyond, are written as Banks reminisces and yet she describes it while using the future tense, because learning Heptapod B enables Banks to know her daughter's entire life even before she agrees to conceive her. As the story proceeds, we see Banks and Donnelly growing closer until it is clear that Donnelly will be the father of her child.


Publication history[edit]

Date Title Author/Editor Language Type
November 1998 Starlight 2 Patrick Nielsen Hayden English Anthology
June 1999 The Year's Best Science Fiction: Sixteenth Annual Collection Gardner Dozois English Anthology
June 1999 Year's Best SF 4 David G. Hartwell English Anthology
August 1999 The Mammoth Book of the Best New Science Fiction 12 Gardner Dozois English Anthology
September 1999 Strani universi 2 Piergiorgio Nicolazzini Italian Anthology
May 2000 Al suono di una musica aliena David G. Hartwell Italian Anthology
April 2001 Nebula Awards Showcase 2001 Robert Silverberg English Anthology
July 2002 Stories of Your Life and Others Ted Chiang English Collection
February 2005 The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction Gardner Dozois English Anthology
November 2007 A Science Fiction Omnibus Brian Aldiss English Anthology
March 2008 The Mammoth Book of the Best of the Best New SF Gardner Dozois English Anthology
November 2009 Il meglio della SF / II. L'Olimpo dei classici moderni Gardner Dozois Italian Anthology
December 2012 Lightspeed John Joseph Adams English Magazine
July 2016 The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer English Anthology


  1. ^ ""Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, Winner, Best Novella in 1999". Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  2. ^ "Jeremy Renner Joins Amy Adams in Sci-Fi 'Story of Your Life'". The Hollywood Reporter. 6 March 2015. 
  3. ^ Zutter, Natalie (August 8, 2016). "Your First Look at Arrival, the Adaptation of Ted Chiang's Novella Story of Your Life". TOR. Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  4. ^ "Oscar Nominations: Complete List". Variety. January 24, 2017. Retrieved February 27, 2017. 
  5. ^ "Story of Your Life". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved February 27, 2017. 

External links[edit]