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 Matthew West album, see The Story of Your Life.
"Story of Your Life"
Author Ted Chiang
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction short story
Published in Starlight 2
Publication date 1998
Illustration for Story of Your Life, by Hidenori Watanave for S-F Magazine.

"Story of Your Life" is a science fiction short story by Ted Chiang. It was 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 an interesting take on the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.

Plot summary[edit]

Dr. Louise Banks is enlisted by the military to communicate with a race of radially symmetrical aliens who initiated first contact with humanity. Woven through the story are remembrances of her daughter.

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 semagram 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 alien's understanding of mathematics and Fermat's principle of least time.

Dr. Banks's 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. This is reflected by the tense used in the story's writing: a small portion of the story, at the beginning and the end, is written in the present tense, indicating that the story is being written at the time of the daughter's conception. The sections describing the interactions with the Heptapods is written in the past tense. The sections describing the daughter's life—from birth to death and beyond—are written in the future tense, because learning Heptapod B enables Dr. Banks to know her daughter's entire life even before she agrees to conceive her.

Awards[edit]

Film adaptation[edit]

The story has been filmed as Arrival, with a script by Eric Heisserer and starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. The film is directed by Denis Villeneuve.[2]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ ""Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, Winner, Best Novella in 1999". nebulas.sfwa.org. Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  2. ^ Zutter, Natalie (August 8, 2016). "Your First Look at Arrival, the Adaptation of Ted Chiang's Novella Story of Your Life". TOR. tor.com. Retrieved 17 August 2016.