The Story of Your Life – Ted Chiang

Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I wish I had more stars to give and more pages to read.971e4a52d1b2318d04a3c67271b01b43


Honestly this review covers only the eponymous story and I read it after watching first trailer of ‘Arrival’. Expected something of Contact sort, never in my head crossed what it really was during the speculative process of determining what it could be. The writings of a mom to her daughter, those wore some of the most beautiful things I have ever read. I found myself standing in train absorbed in the copy, never caring to check for seats or station.


Big alien ships out of nowhere like Childhoods End all over the world and a linguist is hired by government to establish communication with the visitors. Stuff like Calculus of variation and Fermat principle of least time seems elementary to them, the very stuff I dozed off in last weeks lecture series. Now I am stuck with Whorfianism and sorts like below in my head. Human ear is adapted for the sounds of human larynx and so forth with every other sensory elements, and perception outside usual neurotic receptions would certainly be overwhelming. Also we as well maybe limited in our capabilities and thought processes by our language and senses.

Anything more will be rendition and spoilers. And keep an eye on the usage of tenses through out the read. Totally a non zero sum game 🙂

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The Great Work of Time

“It amuses me,” Sir Geoffrey said, “how constant it is in human nature to think that things might have gone on differently from the way they did. In a man’s own life, first of all: how he might have taken this or that very different route, except for this or that accident, this or that slight push—if he’d only known then, and so on. And then in history as well, we ruminate endlessly, if, what if, if only … The world seems always somehow malleable to our minds, or to our imaginations anyway.”
great work of time
This novella is mostly the unusual adventures of an antediluvian secret society, like the anarchist one from Chesterton’s Man Who was Thursday, except its quite state obedient and is run by the likes of Rip Hunter’s Time Masters with a Victorian agenda- not letting the Sun reach any west over the great Empire. More like an Adjustment Bureau functioning behind a Narnia cupboard unaffected by Time and Space. Tiring at times with all the orthogonal logic of past and future, mirthless even, having it all explained in comported polished long sentences. But hang on till the splintered timeline starts making sense and enjoy the ride.

I happened to read the free sample chapter and immediately buy myself the rest then and there itself, rather unusual of me. And later learned the very existence of Cecil Rhodes, who wanted a secret society to ensure supremacy of British Empire over centuries, intriguing conspiracy theory material there. Also multiverse, negated past timelines, finding one self over time, manipulation of history in this brilliant, hugger mugger tale.

Like those very time travelers who returned to a present, not truly the one they departed from, post read me seems to have returned to a better bitter self. Definitely going to re read and with my limited knowledge I would like to classify this as advanced read in the time travel genre.

6’48” back in time

Hi, I am Jonathan and I am from the future. Nothing T-1000 about it, more like from a recent future. 6 minutes and 48 seconds from now to be exact.

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So I visited this creepy cave with my childhood friend Stephen. It has always been there, ignored, kind of forgotten even. We were catching up with our old days and thought of having a joint inside, seemed like a good idea then. The place was next to that junction we used to meet for church, down by the bridge, Estate was owned by a guy from parish, I believe. It’s all green and mushy, cattle roaming in some distance and there it was, hidden in thickets. We remembered it clean, with a small entrance leading to a wide hall kinda area. Followed by another inside entrance, big enough for a man to slide through. We once ventured through it a bit when we were kids. Left in few meter length over fear of snakes.

Anyway, it was our personal batcave whenever we went by. Nothing much had changed, all stayed the same. It was actually surprising since some archeological excavation was done in past, sometime after we left the village for studies. It was called off over missing equipment and dogs. Yeah dogs disappeared they say. Anyway, ancient history now. We entered with our mobile flashlights. Put water bottle over the flash, and made our light. It was his idea, damn good one too. I rolled. We got high, stuff was good. And smoke stayed in the cave, giving an exhale inhale effect.

Rosetta Stoned was playing, used to be our getting high song from School. I don’t remember whose idea was it to explore the cave, maybe mine. Well there was no hold on time, Laughs and talks. We laughed a lot over the most puny topics imaginable. Talks on life, universe and everything didn’t exactly bore us. He even fell off his posture at one point. I couldn’t help but just laugh at his fall.

“I am definitely high”, he said aloud.

“Yes, you are moron”, I was pretty loud as well.

He was silent for a while. I was busy enjoying the music.

“What is the time, man?”, he asked. Sounded nervous I must say.

“04:42, mate. High time you bought a watch”, I mocked him. Stephen hated wrist watches for some reason.

“Right”

Silence again.

“The cave extends till nearby Hill Palace; they say” he said.

“Who?”

“The archeological people man, Hell, we are the archeologists now. You know, Jonathan. Our little pot cave is a portal, made by Aliens in ancient times”

I laughed out loud, “Piss off, you are high. Plus, too much TV, graceful imagination though.”

“See for yourself, are you man enough to slide though it?”, his voice was trembling.

“Not so sure mate, but high enough now for sure. I am going in, Project IGI.” I stood up in energy.

I would have done anything, believe me that place had a strange calling, mostly coz of the weed. I need light, I said. He gave his mobile, flashlight on. He looked so very familiar, very much like me I felt. I even said it at some point. He replied “Of course I am”, with a trembling voice. I moved in through, had our kerchiefs tied to each other, in case I fall off or some. I checked the time, 04:48 it said. “Put your stop watch on”, I cried. Few more steps, I lost hold of our little hanky contraption. Well, now I am in a hall full of smoke. There is a light, and something next to it, more like someone.

“I am definitely high”, I said aloud.

“Yes, you are moron”, someone responded in a very familiar sound.

Holy Tardis, It was me. It was me. I am in that very cave entrance hall where I started. I could see Stephen, high and out, next to his water bottle mobile flashlight assembly. And there I was talking to myself. Suddenly, I am not high anymore. Did I just travel back in time? I unlocked my phone to see the time, its nearing 04:50.

“What is the time, man?”, I managed to ask

“04:42, mate. High time you bought a watch”

“Right”

I checked Stephen’s mobile. He is right. It is 04:42. I was burning my brain, panicking, losing my sense. But my mobile is running at the time I expect it to be. But something is definitely off. I got a living breathing me in front of me, sending De Javu though my veins. How do I get back, there are two me now. I have to get rid of him, whoever that is. I thought on my head, plotted. I think you know what happened next, I tricked myself to enter the cave creek. Me being high helped a lot, the past me. He caught me at one point, saying I look very familiar. He even asked me to keep the stopwatch on. I didn’t know what to do, yet all went like it was planned way before. I shouldn’t have, Even then If I hadn’t, this wouldn’t have happened.

I ran to Stephen when I lost hold of my past self’s kerchief, Took Stephen’s mobile and bottle. Pulled him off the cave. He was quite high. With zero idea on what to be done, I took him home, made it to my room with huge difficulty. Mom was watching TV with sister, none cared to look thanks to some stupid series running. Still, trying to get my head around the things that happened. So, I am from future now, 6 minutes and 48 seconds to be exact. What might have happened to me, my head felt like exploding. I put water over Stephen, woke him up and said it all in a single breath. He laughed, “Dude, we were high. We are high. Relax”.

It wouldn’t suffice, but it was the only explanation I could make sense of. We both slept I believe, woke up to my ringtone. Stephen picked it up. I was up too. His face was white, he showed me the caller. Some unknown number. “It’s you.” He said. I looked again at the caller id, that was my no. I took the phone and cut it. Stephen was by the window, he looked at me like he has seen a ghost. I looked through the window, there was someone at a distance, outside the main road. With a very familiar face, a face I see everyday, my very own face.

My mom was outside, waved hand at me and Stephen, “Come down, have something kids” she called out. We nodded at her, by the time we looked back he wasn’t there. Me wasn’t there, me from the past.

I tried to call my mobile from Stephens, only mine rang. We both were scared. We ran over the various possibility, read everything time travel available online. If whatever I believe happened, It should create a paradox or an infinite loop of me from future. An army of me against me. We left it as after hallucination, paranoid though. Hallucination wont explain the phone call, unless It was a practical joke by someone. It’s been a week now, we were too scared to go back to the cave. I dreamed of my copies from past killing me and replacing me every night. I am scared to look in the mirror. I thought over all weird explanations, time travel, time remnants, parallel worlds. Even tried to watch Steins Gate again, to grab a thing or two.

I went to see off Stephen today morning, his vacation was over. He laughed over the whole episode before boarding. He was all too calm of it. I joined as well, coz it was something I badly wanted to believe. Maybe it was all part of his grand prank plan. I acted calm, didn’t want to get ridiculed later. He might as well call me once away and explain it. It was late night by the time I got back, could see my room lit from over the road. I was smoking, reminded myself to get rid of the joint as I reach the gate. Was about to enter the gate, it was then I noticed whole family at dining room, pretty clear through the open window. There was someone else as well. There was me, My whole family is having dinner with me. Am I high again? Maybe, still this is unacceptable. I can’t go in, I stepped back. There was laughter over the table.

He turned towards the window, looked at me over the table with a crooked smile, my very own smile.