Story of Your Life Pdf by Ted Chiang is a science fiction short story that explores the themes of language and determinism. It was published in 1998 and won the Nebula Award for Best Novella and Theodore Sturgeon Award and was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 1999.
The novella has been translated into various languages, including Italian, French, and German.
Story of Your Life Summary
Dr. Louise Banks tells the story on the day her daughter is born. Addressed to her daughter, the story rotates between telling the past: the coming of the aliens and the deciphering of their language; and recalling the future: what will happen to her pre-born daughter as she grows up, and her untimely death.
The aliens come in spaceships and enter Earth’s orbit; 112 devices reaching large semi-circular mirrors arise at sites across the globe. Dubbed “looking glasses,” they are audiovisual connections to the aliens in orbit, who are called heptapods for their seven-limbed radially symmetrical appearance.
Louise and Dr. Gary Donnelly are recruited by the U.S. Army to speak with the aliens and are designated to one of nine looking glass sites in the U.S.
They make the connection with two heptapods they nickname Flapper and Raspberry. In a try to learn their language, Louise begins by associating objects and gestures with the aliens’ sounds, which reveals a language with free word order and many levels of center-embedded clauses.
She uncovers their writing chains of semagrams on a two-dimensional surface in no linear series and semasiographic, having no reference to speech.
Louise supposes that because their speech and writing are unrelated, the heptapods have two languages: Heptapod A (speech) and Heptapod B (writing).
Endeavors are also made to establish heptapod terminology in physics. A very little progress is made until Fermat’s Principle of Least Time is presented.
Gary describes the principle to Louise, giving the example of the refraction of light.
She knew the heptapods do not write a sentence one semagram at a time but draw all the ideograms at the same time, suggesting they know what would be then e entire sentence.
Louise learns that instead of experiencing events sequentially (causality), heptapods experience all possibilities at once (teleology). This is reflected in their language and clarifies why Fermat’s principle came naturally.
Soon, Louise becomes proficient at Heptapod B and finds that trains of thought are directionless when writing in it, and premises and conclusions are interchangeable.
She finds herself beginning to think in Heptapod B and starts to see time as heptapods do. Louise sees glances of her future and a daughter she does not yet have.
This raises queries about the nature of free will: knowledge of the future would indicate no free will because knowing the endpoints cannot be changed. But Louise asks herself, “What if the experience of understanding the future changed a person? What if it evoked a sense of hurry, a sense of obligation to act exactly as she knew she would?”
One day, after an information exchange, the aliens tell they are leaving. They shut down the looking glasses, and their ships vanish.
It is never confirmed why they go or why they had come in the first place.
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