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Ted Chiang Part 1: Science Fiction from an Imaginary Past
January 31, 2021 at 8:00 pm EST
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“Ted Chiang ranks among the best living authors of science fiction. Though he cannot be described as prolific — his entire published oeuvre since 1990 fits into just two books — he manages the rare feat of achieving consistent quality across his short stories. With his clear, lucid prose, Chiang plays with fascinating ideas in a fresh and often uplifting way.
In this ii Book Club series, we’ll discuss most of Chiang’s stories over the course of several months. Each monthly Salon will focus on two to three stories, united by a common theme.
This first session will cover two stories from Chiang’s first collection (Story of Your Life and Others) that could be described as “historical science fiction” — that is, stories that imagine the future from a point in the past, based on the scientific worldview of that time.
Tower of Babylon, Chiang’s first published story, is set in a world where ancient cosmological models must be taken literally. The sun and moon are small bodies traveling across the sky; the heavens are a stone vault that covers the world. The people of the Middle East have built a soaring tower, and are determined to see what lies beyond the vault.
In Seventy-Two Letters, we land in Victorian England, where Chiang revives and combines two obsolete ideas. The first is the use of language to give life to inanimate objects, as in the classic golem myth. The second is preformationism: the belief that all living beings develop from tiny, preexisting versions of themselves. The story follows a scientist who seeks to understand the concept of self-replication.
This book club is open to all Ted Chiang aficionados, fans of antiquated theories, and just about anybody who likes good science fiction!” – Salon Host Étienne Fortier-Dubois
Save the dates:
- Part 2: God As Scientific Fact – February 28
- Part 3: Worlds and Beings Very Foreign to Us – March 28
Good to read pre-Salon:
- Tower of Babylon (from the book Stories of Your Life and Others, a.k.a. Arrival) + the author notes (included in the book)
- Seventy-Two Letters (from the book Stories of Your Life and Others, a.k.a. Arrival) + the author notes (included in the book)
- Spoiler-full discussion for “Tower of Babylon”
- Wikipedia on Babylonian cosmology, the golem, and preformationism
- 5 pm in San Francisco
- 8 pm in New York
- (Feb 1) 9 am in Singapore
- (Feb 1) 12 pm in Sydney
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