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At a party this summer we found ourselves sat around a table, reading aloud from a book of short stories: Ted Chiang's short story collection Stories Of Your Life.

Like Mike Harrison's Light, Ted Chiang's short story collection is a book every serious reader of SF literature needs to read. Each story is a jeweller's masterwork, small intricate pieces gently teased together, unlikely shapes forming a consistent, coherent whole. These eight stories are delicate fantasies, fantasitical tales that take the intellectual rigor of the hardest hard SF stories, and apply it to religion and philosophy. They're also the sum total of 12 years work; beautiful and moving pieces of fiction, that are polished and perfected in Chiang's loving hands.

In those gentle hands we find ourselves in worlds where the tower of Babylon is about to break through the vault of Heaven,worlds where combinations 72 letters mean life, and worlds where angels are natural forces that wreak havoc as they draw pilgrims to them and the existences of God, Heaven and Hell are physical reality. Chiang takes the supernatural and makes it natural, even if we're dealing with the purely science fictional world of the title piece, "Story Of Your Life", where alien language means the abilitity to perceive the future and the past as a seemless whole.

Stories Of Your Life closes with an afterword that details Chiang's ideas and influences. This is an excellent walk through the mind of one of SF's unsung masters, a quiet man whose stories are a testament to the power fo his ideas and his writing.

Wonder, wonderful stories; wonderful, wonderful writing.

(There's a sample here at Infinity Plus)