Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang Stories book cover

A superb collection of short stories that will make you think

This book is a collection of short stories (all but one in this collection have been published previously) from author Ted Chiang. Mr Chiang is a multiple-time winner of the Nebula and Hugo awards, as well as other awards for excellent science fiction and short story writing. Most of the stories in this book are set in the future or in some type of alternate reality. Much like author Le Guin and The Left Hand of Darkness, this isn’t your typical sci-fi or fantasy writing. The blockbuster movie Arrival was based on the title story in this book, The Story of Your Life.


Consciousness – what if there was an alien race that experienced reality and consciousness different from humans? What would that look like and what would it mean?

Faith/Religion – what does true devotion mean and how would we live in a world where the supernatural was an everyday part of life for all?

Scientific progress – what are the potential ramifications that we could face with various advances in technology? What are the possible ethical and moral issues we might encounter if our technology advances faster than our humanity?


I really enjoyed this book and these stories. Not only are they well written, but they also make you think about some part of life/humanity in a new way. I felt this same way when reading Ursula Le Guin. Most of the stories here start with the premise of something along the lines of “what if this one thing was different – how would that change things?” The book is scientific and philosophical without being too heady. Plus, I think that the short story format is a really nice change of pace from reading novels.

Here’s a wiki link to learn more about this book. Here’s a link to the wiki page for author Ted Chiang, since it doesn’t appear that he has a website.


The Left Hand Of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin

ursula le guin left hand of darkness book cover

A Sci-Fi epic that challenges how you look at humanity

This novel is a wild mix of science fiction and fantasy that took me along for an interesting journey. It is complex, contains action and adventure, and does a fascinating job of showing how tricky it can be when trying to communicate across cultures. If you can get a newer edition and read the author’s introduction, you might find that alone to be worth getting the book (I thoroughly enjoyed it!). The Left Hand Of Darkness won two “Best Novel” awards in 1970 – the Nebula Award (determined by the Science Fiction Writers of America) and the Hugo Award (determined by science fiction fans).


Gender – Without giving too much away, I’ll say that this book presents gender in a unique way that will challenge many readers to think differently. What would a society look like where gender was eliminated? The author presents such a society and takes you on a journey.

Cross-cultural communication – Communicating with others isn’t an easy task, especially when you don’t understand the way that culture influences communication. This becomes even more difficult when you take in nonverbal communication and other subtleties. Faulty assumptions and misunderstandings are bound to happen in such scenarios.

Prejudice – The protagonist faces prejudice and shows prejudice on how he interacts with the people he is supposed to communicate with. He is flawed in many ways and this helps to illustrate the problems associated with prejudice.


This is a great science fiction novel. But it’s more than that. It’s great at character development, addressing issues in a unique way, and challenging the reader to re-examine how they think/look at the world. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. If you have read and enjoyed Dune, please give this one a shot. Even if you don’t normally like sci-fi, I think you might love this book. As I mentioned earlier, the author introduction alone was worth it for me.

Link to the book on Amazon. Wiki link here.

1984 – George Orwell

george orwell 1984 novel

A dystopian novel about a future where Big Brother is always watching

Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949 by the author George Orwell, is possibly the definitive dystopian novel. It is a classic, iconic work of literature and many of the words and phrases that Orwell created in this book have become part of our language. If a government or organization is referred to as Orwellian, it means that the thing is sinister, deceptive, manipulative, authoritarian, and/or totalitarian. 1984 is often compared to Brave New World, which was published 17 years earlier.


Government Surveillance – “Big Brother is Watching” posters are everywhere, but it isn’t just a show for intimidation, it’s a fact for those in the Party. The issues and concerns about privacy and government intrusion are even more pressing in our day with the controversial NSA surveillance of citizens.

Authoritarianism – Orwell takes what he’s learned about dictatorships and authoritarian governments, from the fascism of Nazi Germany to the communism of Soviet Russia, and imagines what those could become in the future with the benefit of advanced technology. He shows how authoritarian and totalitarian governments are strikingly similar, even though they may technically come from opposite ideological sides of the political spectrum. The goal is still the same – power and control.

Social Class Hierarchy – The population in the novel is divided into 3 categories and it is explained later in the novel how this structure has been fairly consistent throughout human history since the agricultural revolution. Class struggles are discussed and implied throughout the book.
1. The Inner Party: the elite, comprising a very small percentage of the population
2. The Outer Party: a larger group that encompasses the rest of the official political party members, but still small compared to the overall population (approx 10-15%)
3. The Proletariat: the rest of the population (approx 85%), largely uneducated and often ignored by the Party. Usually referred to as “proles.”

Newspeak – A language created by the Party with the purpose of simplifying and condensing the English language in such a way as to promote their ideology and control. The media is tightly controlled by the party and is filled with propaganda. The Party works around the clock at editing and rewriting history, employing newspeak terms like “doublethink” to distort reality and maintain control over the population.


In many ways, I prefer this book over Brave New World. While BNW is more of a satire or parody, 1984 is much more detailed and developed in its plot and characters. 1984 is darker and haunting (even creepy). Orwell is a first-class writer and I think if you enjoy dystopian novels, you’ll really appreciate this book. This is an important book to read, both for enlightenment and as a cautionary tale of how power corrupts people and governments.

You can find the book on Amazon here. Here’s a link to the Wiki page for this book.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

book cover aldous huxley brave new world

A dystopian novel about an “ideal” society gone wrong

Dystopian books and movies are very common now, but that wasn’t the case when Aldous Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. The author imagines what a futuristic society could be like where science has taken a strange turn and humans are genetically modified and conditioned to fit into pre-determined roles in society. It is a profound book considering the time it was written, prior to WWII, with fascism, communism, and other authoritarian governments on the rise. This book pokes at those governments and also people with utopian beliefs about capitalism, consumption, and materialism.

I found the following G.K. Chesterton quote interesting. It is from his review of the book.

After the Age of Utopias came what we may call the American Age, lasting as long as the Boom. Men like Ford or Mond seemed to many to have solved the social riddle and made capitalism the common good. But it was not native to us; it went with a buoyant, not to say blatant optimism, which is not our negligent or negative optimism. Much more than Victorian righteousness, or even Victorian self-righteousness, that optimism has driven people into pessimism. For the Slump brought even more disillusionment than the War. A new bitterness, and a new bewilderment, ran through all social life, and was reflected in all literature and art. It was contemptuous, not only of the old Capitalism, but of the old Socialism. Brave New World is more of a revolution against Utopia than against Victoria.

G.K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News, 4 May 1935

Science fiction and fantasy genres can take a big gamble when trying to predict future technological advances. While some parts of the book aren’t possible based on what we know now about science, other parts are chilling at how accurate Huxley was in his predictions. He also had a clear grasp of how propaganda can be used to control the population. It’s the same basic blueprint that all dictators use.


Nature vs Nurture – while the science isn’t 100% accurate in this book, the author does do a good job of highlighting the different ways that our genetics and environment affect how we develop and interact in society.

Freedom vs Security – what is the most important thing in society? In the “Community, Identity, Stability” slogan of the futuristic world government, security and stability come at the cost of a loss of freedom. In a technical sense, people are still able to make choices, but most of their lives have been decided for them.

Hedonism – is true happiness found in the pursuit of the maximum amount of pleasure? Is the goal of life to be constantly stimulated in every way, without time to think, reflect, or re-evaluate what we’re doing or why we’re doing it? This book is at least partly a satirical take on the promise of utopia through materialism and capitalism.


I liked this book more than I thought I would. It’s an easy read. The main suggestion I have is that it’s best to read this book in a more lighthearted manner. It is poking fun at a few things that people at that time were claiming to be the next savior of humanity – socialism, capitalism, hedonism and even science. But it also rings true in our era as we are still grappling with these questions and issues.

On the negative side, there are some plot holes and lack of character development that may annoy some readers. My biggest complaint is the ending. I was disappointed that he chose to end the book the way he did.

Overall, I think this is an interesting book and definitely recommend it.

Find the book on Amazon here.

Dune – Frank Herbert

Considered by many the best science fiction novel of all time

If you’re new to the idea of reading fiction, specifically science fiction, you should start with Dune. Many sci-fi stories (especially movies) are big on effects, wonder, and technology but short on plot and character development. In Dune, Frank Herbert does an excellent job of telling a great story that just so happens to be taking place in a sci-fi setting. Yes, you will have to get into an open mindset to grasp the fantasy elements of the book, but the majority of the story is the human dynamics, political drama, action, and suspense that have made this book so popular.


How humanity directs technology and vice versa is considered in the book. There will always be a drive or quest for power among people. Technology is neutral in essence but can be used for good or evil. The author explores both of those ends.

Imperialism and the struggle between native populations and the ruling class is an overarching theme in the story. The main characters see what it’s like to be on both sides of the political divide.

The book also has strong messianic themes, but not in the typical religious sense. The author explores the power dynamic of a savior, our basic urge to look for supernatural relief, and how people can use and abuse this power.

“Dune was aimed at this whole idea of the infallible leader because my view of history says that mistakes made by a leader (or made in a leader’s name) are amplified by the numbers who follow without question.”

Frank Herbert, in the Introduction to “Eye“, a collection of short stories


I really enjoyed this one. Once I got started, it was hard to put down. Just the right balance of action, character development, pace of story, and suspense to keep it fun and entertaining. As a nice bonus, it probes some of the deeper questions about what it means to be human and how we interact with others and the world. I’m not really a science fiction fan, but I liked Dune and I think others who normally don’t read sci-fi will like it as well.

There is a whole series of follow up books written by the author and others. I haven’t read any of those, but if you’re interested you can find out more here.