How to make linguistics sexy MOVIE/BOOK COMPARISON ‘Arrival’ and ‘The Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang


Genre: Science Fiction

This book was reviewed on the ABC radio program ‘Overnights with Rod Quinn’ as part of my Christmas special. The podcast of the review is available under the ‘Podcasts’ tab if you want to hear the full review (:

In Novemeber I saw the movie ‘Arrival’ starring Amy Adams and directed by Denis Villeneuve. To be frank, I normally can’t stand science fiction movies, there always far too complicated and I lose interest….however, my better half, who is a movie fanatic, LOVES the genre- so I thought with this one, what the hell! Before you go any further I should say straight out….it’s a fantastic film and a pleasure to watch.

The inspiration for the film came from a short story by an American author named Ted Chiang entitled ‘The Story of Your Life’ published in 1998. The book I reviewed from is a collection of eight short stories published by the author and is called ‘The Story of Your Life and Other Stories’ and is readily available from all good bookstores.

To give a little bit of background about the author, ‘The Tower of Babylon’ was Ted Chiang’s first published story and won him the Nebula Award in 1990 (this is an annual award that recognises the best works of science fiction or fantasy published in the United States) His subsequent stories have won numerous awards and have given him the status of a renowned young writer of modern science fiction. To put it lightly, this guy knows sci-fi.

So, let me ask you a question.

‘What if exposure to an alien language forever changed our perception of time?’

Both the short story and the film follow a twin narrative timeline. One story is about the arrival of aliens orbiting Earth for unknown purposes but initiate conversations with humans though “looking glass devices”. The American military enlist linguist Dr. Louise Banks to study the aliens and their language

The second story arc is an intimate story of Louise’s life with her daughter, written in second future tense.

This is an incredibly layered story. Don’t be put off thinking that two story lines will make it hard to follow. Particularly in the film, it’s done simply but effectively- this means you get the lovely ‘ohhhhhhhhhhhh I get it!’ that all directors aim for.

To be honest, the film makes linguistics look sexy. All budding speech pathologists and linguistic academics will get a thrill from people coming out of the movie desperately wanting to become one.

Fans of China Mieville’s Embassytown will find the linguistic and philosophical explorations of this story fascinating. The philosophical aspect of this story looks at the idea of predestination, free will and how these affect the important decisions of our live.

Science fiction fans will get a kick out of all the short stories Chiang has written and it’s a wonderful example of writing that plays with time and is successful at twisting it.

Has anyone else seen the film or read Ted Chiang’s work before?



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