/blog @bhaprayan   ·  

Q/A with Ted Chiang

I recently had the chance to attend a Q/A event with one of my favorite science fiction writers, Ted Chiang. As a brief intro for those of you who haven’t read his work, he’s the mind behind “The Story of Your Life”, the short story which inspired the movie Arrival1. His short stories are known for their soulfulness and focus on themes such as free will and determinism2. On a personal level, his stories resonate with me, since they’re a great example of a thought process to aspire towards, which is to start with simple questions, and then envision the consequences of what could happen if those basic tenets were to change. What follows is an excerpt from the Q/A session, curated to emphasize various themes that the discussion evolved along3:

Thanks to James Yu, Scott Hurff, and Amit Gupta for organizing the session, and to all the attendees for facilitating such an engaging discussion through asking these questions.


  1. If you haven’t watched Arrival either, I highly recommend bumping it to the top of your to-do list (once you’re done with the short story first, of course)! It’s a mind-expanding story/movie about the foundations of linguistics and how they affect the perception of our world (set against the backdrop of an alien encounter). I’ll leave it at that :) ↩︎

  2. There’s a good piece by The New Yorker (https://www.newyorker.com/culture/persons-of-interest/ted-chiangs-soulful-science-fiction) that delves into his background, inspirations, and writing process. ↩︎

  3. Naturally, these words are an interpretation of the conversation, so any factual errors + omissions are solely mine alone and do not represent the views of the original speaker (Ted Chiang). That said, I’ll try to minimize the editing and consciously try to avoid any interpretation bias. ↩︎

  4. This refers to the short story, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects”, which can be found in the more recent collection of shorts “Exhalation”. This is amongst his longest stories, at around 110 pages. ↩︎

  5. For reference, a Remem is a lifelogging device described in the short “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, which records all of a user’s life experiences, and makes instantaneous search and recall possible. ↩︎

Written April 23, 2020. Send feedback to @bhaprayan.

← Experiences serving on the RISS Admissions Committee  Computational graphs for backprop →