If you’ve seen Arrival, the beautiful and thought-provoking film starring Amy Adams as a linguistics professor asked to communicate with the aliens who’ve docked 12 spaceships around the globe, you may have noticed it was based on a short story by Ted Chiang. Who? That’s right, Ted Chiang is the superstar nobody ever heard of–until now.
Apparently I’m not the only avid reader/writer who’d never heard of him before. Even though Chiang has won all the major Science Fiction Writer awards over the past 25 years, he’s not prolific. He only writes short fiction, not novels–fifteen short stories since 1990 and some have been published in on-line magazines. Most sci-fi lovers–even most Star Wars fanatics–don’t read short stories. Ditto that for most readers, whatever the genre. Now, however, because of the critically acclaimed movie with a big-name cast, Ted Chiang has a lot to “tweet” about. Except he doesn’t Twitter, which further explains his anonymity.
Arrival opened in mid-November. As of December 21, worldwide box office receipts totaled more than $142 million: the film has already recouped the $47 million it cost to make. I do read short stories, but not sci-fi, and yet I stumbled across Ted Chiang’s most recent story, The Great Silence, in the anthology The Best American Short Stories 2016. Chiang’s story is told from the point-of-view of a parrot. It’s only four pages long. My reaction? Profound. Come to find out, the same story also appeared in the anthology The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016. Any writer would cut off her arm (okay, maybe a finger) to duplicate that kind of success. And yet, in this day and age, is Chiang a SUPERSTAR? American fiction writers like Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, John Grisham and Danielle Steele are superstars. Ted Chiang has floated below the internet/social media radar for decades, but his words–his earth-shaking, soul-rattling ideas–might light up our movie screens for years to come.
Chiang’s 1998 Story of Your Life (only his 2nd published one) was turned into the screenplay Arrival by somebody else. Chiang doesn’t write screenplays (he can’t even imagine it!) but another story he wrote, Understand, is being turned into a film by 20th Century Fox. Two other stories are under option and two more are ‘in conversation’ with the people who make movies. Including Arrival, that’s a possible six movies based on short stories he wrote. And remember, he’s only written fifteen so far.
So who is this Ted Chiang? How did he get to now? What are the science-driven ideas he writes about?
It’s almost Christmas. Whatever your faith, it’s holiday season and you’re busy. Go enjoy. More later.
Happy Holidays, and thanks so much for letting me muse to you about the importance of Art. If we pay attention, it just might save the world.