Ted Chiang is an American science fiction writer who has written over a dozen short stories. His novella 'Story of Your Life' was adapted into the Academy Award-nominated film 'Arrival' by director Denis Villeneuve in 2016. He has won four each of the 'Hugo Award', the 'Nebula Award' and the 'Locus Award', apart from numerous other prestigious awards and nominations including the 'John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer'. His other notable works include stories like 'Tower of Babylon', 'Understand', 'Seventy-Two Letters', 'Hell Is the Absence of God', 'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate', 'Exhalation', and the novella 'The Lifecycle of Software Objects'. He describes himself as an occasional writer who does not want to force himself "to write novels in order to make a living". He has a regular job as a technical writer.
Ted Chiang first started writing science fiction when he was in high school. The first of his stories that was published was 'Tower of Babylon', in 1990, which depicts the story of a miner named Hillalum who, with fellow miners, is entrusted with the construction of an enormous brick tower that digs through the Vault of Heaven. The story went on to win a 'Nebula Award' and was nominated for a 'Hugo Award'.
In his 1991 story 'Understand', the protagonist learns to reprogram his own mind after being administered an experimental drug to heal brain damage caused by anoxia. During the early 1990s, he got the idea of a new story following two incidents: attending a one-man show in Seattle about a woman’s death from cancer and being told by a friend how she recognized her son from his movements in the womb. He studied linguistics and combined that with his idea of the nature of time to write 'Story of Your Life' in which a linguist deciphers an alien language with a different conception of time. The story, first published in 1998, won a 'Nebula Award' and a 'Theodore Sturgeon Award', apart from receiving nomination for a 'Hugo Award'. The story was the basis for the 2016 film 'Arrival', starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, which was nominated for eight 'Academy Awards'.
His novelette 'Hell Is the Absence of God' (2001) shows the protagonist coming to terms with the loss of his wife killed during an angelic visitation. In 2007, he wrote 'The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate', which is the story of a fabric merchant who foregoes the opportunity to meet his future self to go to the past to correct a mistake. He followed it up with 'Exhalation' in 2008, an epistolary short story about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which won the 2009 'Hugo Award'. His only novella, 'The Lifecycle of Software Objects', shows the protagonist raising the AI of a digital pet to a human-equivalent mind. Recently, it was revealed that a script based on his story 'Understand' is in the works.
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Ted Chiang is known for exploring conventional tropes of science fiction in highly unconventional ways. Despite being a science fiction writer, most of his stories dwell in the past, rather than the future, and often provide a retelling of older stories in backdrop of science and technology. He is also curious about so-called "discredited world views", and often explores, through his works, the idea that the way ancient people understood the world might actually be the correct way. He has also been described as a writer of "humanist" science fiction due to the fact that his stories, rather than being dystopian, often tend to have an optimistic tone. However, some readers feel that his deterministic universe, which is devoid of faith even though the existence of God, souls, Heaven, and Hell are obvious, is troubling.
Family & Personal Life
Ted Chiang was born as Chiang Feng-nan on October 20, 1967, in Port Jefferson, New York, United States. Both his parents are Chinese immigrants who came to the United States from Taiwan after fleeing from there with their families during the Chinese Communist Revolution. They first met after they entered the US as graduate students. His father is a professor in the engineering department at Stony Brook University, SUNY. His mother, who is now retired, worked as a librarian. His parents are now divorced.
Ted Chiang went to high school in Port Jefferson, New York. He obtained a computer science degree from Brown University before graduating from the Clarion Writers Workshop in 1989. He is not interested in becoming a fulltime writer and is satisfied with his job as a technical writer in the software industry, which requires him to create reference materials for programmers. He resides in Bellevue, near Seattle, Washington, with his longtime partner Marcia Glover, whom he had met during a stint at Microsoft.