Chiang, Ted

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Ted Chiang


Born 1967, in Port Jefferson, NY. Education: Brown University, B.S., 1989; attended Clarion (science-fiction and fantasy writing workshop), Michigan State University.


Homem—Bellevue, WA. Agentm— c/o Author Mail, Tor Books, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


Short-story writer, and freelance technical writer. Has worked as an in-house technical writer.

Awards, Honors

Nebula Award, 1990, for "Tower of Babylon," and 1998, for "Story of Your Life"; Hugo nomination, 1991, for "Tower of Babylon," 1992, for "Under-stand," 1999, for "Story of Your Life," and "Liking What You See: A Documentary" (declined); Campbell New Writer Award, 1992; Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, 1998, for "Story of Your Life"; Sidewise Award, 2000, for "Seventy-two Letters"; Locus Award, 2001, Hugo Award, and Nebula Award, both 2002, all for "Hell Is the Absence of God."


Stories of Your Life and Others, Tor (New York, NY), 2002.

Contributor to magazines and anthologies, including Starlight 2, Vanishing Acts, Starlight 3, and The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Charles N. Brown and Jonathan Strahan, Eos/HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.


To paraphrase former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, never were so many awards won by one writer for so few works. Since 1990, Ted Chiang, a science-fiction writer, has published short stories, novelettes, and novellas, several of which are collected in the 2002 title Stories of Your Life and Others. The individual tales in that collection have garnered an amazing array of honors: three Nebula awards, one Hugo award, and one Locus award, just for starters. In fact, Chiang has won just about every major science-fiction award, and he has been touted, along with fellow writer Kelly Link, as part of the generation of writer that may yet save the short-story form from extinction. As Claude Lalumiere noted in a review of Stories of Your Life and Others for the Infinity Plus Web site, "With a total of eight stories in thirteen years, Chiang may not be prolific, but he is an uncommonlym—and justifiablym—lauded writer." Queried by Jeremy Smith in an online interview for Infinity Plus about why he does not write more stories, Chiang responded simply: "Because I don't get that many ideas for stories. If I had more ideas, I would write them, but unfortunately they only come at long intervals. I'm probably best described as an occasional writer."

Thomas L. Martin, writing for, called Chiang an "ideas writer." According to Martin, each of the author's stories tends to be "written around a unique premise and the exploration of the idea is the most important part of the story. In other words, a classical SF approach to story writing." Similarly, China Mieville, reviewing Stories of Your Life and Others in the Guardian, noted that "in Chiang's hands, SF really is the 'literature of ideas' it is often held to be, and the genre's traditional 'sense of wonder' is paramount." Chiang, speaking with Rani Graff on, explained that "perhaps what I most often wind up exploring is the relationship between the world as it is and the world as we perceive it to be. To understand the world we have to rely on the data provided by our senses and the concepts generated by our reasoning; you could say that my stories are attempts to examine the strengths and limitations of those resources." In that endeavor, Chiang has been successful, according to a critic for Publishers Weekly who described the author's stories as "audacious, challenging, and moving."

From Computer Science to Science Fiction

Chiang was born in Port Jefferson on the north shore of Long Island. By the time he was in the sixth grade he was reading science-fiction, and by high school he was already submitting short stories to science-fiction magazines. Attending prestigious Brown University, he majored in computer science, but continued to contribute stories. "I collected nothing but rejection slips for years," the author told Lou Anders in an interview for, "and was considering giving up writing when I was accepted at Clarion." Clarion is a well-respected fantasy-and science-fiction writing workshop held during the summer months at Michigan State University; Chiang attended the workshop the summer he graduated from Brown. "Before then," he told Anders, "I hadn't known anyone who even read SF, let alone wanted to write, so for me, attending Clarion was like meeting a family I didn't know I had. Since then, I've always felt that SF is where I belong."

Chiang's first published story, "Tower of Babylon," appeared in 1990, not long after his stint at Clarion. The tale posits an attempt to build a tower to the heavens. Unlike the biblical tale, however, Chiang's masons and miners are successful, and the miner Hillalum and his colleagues climb upward toward heaven, wondering along the course of his journey whether he is, in fact, doing God's will by undertaking such an audacious stunt. This debut tale won Chiang a Nebula Award in 1990. It also got his career off to a wonderful start and, ironically, short-circuited it at the same time.

"Winning the Nebula was bewildering," Chiang explained to Anders in describing how the prestigious award affected him. "After years of receiving form rejections, suddenly winning an award like that made me wonder if something were wrong somewhere; it's okay for art to be surreal, but uncomfortable when real life is." The award put tremendous pressure on Chiang to live up to raised expectations; for several years he became a very occasional writer, concentrating more on his day job as a technical writer than on his fiction. In 1991 he published two more works: the novelette "Understand," about a drug that creates artificial intelligence, a story with certain resemblances to the classic Flowers for Algernon, and "Division by Zero," a short story about a woman who becomes suicidal when she proves mathematically that 1 is equal to 2. But for the next seven years there was a hiatus in Chiang's production.

More Stories, More Awards

Chiang's next publication, the novella "Story of Your Life," appeared in 1998, and once again took a Nebula Award. In this tale a linguist is hired to interpret the language of aliens making contact with Earth; in doing so, she also learns important truths about her own life. More stories followed: the novella "Seventy-two Letters" is, according to Martin, "absolutely fantastic." Martin applauded the tale's "steampunk setting . . . in which golems form part of the Industrial Revolution and mankind is dying out." That novella took a Sideways Award. In "The Evolution of Human Science," a story in the form of a magazine article from a science journal of the future, a journalist discusses the qualities of various scientists since the inception of super-intelligence. With his 2001 novella, "Hell Is the Absence of God," Chiang pulled a hat trick, winning both the Nebula and Hugo Awards for a single work, and topped them off with a Locus Award. The story of Neil Fisk, whose wife is killed during the visit of the angel Nathaniel, the tale "imagines a world in which angelic visitations and their violent consequences are quotidian occurrences," explained to Lalumiere. As Chiang told Gavin J. Grant in, "Hell Is the Absence of God," "is very much an attempt to examine the idea of faith, specifically by imagining a situation in which faith is no longer a part of religion."

Chang collected his seven most-recent tales, plus an eighth, "Liking What You See: A Documentary," a story about a drug that makes it impossible to see beauty or ugliness in facial features, in Stories of Your Life and Others, "the most anticipated story collection of its generation," as Michelle West wrote in a Fantasy and Science Fiction review. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that any media hoopla was "deserved" in Chiang's case, dubbing the short-story collection "the first must-read SF book" of 2002. Indeed, reviewers were almost uniformly positive in their assessments. For Jeremy Smith, reviewing the collection on the Infinity Plus Web site, "Chiang is not a writer who pays a great deal of attention to style." Smith went on to explain that the author's "choice of words can be uninspired, his dialogue artificial. At its best, his writing is transparent and precise. And yet, the stories contained in his first collection are often brilliantly conceived and emotionally moving." More praise came from Steven H. Silver, who proclaimed of Stories of Your Life and Others, on that the book "open[s] the door on one of the best new authors to hit the science fiction field in a long time." A critic for Kirkus Reviews had similarly laudatory words, writing that "Chiang writes seldom, but his almost unfathomably wonderful stories tick away with the precision of a Swiss watchm—and explode in your awareness with shocking, devastating force." And Booklist critic Ray Olson noted that Chiang "puts the science back in science fictionm—brilliantly."

In an interview for Locus, Chiang enlarged on his mission and goals as a writer: "Everyone refers to science fiction's ability to evoke a sense of wonder. That is definitely a goal of mine, because I remember the sense of wonder I experienced when I read science fiction when I was younger. I would like to be able to evoke that in other people."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, July, 2002, Ray Olson, review of Stories of Your Life and Others, p. 1831; July, 2004, Regina Schroeder, review of The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Science Fiction and Fantasy, p. 1828.

Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 2002, Michelle West, review of Stories of Your Life and Others, p. 36.

If you enjoy the works of Ted Chiang

If you enjoy the works of Ted Chiang, you may also want to check out the following:

Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen, 2001.

China Mieville, Perdido Street Station, 2001.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Labyrinth, 2004.

Guardian (London, England), April 24, 2004, China Mieville, review of Stories of Your Life and Others.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of Stories of Your Life and Others, p. 711.

Kliatt, November, 2003, Lesley S. J. Farmer, review of Stories of Your Life and Others, p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, June 24, 2002, review of Stories of Your Life and Others, p. 44; June 14, 2004, review of The Locus Awards, p. 49.

School Library Journal, March, 2005, Christine C. Menefee, review of The Locus Awards, p. 242.

ONLINE, (May 14, 2005), Gavin J. Grant, "Very Interesting People: Ted Chiang.", (May 14, 2005), Thomas L. Martin, review of Stories of Your Life and Others., (December 13, 2003), Rani Graff, interview with Chiang.

Infinity Plus, (April 12, 2003), Jeremy Smith, "The Absence of God" (interview); (May 14, 2005), Claude Lalumiere, review of Stories of Your Life and Others, and Jeremy Smith, review of Stories of Your Life and Others.

Locus Online, (August 28, 2002), "Ted Chiang: Science, Language, and Magic.", (July, 2002), Lou Anders, "A Conversation with Ted Chiang";(May 14, 2005) Steven H. Silver, review of Stories of Your Life and Others.