[Literature] Ted Chiang's speculative fiction

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[Literature] Ted Chiang's speculative fiction

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Postby Falcon_of_the_Sun » Tue Dec 27, 2016 5:26 pm

I've searched the forums for "chiang" and I couldn't find anything related to the author of the short story that was adapted into Arrival, the recent sci-fi drama.

Following the movie (which I was very keen on since it dealt with things I really like, namely aliens, language learning and Amy Adams) I picked a Ted Chiang anthology for my Kindle and I was very, very impressed with it.

The story behind Arrival (entitled: The Story of Your Life) turned out to be one of the least striking, so was his breakthrough, prize-winning story The Tower of Babylon (nothing that Borges hadn't done already).

But I was really, really impressed with another one called "Liking what you see: a documentary". The premise could be a very Blackmirrorish one: in the near future, a technology called calliagnosia (literally "without knowledge of beauty") allows to disable the mental processes that allow us to make a judgment call on the attractiveness of an individual's face.
The story is a patchwork of various sources (a person's diary, interviews, politicians and social activists speeches, on-campus campaigns from students associations, sociological reports etc) and I think it's the best piece of speculative fiction (with sociological implications) I have ever read.

Some little excerpts that I thought might strike a chord

"The deeper societal problem is lookism. For decades people’ve been willing to talk about racism and sexism, but they’re still reluctant to talk about lookism. Yet this prejudice against unattractive people is incredibly pervasive. People do it without even being taught by anyone, which is bad enough, but instead of combating this tendency, modern society actively reinforces it.
Educating people, raising their awareness about this issue, all of that is essential, but it’s not enough. That’s where technology comes in. Think of calliagnosia as a kind of assisted maturity. It lets you do what you know you should: ignore the surface, so you can look deeper."

"The condition is what we call an associative agnosia, rather than an apperceptive one. That means it doesn’t interfere with one’s visual perception, only with the ability to recognize what one sees. A calliagnosic perceives faces perfectly well; he or she can tell the difference between a pointed chin and a receding one, a straight nose and a crooked one, clear skin and blemished skin. He or she simply doesn’t experience any aesthetic reaction to those differences."

"Think of cocaine. In its natural form, as coca leaves, it’s appealing, but not to an extent that it usually becomes a problem. But refine it, purify it, and you get a compound that hits your pleasure receptors with an unnatural intensity. That’s when it becomes addictive.

Beauty has undergone a similar process, thanks to advertisers. Evolution gave us a circuit that responds to good looks—call it the pleasure receptor for our visual cortex—and in our natural environment, it was useful to have. But take a person with one-in-a-million skin and bone structure, add professional makeup and retouching, and you’re no longer looking at beauty in its natural form. You’ve got pharmaceutical-grade beauty, the cocaine of good looks.

Biologists call this “supernormal stimulus”; show a mother bird a giant plastic egg, and she’ll incubate it instead of her own real eggs. Madison Avenue has saturated our environment with this kind of stimuli, this visual drug. Our beauty receptors receive more stimulation than they were evolved to handle; we’re seeing more beauty in one day than our ancestors did in a lifetime. And the result is that beauty is slowly ruining our lives."

Another story (Hell is the absence of God) in which humanity has been confirmed the existence of God and of the fact that everybody's soul will end up in either heaven or hell was also extremely thought provoking, especially regarding the implications of belief and of the expectation of a divine retribution for a pious life...

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