I am having lunch with frequent ITM commentator (and former GW undergrad) Liza tomorrow -- she whom I always make nervous through my penetrating glare. So that she won't feel like she's wandered into Torquemada's Truth Extraction disguised as a cordial repast, I've been re-reading an absolutely wonderful book she gave me when she left DC for Cambridge, England, last year. Instead of grilling her on her current seminars and life as a NYC intellectual, I'll ask if she really does believe that tentacled and multi-eyed aliens might speak a language that unmoors them from the chain of time.
Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others is described on its jacket as science fiction, but that isn't really accurate: "cerebral speculative fiction" captures the trajectories of the these short stories better. With a humane touch, a love for words, and the ability to hybridize a jarring realism with disconcerting speculation, Chiang stages a series of thought-experiments that answer questions like: What if the Tower of Babel actually pierced the vault of heaven? What if in learning an alien's language, one were thereby so transformed by its syntax that it could alter the relationship between cause and effect, between being and time? What if nineteenth century pseudoscience was true? What is God, his angels, and hell carelessly manifested themselves from time to time, effecting fatalities and cures with a seemingly careless abandon?
Great fun to read.