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Slaughterhouse-Five and Story of Your Life

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Jeremy Smith: In the author's notes to "Story of Your Life," you mention Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Was that novel a direct inspiration, or did you notice the similarity later, after using variational principles in physics to write the story? Both stories use this idea of being "unstuck in time" as a way of expressing a deep fatalism, a sadness about the inevitability of loss.
Ted Chiang: I actually hadn't read Vonnegut's novel at the time I wrote my story. To me there's a big difference in the two works. I think of Slaughterhouse-Five as being really bleak in its outlook, while I don't think of my story that way at all. My story ends on a note that, to me, is ultimately life affirming. The story is about choosing to go ahead with life, even though there will be pain in the future as well as joy. You can say that the narrator doesn't actually have a choice, and that's true, but that's not the most important aspect of it. She's no...

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Jeremy Smith: In the author's notes to "Story of Your Life," you mention Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Was that novel a direct inspiration, or did you notice the similarity later, after using variational principles in physics to write the story? Both stories use this idea of being "unstuck in time" as a way of expressing a deep fatalism, a sadness about the inevitability of loss.
Ted Chiang: I actually hadn't read Vonnegut's novel at the time I wrote my story. To me there's a big difference in the two works. I think of Slaughterhouse-Five as being really bleak in its outlook, while I don't think of my story that way at all. My story ends on a note that, to me, is ultimately life affirming. The story is about choosing to go ahead with life, even though there will be pain in the future as well as joy. You can say that the narrator doesn't actually have a choice, and that's true, but that's not the most important aspect of it. She's not being forced into it against her will. She's accepting the bad with the good.

from The Absence of God: an interview with Ted Chiang by Jeremy Smith.

And Here’s the author’s note on Story of your life, taken from Stories of your life and Others (2002):

As for this story’s theme, probably the most concise summation of it that I’ve seen appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of Slaughterhouse-Five: “Stephen Hawking... found it tantalizing that we could not remember the future. But remembering the future is child’s play for me now. I know what will become of my helpless, trusting babies because they are grown-ups now. I know how my closest friends will end up because so many of them are retired or dead now... To Stephen Hawking and all others younger than myself I say, ‘Be patient. Your future will come to you and lie down at your feet like a dog who knows and loves you no matter what you are.’ ”
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