Please write 3-5 pages literary analysis about Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. MLA style format.Stories o/
Your Life
and Others
‘led Chiang
A Division of Penguin Random House LL(l
New York
Story Notes
Story Notes
This is the oldest story in this volume, and might never have been
published if it weren’t for Spider Robinson, one of my instructors at
Clarion. This story lrad collected a bunch of re)ection slips when I
first sent it out, but Spider encouraged mc to resubmit it after I had
Clarion on my resume. I made some revisions and sent it out, and it
got a much better response the second time around.
The initial germ for this story was an offhand remark made by
a roommate of mine in college; he was reading Sartre’s Naasea at the
time, whose protagonist finds only meaninglessness in everything he
But what would it be like, my roommate wondered, to find mean-
ing and order in everything you saw? To me that suggested a kind
of heightened perception, which in turn suggested superintelligence.
I started thinking about the point at which quantitative improvements-better memory, f-aster pattern recognition-turn into a qualitative difference, a lindamentally different mode of cognition.
Something else I wondered about was the possibility of truly
understanding how our minds work. Some people are certain that
it’s impossible for us to understand our minds, offering analogies like
“you can’t see your face with your own eyes.” I never found that persuasive. lt may turn out that we can’t, in fact, understand our minds
(for certain values of “understand” and “mind”), but it’ll take an
argument much more persuasive than that to convince me.
“l)ivision by Zero”
There’s a famous equation that looks like this:
One of the things we admire most in fiction is an ending that is
surprising, yet inevitable. This is also what characterizes elegance in
design, tli. inu.ntion that’s clever yet seems totally natural’ Of
we k’now that they aren’t realll inevitable;
makes them seern that way, temporarily’
Now consider the equation mentioned above’ It’s definitely surprising; you could work with the numbers e,;r, and iforyears’ each in
, dor.”rr’diff.r.nt contexts, without realizing they intersected in this
particular way. Yet once you’ve seen the derivation, you feel that this
equntion realiy i, inevitable, that this is the only way things could be’
It a feeling oiawe, as ifyou’ve come into contact with absolute truth’
A pro”of th”t mathematics is inconsistent, and that all its wonbe one of
drous beauty was iust an illusion, would, it seemed to me’
the worst things you could ever learn’
“Story ofYour I-ife”
This story grew out of my interest in the variational principles
physicr. i’u’e found these principles fascinating ever since I
iea’.ned of th.m, but I didn’i
When You’re Alive’PatlLinke’s oneto me
man sirow about his wife’s battle with breast cancer’ It occurred
then that I might be able to use variational principles to
ubou, u p”rroi’, resPonse to the inevitable’ A few years later’
wiih a friend’s remark about her newborn baby to
saw a performance
ol Time
notion combined
form the nucleus of this storY.
story’s disFor those interested in physics, I should note that the
of its
cussion of Fermat’s PrincipL of Least Time omits
underpinnings The QM formulatioll
possibilities ot
esting in its own way, but I preferred the metaphoric
the classical version.
When I first saw the derivation ofthis equation, my.iaw dropped
in amazement, Let me try to explain why.
As for this story’s theme, probably the most concise summait that l’ve seen appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s introduction to
tion of
Story Notes
.Srorl Nor.,s
as ridiculous’ but at the
uarents. ll’5 easy for people now to dismiss it
a lot o[ sense’ lt was an attemPt to solve
themthe oioblem of how living organisms are able to replicate
inspired Von Neumann
selves, which is the same problem that Iater
that I was interested in
Wt,”n I recognized
I had to write about
two ideas for the same reason, and
the twenty-fi fth-anniversary edition oI Slaughterhouse-Five “Stephen
Hawking . . . found it tantalizing that we could not remember the
future. But remembering the luture is childt 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 ofthem 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 clog who knows and loves you
no matter what you are.”‘
“‘fhe Evolution of Human Science”
journal Nature’
This short-short was written for the British science
ihroogt out the year 2ooo, Nature ran a feature
.u.i *?.f. aiff.t”nt writer provided a short fictional treatment of a

scientific development occurring in the next millenium’
making it
Since the piece would appear in a scientific )ournal’
“Seventy’ lwo Letters”
This story came about when I noticed a connection between two ideas
[‘d previously thought were unrelated. The 6rst one was the golem.
ln what’s probably the best-known story of the golem, Rabbi
l.oew of Prague brings a clay statue to life to act as a defender of
the Jews, protecting them from persecution. lt turns out this story is
a modern invention, dating back only to r9o9. Stories in which the
golem is used as a servant to perform chores-with varying degrees
of success-originated in the r5oos, but they still aren’t the oldest references to the golem. In stories dating back to the second century,
rabbis would animate golems not to accomplish anything practica[,
but rather to demonstrate mastery of the art of permutating letters;
they sought to know God better by performing acts of creation.
The whole theme of the creative power of language has been
discussecl elsewhere, by pcople smarter than me. What I found particularly interesting about golems was the fact that they’re traditionally unable to speak. Since the golem is created through language, this
lirnitation is also a limitation on reproduction. lf a golem were able
to use language, it would be capable ot self-replication, rathir like a
Von Neumann machine.
The other idea I’d been thinking about was preformation, the
theory that organisms exist tully forrned in the germ cells of their
I started wonabort a scientific iournal seemed like a natural choice’
a.rirg uUout what such a journal might
of ,,ri.rt u-un intelligence. William Gibson once
l, utr.”ay here; it’s jusi not evenly distributed'” Right now
n”.role in the world who’ if they’re aware of the comPuter revolutlon
people’ someuil, kr.r* of it only as something happening to other
where else. I exPect that will remain
revolutions await us.
note about the title; this short-short originally appeared
title chosen by the editors ofNa’zrei I’ve chosen to restore
original title for this rePrint.)
“Hell ls the Absence ofGod”
I first wanted to write a story about angels after
thriller written and directed by Gregory
tried to think of a story in which angels
The Prophecy, a srtpernatural
Wid.r,.’For’u long tim. I
seeing the movie
Storv of Your Life
/our father is about to ask me the question. This is the most
I important moment in our lives, and I want to pay attention,
I not” every detaiJ. Your dad and I have just come back fiom
an evening out, dinner and a showi it’s after midnight. We came out
onto the patio to look at the full moon; then I told your dad I wanted
to dance, so he humors me and now we’re slow-dancing, a pair of
thirtysomethings swaying back and forth in the moonlight like kids. I
don’t feel the night chill at all. Ald then your dad says, “Do you want
to make a baby?”
Right now your dad and I have been married for about two
years, Iiving on Ellis Avenue; when we move out you’ll still be too
young to remember the house, but we’ll show you pictures of it, tell
you stories about it. I’d love to tell you the story of this evening, the
night you’re conceived, but the right time to do that would be when
you’rc ready to have children of your own, and we’ll never get that
Telling it to you any earlier wouldn’t do any good; for most
of your life you won’t sit still to hear such a romantic-you’d say
sappy-story. I remember the scenario of your origin you’ll suggest
when you’re twelve.
Story ofYour Life
TllI) c IAN(i
“The only reason you had me was so you could get a maid you
say bitterly, dragging the vacuum cleaner
out of the closet.
“Thafs right,” I’ll say. “Thirteen years ago I knew the carpets
would need vacuuming around now, and having a baby seemed to
be the cheapest and easiest way to get the iob done. Now kindly get
on with it.”
“lf you weren’t my mother, this would be illegal,” you’ll say,
seething as you unwind the power cord and plug it into the wall
That will be in the house on Belmont Street. I’ll live to see
strangers occupy both houses: the one you’re conceived in and the
one you grow up in. Your dad and I will sell the 6rst a couple years
after your arrival. l’ll sell the second shortly after your departure. By
then Nelson and I will have moved into our farmhouse, and your dad
will be living with what’s-her-name.
I know how this story ends; I think about it a lot. I also think a
lot about how it began,just a few years ago, when ships appeared in
orbit and artifacts appeared in meadows. The goyernment said next
to nothing about them, while the tabloids said every possible thing.
And then I got a phone call, a request for a meeting.
Colonel Weber indicated his companion. “This is Dr. Gary
Donnelly, the physicist I mentioned when we spoke on the phone.”
I spotted them waiting in the hallway, outside my of6ce. They made
an odd couple; one wore a military uniform and a crewcut, and carried an aluminum briefcase. He seemed to be assessing his surroundings with a critical eye. l’he other one was easily identifiable as an
academic: full beard and mustache, wearing corduroy. He was browsing through the overlapping sheets stapled to a bulletin board nearby.
“Colonel Weber, I presume?” I shook hands with the soldier.
its linguistic properties?” he asked.
“Well, it’s clear that their vocal tract is substantially different from
a human vocal tract.l assume that these aliens don’t looklike humans?”
The colonel was about to say something noncommittal when
Gary Donnelly asked,”Can you make any guesses based on the tape?”
“Not really. lt doesn’t sound like they’re using a larynx to make
those sounds, but that doesn t tell me what they look like.”
‘Anything-is there anlthing else you can tell us?” asked Colonel Weber
I could see he wasn’t accustomed to consulting a civilian. “Only
wouldn’t have to pay,’you’ll
“Louise Banks-”
“Dr. Banks. Thank you for taking the time to speak with
“Not at all; any excuse to avoid the faculty meeting.”
us,” he
“Call me Gary,” he said as we shook hands. “l’m anxious to hear
what you have to say.”
We entered my office. I moved a couple of stacks of books off
the second guest chair, and we all sat down. “You said you wanted me
to listen to a recording. I presume this has something to do with the
“All I can offer
is the recording,” said Colonel Weber.
hear it.”
Colonel Weber took a tape machine out of his briefcase and
pressed pLAy. The recording sounded vaguely like that of a wet dog
shaking the water out of its fur.
“What do you make ofthat?” he asked.
I withheld my comparison to a wet dog. “What was the context
in which this recording was made?”
“l’m not at liberty to say”
“lt would help me interpret those sounds. Could you see the
alien while it was speaking? Was it doing anlthing at the time?”
“The recording is all I can offer.”
“You won’t be giving anlthing away if you tell me that you’ve
seen the aliens; the public’s assumed you have.”
Colonel Weber wasn’t budging. “Do you have any opinion about
that establishing communications is going to be really diflicult
because of the difference in anatomy. They’re almost certainly using
sounds that the human vocal tract can’t reproduce, and maybe sounds
that the human ear can’t distinguish.”
“You mean infia- or ultrasonic frequencies?,, asked Cary I)onnelly.
“Not specifically. I iust mean that the human auditory system
isn’t an absolute acoustic instrumentj it,s optimized to recognize the
sounds that a human larynx makes. With an alien vocal system, all
bets are off.” I shrugged. “Maybe we’ll be able to hear the difference
between alien phonemes, given enough practice, but it,s possible our
Story of Your Life
Then Colonel Weber asked, “Suppose you were learning a new
Ianguage by talking to its speakers; could you do it without teaching
them English?”
“That would depend on how cooperative the native speakers
were. They’d almost certainly pick up bits and pieces while I’m learning their language, but it wouldn’t haye to be much if they’re willing
to teach. On the other hand, if they’d rather learn English than teach
us their language, that would make things far more difficult.”
The colonel nodded. “l’11 get back to you on this matter.”
ears simply can’t recognize the distinctions they consider meaningful.
In that case we’d need a sound spectrograph to know what an ilien
is saying.”
Colonel Weber asked, “suppose I gave you an hour’s worth of
recordings; how long would it take you to determine if we need this
sound spectrograph or not?”
“I couldn’t determine that with just a recording no matter how
much time I had. I’d need to talk with the aliens directly.,,
The colonel shook his head. “Not possible.,’
I tried to break it to him gently. “That’s your call, of course.
But the only way to learn an unknown language is to interact with a
native speaker, and by that I mean asking questions, holding a conversation, that sort ofthing. Without that, it’s simply not possible. So
if you want to learn the aliens’ language, someone with training in
field linguistics-whether it’s me or someone else-will have to talk
with an alien. Recordings alone aren’t sufficient.,,
Colonel Weber frowned. “You seem to be implying that no alien
could have learned human languages by monitoring our broadcasts.’,
. doubt it. They’d need instructional material specifically
designed to teach human languages to nonhumans. Either that, or
interaction with a human.lftheyhad either ofthose, they could learn
a lot from TV but otherwise, they wouldn,t have a starting point.,,
_ The colonel clearly found this interesting; evidently his philosophy was, the less the aliens knew, the better. Gary Donnelly iead the
colonelt expression too and rolled his eyes. I suppressed a smile.
The request for that meeting was perhaps the second most momentous phone call in my life. The first, of course, will be the one from
Mountain Rescue. At that point your dad and I will be speaking to
each other maybe once a year, tops. After I get that phone call, though,
the first thing I’ll do will be to callyour father.
He and I will drive out together to perform the identification, a
long silent car ride. I remember the morgue, all tile and stainless steel,
the hum of refrigeration and smell of antiseptic. An orderly will pull
the sheet back to reveal your face. Your face will look wrong somehow but I’ll know it’s you.
“Yes, that’s her,” I’ll say. “She’s mine.”
You’ll be twenty-five then.
The MP checked my badge, made a notation on his clipboard, and
opened the gate; I drove the off-road vehicle into the encampment, a
small village of tents pitched by the Army in a farmer’s sun-scorched
pasture. At the center ofthe encampment was one of the alien devices,
nicknamed “looking glasses.”
According to the briefings I’d attended, there were nine ofthese
in the United States, one hundred and twelve in the world. The looking glasses acted as two-way communication devices, presumably
with the ships in orbit. No one knew why the aliens wouldn’t talk to
Story ofYour Life
l Et) (ilt IAN(;
us in person; fear of cooties, maybe, A tcam of scientists, including
a physicist and a linguist, was assigned to each looking glass; Gary
Donnelly and I were on this one.
Gary was waiting for me in the parking area. We navigated a circular maze of concrete barricades until we reached the large tent that
covered the looking glass itself. ln front of the tent was an equipment
cart loaded with goodies borrowed from the school’s phonology lab;
I had sent it ahead for inspection by the Army.
Also outside the tent were three tripod-mounted video cameras
whose lenses peered, through windows in the fabric wall, into the
main room. Everything Gary and I did would be reviewed by countless others, including military intelligence. In addition we would each
send daily reports, of which mine had to include estimates on how
much English I thought the aliens could understand.
Gary held open the tent flap and gestured for me to enter. “Step
right up,” he said, circus barker-style. “Marvel at creatures the likes of
which have never been seen on God’s green earth.”
“And all for one slim dime,” I murrnured, walking through
the door. At the moment the looking glass was inactive, resembling
a semicircular mirror over ten feet high and twenty t’eet across. On
the brown grass in front of the looking glass, an arc of white spray
paint outlined the activation area. Currently the area contained only
a table, two folding chairs, and a power strip with a cord leading to
a generator outside. The buzz of fluorescent lamps, hung from poles
along the edge of the room, commingled with the buzz of flies in the
sweltering heat.
Gary and I looked at each other, and then began pushing the
cart of equipment up to the table. As we crossed the paint line, the
Iooking glass appeared to grow transparent; it was as if somegne was
slowly raising the illumination behind tinted glass.’fhe illusion of
depth was uncanny; I felt I could walk right into it. Once the looking
glass was fully lit it resembled a life-size diorama of a semicircular
room.’l’he room contained a few large objects that might have been
furniture, but no aliens. There was a door in the curved rear wall.
We busied ourselves connecting everlthing together: micro-
phone, sound spectrograph, portable computer’ and speaker’ As we
I frequently glan.ed ut the looking Slass’ anticiPating the
aliens’ arrival. Even so t jumped when one of them entered’
It looked like a barrel suspended at the intersection of seven
limbs. It was radially symmetric, and any of its limbs could serve
an arm or a leg. The one in front of me was walking around
legs, three non-adjacent
‘ I’i
been shown videotapes, but I still gawked lts limbs had no
by verdistinct ioints; anatomists guessed they might be supported
tebral columns. Whatever their underlying structure,
Iimbs conspired to move it in a disconcertingly fluid manner’
“torso” rode atop the rippling limbs as smoothly as a hovercraft’
Seven lidless eyes tlnged the top of the hePtaPod’s body
walked back to the doorway from
tering sound, and returned to the center of the room followed
anotier hePtapod; at no Point did it ever turn around
cal; with eyes on all sides, any direction might as well be
Gary had been watching my reaction”‘Ready?” he asked’.

I took a deep breath.”Ready enough ” l’d done plenty offieldwork
before, in the Amazon, but it had always been a bilingual
use’.or [‘d
either my informants knew some Portuguese,
missionarpreviousiy gotten an intro to their language from the local
ies. This wJuld be my first attempt at conducting a true monolingual
discovery procedure. It was straightforward enough in theory’
I walked up to the looking
side did the same The image was so real that my skin crawled
could see the texture of its gray skin, like corduroy
in whorls and loops. There was no smell at all from the looking
which somehow made the situation stranger’
I pointed to myself and said slowly, “Human”‘ Then I pojn-ted
to Gar;. “Human.” ihen I pointed at each heptapod and said”‘What
are you?”
Story ofYour Life
rea-ctjon I lried again, and then again.
91..:f.,h” heptapods pointed ro irse’if _ith one limb, the four
terminal digits.pressed together. That
was lr.kf.
his chin; if the heptapod fruant ,..a ,n”
oi it,”
lrmDs, I wouldn t have klown what
gesture to look for I heard a brief
and saw a puckered orifice at ,r,. ,.p
lt was talking. Then it pointed to its companion “i’i,.
and fluttered
to my computer; on its screen were two yirtually
spectrographs representing the fluttering
sounds. I marked
r pointed ro myself and said ..Human.,
dro the same with Garv. Then I pointed
to the heptapodind
played back rhe flutter on thc speaker.
The heptapod fluttered some more.
trograph for this utterance looked like
a repetition; can;;;;;;i;.,
utterances [flutten], then this one was
[flutterzflutten 1.
I pointed at somerhine rhrl rp;g5i have
been a heptapod
“What is that?”
The heptapod paused, and then pointed
at the.,chair,,and talked
,r.: The spectrograph for this differed ai.tir.tfv ?.._ ii.t
rne earlrer sounds: [flutter3]. Once again,
I pointed to the,.chair,,
while playing back [flutter3
replied; judging by the spectrograph, it
,,,,^ ,Tl:-n:O^,rl.d
ru.rz J. Optimistic interpretation: th!
utterances as correct, which implied
iompatibilheptapod and human patterns of discourse. pessimistic
rnterpretation: it had a nagging cough.
sections ofthe spectrosranh
– At my computer I delimited certain,.h.ptrfoJ,,;”;i,il;;;;::r:.”
in.a rentative gloss fo,
Ior Ittutter2l, and “chair’, for lflutter3l.
Thin t typed -L;r;;;;,
A” as a heading for all tne utterances_
Gary warched whar I was t)?ing. ..What,s
rhe A for?,,
lr tust drstinguishes this language from
any other ones the heo_
might use,’,1 said. He noaa.a
“Now let’s try something,.just for laughs.” I pointed at each heptapod and tried to mimic the sound of [flutten], “heptapod.” After
a long pause, the 6rst heptapod said something and then the second
one said something else, neither of whose spectrographs resembled
anything said before. I couldn’t tell if they were speaking to each
otier or to me since they had no faces to turn. I tried pronouncing
[flunen I a8ain, but there was no reaction.
“Not even close,” I grumbled.
“I’m impressed you can make sounds like that at all,” said Gary.
“You should hear my moose call. Sends them running.”
I tried again a few more times, but neither heptapod responded
with anything I could recognize. Only when I replayed the recording
of the heptapod’s pronunciation did I get a confirmation; the heptapod replied with lflutte12l, “yes.”
“So we’re stuck with using recordings?” asked Gary.
I nodded. ‘At least temporarily.”
“So now what?”
“Now we make sure it hasn’t actually been saying ‘aren’t they
cute’or’look what they’re doing now.’Then we see if we can identifu
any of these words when that other heptapod pronounces them.” I
gestured for him to have a seat. “Get comfortable; this’Il take a while.”
In r77o, Captain Cook’s ship Eruleavour ran aground on the coast of
Queensland, Australia. While some of his men made repairs, Cook
led an exploration party and met the aboriginal people. One of the
sailors pointed to the animals that hopped around with their young
riding in pouches, and asked an aborigine what they were called. The
aborigine replied, “Kanguru.” From then on Cook and his sailors
referred to the animals by this word. It wasn’t until later that they
Iearned it meant “What did you say?”
I tell that story in my introductory course every year. lt’s almost
certainly untrue, and I explain that afterwards, but it’s a classic anecdote. Of course, the anecdotes my undergraduates will really want
l ti I) CHIAN(i
Story oJ Your LiJe
hear.le,g1es featuring the heptapods;
for the rest of my teaching
that’ll be th. r.aron many of them sign
,ti;; ;;;;.:
I’ll show rhem the oltl vi.leoraner_of
and lhe. sessions thar the other lirgri;;;;;;;;;:;:l:j.:’l..
instructive, and they’ll be uselul if
.r.; ;;;;;;;#;”1r,
bul they don’t generate many good
When it comes to lancuaqe_learning
anecdotes, my flavorite
sourte-is child langurg._u.quii,
ion. I remember one
afternoon when
tvtom,-you ll say, using the carefully
.asual-tone reserved for
a favor,.,can I ask you somerhing?,,
“Sure, sweetie. Go aheai-‘.
“Can I be, um, honored?,,
the.paper r’m grading…whar do you
n { sc_noot 5haron said she
gol to be honorerl.,,
Did shc rell you whar for?,,
”l t was when her big sister got
married. She said only one person
eould l>e, um, honored, and she”was
“Ai, I
see. you mean Sharon was
maid ofhonor?,,
“Yeah, that’s it. Can I be
made of honor?,,
pretab buitd ing con taining thc
crnrer of ooersite. Inside it looked'[ik. ,t.y ,r”r.
nrng an invasion, or perhaps an
evacuaaon: crewcut soldiers worked
ar.und u large map ,f rhc area. or sat
in r,”onr Urriy
while speaking into headscts. We
were shown”finro Colonel Weber.s
o[fice-, a room in the back
lhat was cool from air conditioninsWe briefed the colonel on our
lirst dry,s ,.rrf ,..::oi.iri’*_a

“What more do you need?,,
pods will do the same.”
Weber looked at the drarving dubiously. “What would be the
advantage of that?”
“So far I’ve been proceeding the way I would with speakers of an
unwritten language. Then it occurred to me that the heptapods must
have writing, too.”
the heptapods have a mechanical way of producing writing, then their writing ought to be very regular, very consistent. That
would make it easier for us to identify graphemes instead of phonemes. It’s like picking out the letters in a printed sentence instead
trying to hear them when the sentence is spoken aloud.”
“l take your point,” he admitted.’And how would you respond
to them? Show them the words they displayed to you?”
“Basically. And if they put spaces behveen words, any sentences
we write would be a lot more intelligible than any spoken sentence lve
might splice together from recordings.”
li]lons ror the
like you got very far,,,he said.
“l have an idea as to how
‘A digital camera, and a big video screen.” I showecl him a
drawing of the setup I imagined. “l want to try conducting the discovery procedure using writing; I’d display words on the screen, and
use the camera to record the words they write. I’m hoping the hepta-
, said
He leaned back in his chair. “You know we want to show as little
as possible.”
ofour technology
understand, but we’re using machines as intermediaries
If we can get them to use writing, I believe progress will go
much faster than if we’re restricted to the sound spectrographs.”
The colonel turned to Gary. “Your opinion?”
“It sounds like a good idea to me. I’m curious whether the hep-
tapods might have difliculty reading our monitors. Their looking
glasses are based on a completely different technology than our video
screens. As far as we can tell, they don’t use pixels or scan lines, and
they don’t refresh on a frame-by-frame basis.”
“You think the scan lines on our video screens might render
them unreadable to the heptapods?”
Story of Your Life
possihle,” said ( iary. ..We’ll
iust havc lo try il and see.,,
weber considercd it. For me it wasnl
even a question, but from
hir poinr
of view ir
was u
dilficut decision; like
il];; ;;;;, h;
made il qlickly. “Requesr gr rlred.

Talk ro rhe sergeanr
Drrngrng rn what you necd. Have it
As 1 lead Nelson toward his car, he’ll ask me, amused, “l’m missing something here, aren’t I?”
“A private joke,” l’11 mutter. “Don’t ask me to explain it.”
rerdy for to^Lrro*.,,
glass, we repeated the procedure we
had performed before, this time displaying a printed word on our computer screen at the same time we spoke: showing nurlarv while saying
“Human,” and so forth. Eventually, the heptapods understood what we
wanted, and set up a flat circular screen mounted on a small pedestal.
At our next session at the looking
one day. during rhe summer when you,re
once, rhe person waiting for her
date to arrive is me. Ofcourse, you,ll
be wairing around too, curious
lo see whal h. l”;k;l;;.;;.
tiiend of yours, a bt.nd girt with the
urlik”t;;;;;i;_i. i'”*r, ”
out with you, giggling.
“You may feel the ursc ro make
comments about him,,, I,ll say,
checking myself in the haliway mirror. -lrr,
we leave.”
rvorry,. Monr,’, yotr’ll say.
do it so that he won,t
Know. Koxre, you dsk rrre what
I lhink the wcalher will be like tonisht.
Thcn I’ll say whar I think of Mornt dare ,,
“Right,” Roxie will sav.
“No, you most de6niiely
will nor,,, I,ll say.
“Relax, Mom. He’ll never know;
we do tiris all the time.,,
“What a comfort that is.,’
A little later on, Nelson will arrive to pick
me up. I,ll do the
and we’il ail engage in a little small ,rtk;;;.;;;,
porch. Nelson is ruggedly
handsome, to your evident approval.
will say to you casually,.,So what *v,r’l
do you
as we’re about to leave, Roxie
think rhe weather will be like ronight?,
‘l th ink it s going ro be really hot,,, you,ll
– “-‘
, Roxrc will nod in agreernent. Nelson will say,.,Really? I thought
they said it was going
rrr bq ce,,;..
have a sixth sense about these
things,,,you,ll 51y.
give norhing away.’l_get rhc feeling
itt going to U.
thrng you’re dressed for it, Mon.”

I’ll glare at you, and say goocl night.
One heptapod spoke, and then inserted a limb into a large socket in the
pedestal; a doodle of script, vaguely cursive, popped onto the screen.
We su)n settled into a routine, and I compiled two parallel
corpora; one of spoken utterances, one of writing samples. Based on
first impressiorrs, their writing appeared to be logographic, which was
disappointing; l’d been hoping for an alphabetic script to help us learn
their speech. Their logograms might include some phonetic information, but linding it would be a lot harder than with an alphabetic script.
By getting up close to the looking glass, I was able to point to
various heptapod body parts, such as limbs, digits, and eyes, and elicit
terms for each. lt turned out that they had an orifice on the underside
of their body, lined with articulated bony ridges: probably used for
eating, while the one at the top was for respiration and speech. There
were no other conspicuous orifices; perhaps their mouth was their
anus too. Those sorts of questions would have to wait.
I also tried asking our two informants for terms for addressing each individually; personal names, if they had such things. Their
answers were of course unpronounceable, so for Gary’s and my purposes, I dubbed them Flapper and Raspberry. I hoped I’d be able to
tell them apart.
The next day I conferred with Gary before we entered the lookingglass tent. “l’ll need your help with this session,” I told him.
“Sure. What do you want me to do?”
“We need to elicit some verbs, and it’s easiest with third-person
forms. Would you act out a few verbs while I tlpe the written form on
the computer? If we’re lucky, the heptapods will figure out what we’re
doing and do the same. I’ve brought a bunch ofprops for you to use.”
“No problem,” said Gary cracking his knuckles. “Ready when
you are.”
We began with some simple intransitive verbs: walking, jumping, speaking, writing. Gary demonstrated each one with a charming
lack of self-consciousness; the presence of the video cameras didn’t
inhibit him at all. For the first few actions he performed, I asked
the heptapods, “What do you call that?” Before long, the heptapods
caught on to what we were trying to do; Raspberry began mimicking
Gary, or at least performing the equivalent heptapod action, while
Flapper worked their computer, displaying a written description and
pronouncing it aloud.
In the spectrographs of their spoken utterances, I could recognize their word I had glossed as “heptapod.” The rest of each utterance was presumably the verb phrase; it looked like they had analogs
of nouns and verbs, thank goodness.
In their writing, however, things weren’t as clear-cut. For each
action, they had displayed a single logogram instead of two separate ones. At first I thought they had written something like “watks,”
with the subject implied. But why would Flapper say “the heptapod
walks” while writing “walks,” instead of maintaining parallelism?
Then I noticed that some of the logograms looked like the logogram for “heptapod” with some extra strokes added to one side or
another. Perhaps their verbs could be written as affixes to a noun.
lf so, why was Flapper writing the noun in some instances but not
in others?
I decided to try a transitive verb; substituting object words
might clarifo things. Among the props I’d brought were an apple and
a slice ofbread. “Okay,” I said to Gary, “show them the food, and then
eat some. First the apple, then the bread.”
Story of Your Life
Gary pointed at the Golden Delici
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