Recent sci-fi movie Arrival was based on a novelette called ‘The Story of Your Life’, which was written by author Ted Chiang. Science Fiction is quickly becoming a respected mainstream genre and the success of this film and others are paving a new way. Sci-Fi is considered a subculture, along with other narratives like fantasy and comic books, but it is not often considered to have as much pretense or direct importance to daily reality. However, a storyteller like Ted Chiang is both a great icon as an individual and a powerful conveyor of meaning through his stories, which can encourage us in our every day lives to be authentic and true to ourselves.
Working originally as a Tech writer, Ted Chiang slowly found his creative way into a revered position by accumulating a mass of rewards such as the Hugo and Nebula awards. Notorious for his extended writing process, it will often take him up to 2 years to finish a short story, something only around 20 pages. It is more common in the Sci-Fi genre to be a mass producer of many works and so this thoughtful and careful approach has helped make his stories uniquely gripping, vastly innovative, deeply researched, and full of human emotion. And to be the first of his kind with this unique approach of preparation makes him a pioneer of his own.
There is one particular instance that stands out in his career, that showcases him as a true artist, and more importantly, as a remarkable human being. Ted Chiang was nominated for a contest that he surprisingly turned down because he felt that the story he presented was hurried and was not as he had hoped it would be. This is a great example of integrity in the contemporary arts world and it speaks volumes about his dedication to excellence and how highly accountable he holds himself to his craft.
For most people competing in a competition, the idea of winning is the key reason for applying and working hard on a story. To be able to receive a nomination is an incredible feat for anyone. To then turn down the recognition of achieving such a position can be interpreted in many ways; it is not a regular occurrence. Here, the self-respect of personal growth and understanding one’s own search for truth and value through an art form reveals the integrity in being openly honest that, although the story was nominated, it might forever stand as an act of his which put forth the possibility of winning, even at the expense of working towards his own personal best.
Everyone struggles to attain the goals of their desires throughout life. Mass recognition of this process through winning awards or accolades helps validate and confirm the work we have done to get there. Subjectivity always goes into the judging process both internally for ourselves and externally for those who decide on presenting us or our work as admirable and important to a larger audience. To know ourselves so well that even in the face of possibly receiving the much wanted success through some medium, we will be wholly authentic with how we feel, and not discard emotions that remind us to stay true to our values and truths, is the most enriching way both for us and for our communities to progress forward to that place of achievement.
Author: Jonathan M. Bessette