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Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Liking What You See: A Documentary" by Ted Chiang

This was up for the Hugo (withdrawn), Sturgeon, Seiun, Tiptree, and Locus Awards. It was reprinted by Robert Silverberg, Karen Haber, Debbie Notkin, Jeffrey D. Smith, Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy.
 Tamera Lyons is a college student at Pembleton. As a child her parents made her take calliagnosia, a treatment that causes the brain not to see beauty and be unduly influenced by it. She chooses to go off it voluntarily. Meanwhile, across the nation, people debate whether everyone should go on it. The cosmetic companies gather and form a group of concerned citizens, but they are also behind new technologies that push that beauty's influence even further.
Somewhere, I read that the reason for withdrawing this story for the Hugo is that the story had been rushed. It wasn't up to Chiang's usual standard. If the other stories are any guide, he was probably waiting on another big concept to splice it with. In terms of story attributes, it shares similarities with most others in his oeuvre.

And so it works within this framework, as is. The film-documentary narrative mode utilizes Chiang's strengths and focus on the ideas themselves while telling the story from multiple viewpoints. It illustrates perfectly what Chiang says in this The Asian-American Literary Review interview:
"[N]o technology is all bad or all good.  The more interesting science fiction story tries to show both sides of technology—the positive and negative consequences, and an ambiguous future as a result. To me, that is the more honest kind of science fiction."
This is exactly what I admired most about this tale. We have people with varying points of view speaking up/out on whether people should be subjected to calli.

It would be interesting to see what Chiang would do with this if he came back to it, allowed himself to "finish" it, give it the time it needs. Of all the tales in the collection, this one seems the most ripe to expand into a novel--at least a short one--although sticking only to the present format may hamper expansion. Each permutation of perspective on the science of beauty could be given its own story. There are also perspectives buried within the text that could brought out into the light of day as well.

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