Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



Well, Klaatu Barada Nicto, y’all! I know there have been other films since The Day the Earth Stood Still back in 1951 where aliens come to Earth and do not intend to eat us or enslave us, and I could probably think of some if I tried, but the fact is they are greatly outnumbered by films like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. This is the most recent of the benevolent alien genre, and the most lauded since, probably, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

One of these days I’m going to have to read some stories by Ted Chiang. He has probably won a bigger percentage of Hugos and Nebulas for the rather small size of his output than anyone, ever. He seems to work best in the novella word range. Apparently he has never written a novel.

This one has been critically lauded to the skies. I liked it quite a lot, but maybe it was a case of unrealistic expectations, because I didn’t find it to be the masterpiece everyone is raving about. Very, very good, but not in the category of Gravity or A Clockwork Orange, for instance. I wasn’t impressed by Amy Adams’ performance. And though I hate to say it, it dragged more than a little, particularly at the end.

SPOILER WARNING: There is an intriguing idea here, concerning language, which I assume is what made the novella so successful. The aliens have a language such that, to understand it at all, you have to be able to speak it from the end and the beginning, and meet in the middle. Which implies, apparently, that you must be able to see into the future, see the things that you will do. Adams masters the skill, and thus is able to see her whole life, beginning to end, laid out before her. This includes the fact that her young daughter will die of an incurable disease. The question is asked, “If you could see your whole life, would you try to change anything?” She accepts that she would not. But that means that you accept a deterministic universe, where nothing can be changed. Myself, if I saw bad things ahead I’m afraid I would do my best to change them, if it were possible. But I guess Chiang is saying that with the knowledge of the future comes the realization that change is not possible. I’m sorry, I hate a universe like that. I’m in favor of free will, and I will continue to believe in it until I meet my foreordained death.