…the ray of light has to know where it will ultimately end up before it can choose the direction to begin moving in.
Ted Chiang, page 125, Story of Your Life, contained in The Arrival, originally published as Stories of Your Life and Others, Vintage Books Edition, 2016
Dr. Louise Banks is a linguist called upon by the United States military to facilitate communication with the heptapods – the first alien species to make contact with humanity. As Dr. Banks immerses herself in their language, she experiences invasive thoughts and dreams that challenge her understanding of space and time.
Story of Your Life is a powerful meditation on the capacity of language to influence how we think about and perceive the world.
The story also compels us to contemplate our lives as a whole, rather than as a series of sequential events. It obliges us to pay greater attention to the present, and more specifically, to how we choose to conduct ourselves and experience the present. As criminal practitioners, how many lives have we seen that have been forever altered by impulsive actions taken without any consideration of life as a whole?
While we may not have Dr. Banks’s capacity to remember the details of the future, we all know how our story ends. How we act in light of that knowledge will determine the story of our own lives.
Sometimes we need works of fiction to remind us of that.
Story of Your Life was recently adapted as The Arrival (Director: Dennis Villeneuve - 2016).