The Impulse of the Species
N.T. McQueen on having the strength to accept mystery.
The rapidity of change seems to accelerate every year. Every month. Every hour. This change pushes our reality closer to the science fiction stories we watched and read growing up. Within four years, my iPhone 6 is obsolete and slowly being shoved out of relevance and functionality by ever increasing technological changes.
I had watched the film Arrival back when it was released, but never knew the source material for the film. Somehow I missed the name Ted Chiang and, when reminded of the film, I wanted to read more. I utilized an ancient institution called a library and found The Stories of Your Life and Others and took it home.
Three stories in, I found myself disturbed by a familiarity within the pages. A familiarity of man’s obsessive desire to advance even when that advancement could crush us. Reveal mysteries best left mysteries.
After finishing “Understand,” the second story in this collection, I saw our ascension and descension as humans. A man receives these injections that regenerate his brain cells and give him intellect beyond understanding. The blessing of higher thought and how, if given the possibility to achieve cognition beyond language, we would risk everything for discovery.
But when I turned this question inward, to my own life, I wondered if I would take that risk to achieve what no one else could. I want to say I wouldn’t, but there is a part of me that might and this revelation is what scares me the most about myself. Chiang opened a door and, if given the opportunity, I have to fight the impulse of my species. Life demands mystery and I have to accept that. We all do.
N.T. McQueen is a professor and writer from Hawai’i whose most recent novel, The Blood of Bones, was released in November 2021.
Ted Chiang (1967-) is an American science fiction author. His short story “Understand” was nominated for the 1992 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.