I read a story several years ago in which aliens come make first contact with Earth, and a bunch of scientists set to work trying to establish communication with them in various fields. The main character is a linguist and her team is working to try to figure out their written language, which doesn't have any sort of linear structure and can be read starting from any place.

It contains some explanation of quantum physics as an analogy for how they view time.

In the end, it turns out that the aliens don't perceive time in a linear fashion, and sort of see the future on equal terms with the past, etc. The main character learns to see time this way by studying their language, and the story is interspersed with her talking about what her child is going to do / is doing / has done.

I think I read it in a science fiction magazine but I'm not sure about this part.

  • 3
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 0:48
  • 2
    Probably not it, but the "seeing the future on equal terms with the past" reminds me of Slaughterhouse-Five Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 0:51
  • Was there a lot of frustration at the alien's attempts to describe their physics. And in the end it turned out that the FTL travel relied on them perceiving time as a tree?
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 0:59
  • @Richard I found what I was looking for in there, thanks! I'll write an answer about it.
    – porglezomp
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 1:01
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    @porglezomp It's not recommended Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 1:19

1 Answer 1


The story I was looking for was "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. (Amazon, Wikipedia, ISFDB).

Thanks to Richard in the comments linking to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry on linguistics.

  • The SFE entry on Time Out of Sequence has a bit more on Chiang's story.
    – user14111
    Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 1:30
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    They're making a movie from it! Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 12:20
  • 1
    To echo @heltonbiker, it's called Arrival (very original...) and it has been released already.
    – Raphael
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 18:02

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