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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.

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    Probably not it, but the "seeing the future on equal terms with the past" reminds me of Slaughterhouse-Five – Jason Baker Apr 19 '15 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 Apr 19 '15 at 0:59
  • @Richard I found what I was looking for in there, thanks! I'll write an answer about it. – porglezomp Apr 19 '15 at 1:01
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    @porglezomp It's not recommended – Jason Baker Apr 19 '15 at 1:19
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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 Apr 19 '15 at 1:30
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    They're making a movie from it! – heltonbiker Oct 20 '16 at 12:20
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    To echo @heltonbiker, it's called Arrival (very original...) and it has been released already. – Raphael Nov 14 '16 at 18:02

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