Story of Your Life - Ted Chiang

Dr. Louise Banks is enlisted by the military to communicate with a race of aliens, known as heptapods (due to their 7-pointed radially symmetrical appearance), after they initiate first contact with humanity. The story revolves around Dr. Banks, and woven through it are remembrances of her daughter.

The heptapods have two distinct forms of language. Heptapod A is their spoken language, which is described as having free word order and many levels of center-embedded clauses. Understanding Heptapod B, the written language of the aliens, is central to the plot. Unlike its spoken counterpart, Heptapod B has such complex structure that a single semantic symbol cannot be excluded without changing the entire meaning of a sentence.

When writing in Heptapod B, the writer knows how the sentence will end. The phenomenon of Heptapod B is explained by the aliens' understanding of mathematics and Fermat's principle of least time.

Dr. Banks's understanding of the heptapods' writing system affects the way she perceives time and suggests a deterministic universe where free will is exercised by not affecting the outcome of events. This is reflected by the tense used in the story's writing: a small portion of the story, at the beginning and the end, is written in the present tense, indicating that the story is being written at the time of the daughter's conception. The sections describing the interactions with the Heptapods is written in the past tense. The sections describing the daughter's life—from birth to death and beyond—are written as Dr. Banks' remembrances that she nonetheless describes using the future tense, because learning Heptapod B enables Dr. Banks to know her daughter's entire life even before she agrees to conceive her.