In the early nineteen-nineties, a few occurrences sparked something in Ted Chiang's mind. He attended a one-man show in Seattle, where he lives, about a woman's death from cancer. A little later, a friend had a baby and told Chiang about recognizing her son from his movements in the womb. Chiang thought back to certain physical principles he had learned about in high school, in Port Jefferson, New York, having to do with the nature of time. The idea for a story emerged, about accepting the arrival of the inevitable.
On a very warm afternoon in April, the image of a bald young white man's head floated on a gray screen at the Kitchen, in Chelsea. The man spoke in a tone that shifted worryingly between aggressive and confessional, punctuating his lines with two disembodied hands. "And I could have been your haruspex, sexy," he said at one point, snarling. "I could have read omens in your extricated liver." There were pale red marks beneath his eyes, a five-o'clock shadow on his jaw.