"...so he humors me and now we’re slow-dancing, a pair of thirtysomethings swaying back and forth in the moon-light like kids" (91).
This simile, used in the first image described by Dr. Banks at the novella's beginning, gives a sense of childlike wonder to the scene: she and her husband, dancing un-self-consciously under the stars with the freedom and simplistic joy of children. The juxtaposition between their age (thirtysomethings) and their actions (like those of kids) lends the scene a bit of beautiful irony.
A Wet Dog (Simile)
"The recording sounded vaguely like that of a wet dog shaking the water out of its fur" (93).
In this scene, Colonel Weber has just played Louise an audio file of the aliens' spoken language, Heptapod A. This simile describes her immediate response while giving the reader a general sense of the language's sound, as well as implying that the sound is utterly inhuman, because no human could produce that kind of sound out of their vocal tract. This simile is highly effective because most readers will have heard the sound of a wet dog shaking its fur and can easily conjure it in their mind, thus giving them a sense of what Heptapod A sounds like.
A Seven-Limbed Barrel
"It looked like a barrel suspended at the intersection of seven limbs" (97).
This simile is used to describe Dr. Banks's initial reaction to the appearance of the heptapods. By using such inhuman language to describe the heptapods, Chiang skillfully heightens the sense of "alien-ness" while providing a profound representation of their temporal views: just as the heptapods' appearance doesn't give any indication of a directional frame of reference, they similarly do not have distinctions between of past, present, and future, seeing all of time as simultaneous and cyclical.
Corduroy Ridges (Simile)
"I could see the texture of its gray skin, like corduroy ridges arranged in whorls and loops" (97).
This simile has more significance than a casual glance might indicate. The aliens' gray skin is an aesthetically important detail, but the patterns are more meaningful: these "whorls and loops" are representative of their way of thinking. Since they see past and future as equal, their view of time is essentially cyclical, and their bodies reflect this perspective, even down to the patterns engraved in the texture of their skin.
Planning An Invasion (Simile)
"Inside it looked like they were planning an invasion, or perhaps an evacuation: crew-cut soldiers worked around a large map of the area, or sat in front of burly electronic gear while speaking into headsets" (100).
Dr. Banks notes that the army base is sterile and perfunctory, with the occupants looking like they're planning an invasion rather than deciphering a foreign language. This discrepancy is crucial: it reflects the army's desire to gain a military advantage over this unknown enemy, while Banks sees the aliens as merely another important form of life that merits understanding and courtesy. The distinction between Dr. Banks and Colonel Weber grows substantially through the course of the story, with Banks essentially ending up on the side of the heptapods, while Weber never gets over his disappointment at their disappearance.
Story of Your Life Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Story of Your Life is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.