Speech Sounds • 1983 • Near SF short story by Octavia E. Butler



A stroke like pandemic impaired nearly everyones’ ability to read, write or speak, wreaking civilization. People communicate by a universally understood sign language and identify themselves not by names but by emblems.

Rye is going some twenty miles to Pasadena by one of the few available buses, encountering different type of impaired, and sometimes violent people on the way. She is very jealous of those who can still read or write.


A wonderful case of world building, mixing isolation with communication and pandemics, a world deprived of verbal exchange. It shows social breakdown and disorder, even violence when verbal communication isn’t available anymore. First, it seems to be a dystopia but it turns out as a story about hope with a nice twist in the end.


Meta: isfdb. This SF short story was published December 1983 in Asimov’s. I read it as part of Bloodchild and Other Stories. It won the Hugo awards and is listed on Locus’s voted list of short fiction.



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