Speech Sounds by Octavia Butler

I’ve been going through the list of stories that won or were nominated for Hugos, and I came across an Octavia Butler story I had never read before. For some reason, I figured “Speech Sounds” was a mainstream story, and hadn’t read it in her collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories

So I sat down with “Speech Sounds,” and found myself profoundly moved as I read.

I generally don’t like post-apocalyptic tales. I find them either dispiriting or sadly similar to other stories I’ve read (or seen on TV). This story, in which humankind has acquired a disease that destroyed people’s abilities to understand language. Many lost their ability to speak. Many others their ability to read and write.

In this short piece, Octavia manages to explore both the frustration of that, and a certain kind of relief. The ending is surprisingly upbeat.

What a special night. Reading an Octavia Butler sf story that I had somehow missed. It felt like a gift.

The story won a Hugo in 1984.

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