On deafness and quietness

In 1989, I wrote a story (titled “Absences”) about a kid and her brother who had survived an alien invasion. Part of the core idea of the story was that the invading aliens were super sensitive to sound; humans who made too much noise got killed, and the protagonist’s brother was deaf, so the protagonist knew ASL and could therefore communicate silently, and that had helped her survive.

I was pretty pleased with that story, and it was published in our sf club’s magazine, and it helped me get into Clarion West. But then Bhadrika, who actually knew some ASL and had interacted with real live deaf people (unlike me at the time), pointed out to me that there’s no reason that a deaf kid would be unusually quiet.

I was chagrined. That seemed incredibly obvious after she pointed it out, but it hadn’t occurred to me at all until she pointed it out. (In my notes for myself that I wrote while writing the story, I had written “Ben has learned not to do things that make noise, even if he can't hear them.”)

I thought of my story when A Quiet Place came out, and again when The Silence came out. I haven’t seen either movie, and don’t plan to (despite the Hugo nomination for the former); too horrory for me. But I see that, according to this review of The Silence, both movies made the same mistake I did.

One Response to “On deafness and quietness”

  1. Jed

    Here’s some unrelated-to-deafness musing about my story; content warning for discussion of kids’ reactions to deaths of parents.

    My story was primarily intended to be about the self-protective distancing that the kid was doing to avoid feeling debilitating grief over the loss of her parents; both of her parents had been taken by the aliens while they were out of her sight, so she didn’t have to fully confront the likelihood that they were dead. More specifically, it was drawing slightly on my own experience as a kid, of hearing that my mother had died; she was far away, the hospice called my father and told him, he told me and my brother. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe she was dead, but there was a certain unrealness to the experience; she went away while she was alive, and she never came back.

    But nobody who read the story ever understood that that was what I was aiming for. I occasionally consider trying to incorporate that idea into another story, and doing a better job of it.

    One part of why readers didn’t get what I was going for in that story was that it was obscured by the prose. I wrote the story for a linguistics class on oral and written language, and one of my goals was to represent the protagonist’s narrative voice on the page as explicitly as I could. I had a very clear idea in my head of how her voice should sound, which resulted in my using apostrophes to indicate letters/sounds left out of words. Every page included dozens of apostrophes. I think most of my Clarion classmates found the story nearly unreadable as a result.


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