The world reels with shock and dismay when an entire generation of children is born without the ability to create or comprehend language.
It should be interesting to see how this strange dystopian voyage, composed by a talented triptych of writers, is interpreted by readers who don’t know its innovative origins. This is the analog version of a reportedly addictive digital application of the same name that originally published one story a day; it takes the form of an oral history of the first 30 years of a modern plague that leaves otherwise normal children without the ability to speak, read or write. Clearly borrowing heavily from Max Brooks’ World War Z, this semi-anthology doesn’t include one of the original app’s more interesting features: location-based field reports that could only be activated at certain GPS locations. That being the case, one might expect to find a tighter, more cohesive plotline; but the rambling, episodic and extremely brief natures of its dated entries make it hard to become absorbed in its narrative arc. The first half is very much social commentary, with the linguistic nonconformity of the “silents” standing in for the growing ranks of children with autism and highlighting the well-worn bigotry that emerges around those who are different (dubbed here “mutetards” by the ignorant). Many of the early stories are less compelling—the parents who wish so dearly to have the “normal” children they were expecting; teachers who struggle to reach students who can understand math or art but not their instructions; and the scientists delving into the mysterious origins of the illness. It’s not until forces start to shape the silent generation that the novel gets very interesting indeed. We learn that the children are evolving their own forms of nonlinguistic communication at the same time scientists start using neural implants to “cure” the silent, who may not be so eager to play along.
An intriguing but less propulsive entry in an unusually robust year for linguistic thrillers.