Short Stories 366:104 — “Listen,” by Karin Tidbeck

coverThe second of the two reprints in Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, “Listen” is both haunting and one of the few stories in the collection that left me angry (albeit in a good way, and with the full intent of the narrative, I believe). We meet Mika, a young translator who has—by virtue of his disability—the ability to communicate with a people who speak language in a way that resonates on a spiritual and emotional level before fleeing from the minds of most people, leaving only the vague memory of having been fulfilled, but without any context or information.

The narrative itself, these people who communicate on a fundamentally complete level, the humans they interact with, and Mika in between, able to access both but not quite fitting with either, sets the tone for the story as Mika journeys to a world with unique sonic dynamics, alongside another woman who finds freedom from her own disability within the Low-G environment in the station where Mika lives.

Mika’s position is so tenuous and fragile—if he were to medicate, he’d lose access to his ability to perceive the language he translates—and throughout, he balances himself as best he can, finding his own place and often referring in small ways to the various times his life wasn’t “normal” enough for those around him. It’s a painful read made all the more by the end of the tale, which, as I say, left me angry and frustrated and seeing all too easily the contemporary allegory I’d just read. It’s a harsh way to end the fictions of the collection, but ultimately it holds true to the whole: making our way within and with, rather than despite or outside of.

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