The Persistence of Vision (short story)

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The Persistence of Vision is a science fiction novella by John Varley. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1979. It was included in the anthology of the same name and in the The John Varley Reader.

The story is similar to Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. Both authors had experiences that influenced and were influenced by hippy ideologies in the 1960s.

Plot summary[edit]

A keen drifter describes the dismal political state of the world following a general collapse. He comes upon a commune of people who are blind, deaf, and mute. Much of the story details the culture and personal habits of the people, including the different levels of touch-based communication they use. The protagonist develops strong bonds with several of the members.

The commune's highest grade of communication attains an intense level of connection between each other. The people emphasize mutual understanding to overcome their physical limitations. Their rich use of unspoken/unseen tactile language is able to establish intense clarity about others, one that cannot be attained using the senses of hearing and vision. Sex is part of their language.

Varley carefully steers clear of representing the blind/deaf commune as a Utopia; they have financial problems, crop failures, criminal justice enigmas, etc. Nevertheless, the commune is clearly free of most of the evils pervading the rest of society, all owing to an unusual sensitivity toward other people which is arguably a consequence of being blind and deaf. The story raises the question, "Is being blind and deaf a handicap, or is it a blessing?" The reader is left to judge.