Excerpt from Speak by Louisa Hall, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Louisa Hall

Speak by Louisa Hall X
Speak by Louisa Hall
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2015, 336 pages
    May 2016, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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Book One
The Memoirs of Stephen R. Chinn: Chapter 1

Texas State Correctional Institution, Texarkana; August 2040

What's the world like, the world that I'm missing? Do stars still cluster in the bare branches of trees? Are my little bots still dead in the desert? Or, as I sometimes dream during endless lights-out, have they escaped and gathered their forces? I see them when I can't fall asleep: millions upon millions of beautiful babies, marching out of the desert, come to take vengeance for having been banished.

It's a fantasy, of course. Those bots aren't coming back. They won't rescue me from this prison. This is my world now, ringed with barbed wire. Our walls are too high to see out, except for the spires that puncture the sky: two Sonic signs, one to the east and one the west, and to the north a bowling ball the size of a cow. These are our horizons. You'll forgive me if I feel the urge to reach out.

I want you to forgive me. I realize this might be asking too much, after all we've been through together. I'm sorry your children suffered. I, too, saw the evidence at my trial: those young people stuttering, stiffening, turning more robotic than the robots they loved and you chose to destroy. I'm not inhuman; I, too, have a daughter. I'd like to make amends for my part in all that.

Perhaps I'm wrong to think a memoir might help. You jeered when I spoke at my trial, you sent me to jail for my "unnatural hubris," and now I'm responding with this. But I write to you from the recreational center, where my turn at the computers is short. Could nemesis have announced herself any more clearly? I'm obviously fallen. At the computer to my left is a Latin teacher who ran a child pornography ring. On my right, an infamous pyramid-schemer, one of the many aged among us. He's playing his thirty-fourth round of Tetris. All the creaky computers are taken. There are only six of them, and scores of impatient criminals: crooked bankers, pornographers, and one very humble Stephen R. Chinn.

You've sent me to languish in an opulent prison. This unpleasant country club has taught me nothing about hardship, only boredom and the slow flattening of a life fenced off from the world. My fellow inmates and I wait here, not unhappy exactly, but watching closely as time slips away. We've been cut off from the pursuits that defined us. Our hierarchy is static, based on previous accomplishment. While I'm not a staff favorite, with the inmates I'm something of a celebrity. Our pyramid-schemer, for instance, presided over a fleet of robotic traders programmed with my function for speech. In the end, when his son had turned him in and his wife was panicking in the country house, he could only depend on his traders, none of them programmed for moral distinctions. They were steady through the days of his trial. In gratitude, he saves me rations of the caviar to which he's opened a secret supply line. We eat it on crackers, alone in his cell, and I am always unhappy: there's something unkind in the taste of the ocean when you're in prison for life.

I realize I should be counting my blessings. Our prison yard is in some ways quite pleasant. In a strange flight of fancy, a warden years ago ordered the construction of a Koi pond. It sits at the center of the yard, thick with overgrown algae. Newcomers are always drawn there at first, but they quickly realize how depressing it is. The fish have grown bloated, their opal bellies distended by prison cafeteria food. They swim in circles, butting their heads against the walls that contain them. When I first saw them, I made myself remember the feeling of floating, moving freely, passing under black patterns of leaves. Then I could summon a ghost of that feeling. Now, after years in my cell, it won't come when I call it, which is why I stay away from the pond. I don't like to remember how much I've forgotten. Even if, by some unaccountable error, I were to be released from this prison, the river I'm remembering no longer runs. It's nothing more than a pale ribbon of stone, snaking through the hill country desert. Unbearable, to forget things that no longer exist.

Excerpted from Speak by Louisa Hall. Copyright 2015 by Louisa Hall. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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