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I once read the start of a novel in the SciFi section of a book store, but silly me didn't buy it & I haven't been able to find it again. If someone could identify it, that would bring me joy, relief, and a new book to read.

The book beings with a teenage girl describing the wind rustling the leaves of a tree to a teenage boy. The boy can almost picture the tree in his mind: this is significant because not only have the two never seen a tree or felt wind, they have never seen, touched, tasted or even heard, anything their whole lives. They have never experienced any external sensory input except an abstract sense of words, of language, from other people. Everyone is living on a generational ship from Earth, heading to some far away planet. Through teachers, and mentally reading archives, they've learnt that their ancestors used to live on Earth, and experienced things like color & sound. But they've struggled to get more than a vague sense of what it was like to have these stimuli.

The boy was the narrator, and he spoke of how the two of them would often take turns trying to describe some physical phenomena to the other, attempting to feel what it was like seeing, or feeling the wind on their face etc. I think he said she was better at it than him.

That's all I can remember from the book; that, and I got the sense all humans on their ship lived these 'sense-less' lives to save resources.

I read (the start of) this book as a new paperback sometime between 2011 to 2016 in Dymocks bookstore in Australia, so it was likely published between 2005-2015. It was posssibly YA, given the protagonists' ages. I have a memory of the book having a single-word title with an exclaimation at the end, but I might be mixing it up with another book I saw at the store.

I've continued to be intrigued by the concept of a society of people who never experience external stimuli other than some 'direct' form of langague (that apparently doesn't involve any sense of hearing).

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    Hmm... interesting idea, them basically being in sensory deprivation, possibly due to the method of coldsleep. Unfortunately, I haven't had much luck in finding it. Good on you for providing a timeframe.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Apr 27, 2022 at 14:06

1 Answer 1

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This could be the novel Journey Into Space by Toby Litt.

  • It takes place on a generation ship on a way to a distant planet.
  • The first section contains multiple scenes of "describe" sessions between a teenage boy named August and a girl Celeste, where they take turns describing things they never experienced personally, but only learned about. These are mostly about weather (wind, rain) and other things that can be only experienced on Earth.
  • It begins with a scene where August attempts to describe the wind to Celeste.
  • It was published in 2009, so it fits the timeframe given.

A preview is available here, it contains the scene where they try to describe wind that you probably remember.

EDIT: To clarify, the passengers do not actually experience complete sensory deprivation. They are confined to the ship for multiple generations, which the blurb describes as "unending stasis", but they are not actually deprived of sensory and motoric abilities. The "describe" sessions that the two characters engage in stems from their obsession with Earth (and real climate and other things they never experienced as they were born on the ship). I think that you may have possibly misremembered or misinterpreted this part as the other details and the opening scene quite match.

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