4 of 5 stars.
One of the more head-scratching hypocrisies of humans is judging the intelligence of non-human animals based on their grasp of human language as if humans have figured out a single non-human language. The pets, horses, chimps, gorillas and dolphins that’ve grasped a few words or signs seen to be leading the pack. More often than not, humans don’t understand other humans speaking a language other than their own. And thus the sci-fi invention of the universal translator . . .
This slightly futuristic tale focuses on two grown sisters that rely on a Skype-like interface with a beta-model of a universal translator to communicate. Interestingly, one of the sisters is completely deaf-mute, the other is American Sign Language [ASL] – Spoken English bilingual. Using avatars, the translator interprets signs as vocal words and vice versa, accommodating for the drastic differences in language structure and grammar.
The same smart system also actively tries to translate and “learn” new languages in the same way. When working through syntax and expression etc. the translator defaults to interpreting the communication as Hello set on repeat. The narrator’s young kids are also proficient in ASL and in use of the communication interface used to call their deaf Aunt Tasha. One day the narrator finds a stranger using her deaf sister’s interface and talking to her young impressionable daughter. Disturbingly, the strange woman merely says, Hello, Hello, Hello and doesn’t answer questions about Tasha’s whereabouts. . .
The discovery process of this tale and the familiarity of failed communication drives this story eerily, if not enjoyably.
This tale appears in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 edited by Rich Horton, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Each to Each” and “There is No Place for Sorrow in the Kingdom of the Cold”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]