Hello, Hello by Seanan McGuire

Since I finished all the short stories in Rayguns over Texas, I wanted a new book of short stories. It’s not that I’m running out of authors from the 2014 Campbellian Anthology, but I liked switching back and forth. Luckily, I had another book of short stories waiting for me on my Kindle – Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft. (As I’m posting this, the book is still free to download to a Kindle or Kindle app.) The basic premise of the anthology is a group of science fiction writers were brought to Microsoft’s Research Labs and shown some of the cutting edge technology they were working on. The writers were then encouraged to incorporate some of that technology into short stories.

Published: 2015

Genre: science fiction

Setting: near future, an unnamed city

Summary: Angie is a computational linguist, which has come in pretty handy in programming her sister, Tasha’s, computer system. Tasha is deaf, and Angie and her lab have created a software system that is able to translate speech into sign language and vice versa. It’s a learning system, so it can learn new languages and add them to its system just through conversation. One day, they receive a call from Tasha’s house that’s a bit odd. It had a generic avatar and the avatar just keeps repeating “Hello”. That’s standard protocol for learning a new language. Angie’s kids enjoy talking to the avatar, but Angie is wondering who it is. Eventually, we learn the avatar is representing a crow (Tasha is a bird rehabilitator) and the program has learned how to take its sounds and motions and turn them into English.

Final thoughts: Oh, wouldn’t that be awesome if it were true! The story ends with a demonstration to researchers, who immediately start to think about which species they want to put in front of the camera. It’s a modern-day Dr. Doolittle, and I want to be able to talk to the animals too. While the technology is beyond what we are currently capable of, it certainly is within the realm of possibility.

A couple of notes on the story. I figured out the big reveal as soon as the family went to Tasha’s house and saw the crow sitting by the computer. I spent the rest of the story waiting to see when the characters would figure out who the unknown avatar was. It didn’t ruin the story, just made it a bit predictable. As a bonus, the story was about a lesbian couple. The first time I saw “my wife” in the story, I had to go back and check the gender of the narrator. Yes, the narrator was a she like I thought. It wasn’t a big deal – just another characteristic to flesh out the narrator, which is how it should be.

Title comes from: When the computer language program is trying to learn a new language, the avatar repeats “Hello” often, which is what happened when the bird started using the program.

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