Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Deepest Rift, by Ruthanna Emrys, June 24, 2015; 7,802 words
Rating: 3, Good, ordinary, story

On planet Duranga, a novice research team struggles to prove that the communication system of the "mantas" they study amounts to an actual language.

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Good, hard-science story. The question of language vs. mere communication is a big one, and the examples in the story (bee's dance, adding to lexicon, new concepts, etc.) are real ones. The fact that Sapphire is deaf is likely a subtle reference to the fact that for many years linguists denied that ASL was a true language. Likewise, the heavy emphasis on protocols aimed at preventing self-deception is probably a reference to the recent history of animal-language research, where a number of people reported results that didn't stand up.

Beyond the technical bit, the fact that the researchers make their own decision to stay together as a team amounts to a victory of sorts, and it's quite appropriate that we don't learn whether they got a good review or not for their work.

Con: Although the four researchers are also romantically involved, we never actually feel anything between them. The stakes in the story never seem to be very high--at worst they move to new jobs with new teams. There's something objectionable to the idea that a "hunch" is something to pursue even when the data say otherwise. It's a bit surprising that the government has no mechanism to handle teams that want to stay together.

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