Jan 24th, 2018, Mother Tongues by S. Qiouyi Lu, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2018

Another piece of profound literature that pushes the boundaries of what I know about genre.

In Mother Tongues, the protagonist lives in a world in which your spoken language can be graded and then sold for a price depending on your grade. Obviously, an A-grade in say, English sells much than a C-grade. The protagonist takes the English test in the hope to sell her English so her daughter can attend Stanford. However, her grade comes back lower than she was expecting. The tester tells the protagonist that her A-grade Mandarin could be sold for more than enough money. There’s a catch, however. When you sell a language from your brain, it’s wiped from you. You remember neither the spoken or written forms of it. Furthermore, it is also extremely difficult to relearn and language you have sold, as the procedure used, sends you into a controlled stroke.

The protagonist’s native language is Mandarin. Suddenly she is faced with the decision to give up her native language and see her daughter go to a prestigious school, or not.

The story is told in the hyper-immersive second-person PoV (you do this, you do that). It’s a rare PoV, but works wonderfully in this piece. There’s a part where a doctor puts little nodes on the protagonist’s head and monitors the woman’s brain. As it was described I felt as though I could feel my brain lighting up as I read–my eyes watered as I couldn’t help but imagine how horrible it would be to have my native language, English, ripped from my brain.

While I think there would be more consequences to patients’ psyches than this piece shows, especially when stripping away the language a person, predominantly, thinks in, this is a wonderful piece the provoked some sensational experiences for me. (B+)


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